Why Minor League Baseball Players Deserve Better Salaries

Picture this: you finally got drafted to play the professional sport you love. It’s an amazing day for you. You’ve been hard at work since you were a little kid. You worked your way to play varsity sports in high school and found a great way to balance your sport in college with being an economics and psychology double major.

Although you have a path through the minor league version of your sport, you imagine winning the championship in your sport a few years down the road. This is the best college graduation present you could have requested.

Now picture this: you’ve won a big championship in the minor leagues of your sport and you couldn’t be prouder. Then you get your direct deposit for the year, and you realize it is way less than you ever would have anticipated.

This is the reality that is facing Minor League Baseball players. We look at Major League Baseball players and see them with colossal contracts and supersized salaries. We see them as players able to afford all the luxurious items in life that they would like.

That’s how I viewed the life of a Minor League Baseball player, until I saw a piece from the San Francisco Chronicle (which will be linked at the end) of a day in the life of Jake Smolinski’s experience in the minor leagues.

Jake Smolinski with his agent’s family (Credit: San Francisco Chronicle)

From there, I knew that minor league life isn’t all that it’s meant to be. The transition from high school or college baseball, depending on when a player officially signs with a professional team, to the pro level is a test for both skills and bank accounts. I have seen quite a few posts on social media about how underpaid Minor Leaguers are.

I actually saw a Tweet from Tyler Cyr (I will link an article about his experience at the end as well), a player in the San Francisco Giants minor league program, talking about a paycheck he received even though he played for a Triple-A national championship team.

I saw the paycheck myself. It was taxed quite a bit. Taxes are part of life, yes. However, taxing players to the rate of getting less bang for their buck than they deserve at the end of their minor league season? I knew for a fact I had to retweet that photo of the paycheck because I found it extremely ridiculous.

Let’s have a look at another case study: the Randy Dobnik story (an article about his journey will also be linked at the end). After getting his accounting degree, he wanted to play professional baseball, but went undrafted, and had zero luck finding a team.

He then went to play for a Michigan-based independent league called the United Shores Professional Baseball League. It was there he was discovered and signed by the Minnesota Twins.

Before he was called up to the big leagues at long last, Randy Dobnik was a ride-share driver, working for Uber and Lyft. He had a near perfect rating overall.

Let’s look at different levels of Minor League Baseball. Triple-A is the level just below the Major League level. The second highest level is Double-A, then Class A-Advanced, and the lowest is Class A.

There are also Short Season leagues, Class-A short season and the Rookie Advanced leagues. Each autumn, there is an exhibition called the Arizona Fall League.

Average salary of Minor League Baseball players depending on level and year (Credit: Think Blue LA)

The lack of income for major league players has major impacts. Finding housing, or shelter of any kind, can be frightening with a paycheck that small.

I can only imagine the worry of being able to keep a roof over your head and food on the table when you’re being paid extremely little as a professional athlete. How are you expected to afford hotel rooms or rent when you are getting very little income?

Transportation is another concern. With a minor league salary, I can’t begin to visualize the stress it must be to not only have to find shelter, but find a way to get around. The cost of fuel for vehicles or the price of public transportation seems like a major expense in life on top of keeping a roof over their heads.

Not only that, but what about the stress of having to do side jobs in addition to the sport players enjoy? I was able to balance work and school quite well as a college student. However, I am unable to imagine working multiple jobs.

Keeping ready for baseball and working side jobs sounds like it can really take a toll on people. It seems like it could really exhaust people mentally and wonder if they really are cut out to ever be in the big leagues, even for two and a half minutes.

People might think, “If they want to get paid more, maybe they should play decently enough to get promoted fast.” While I do believe that people want to work as quickly as they can to reach their dream of being a big leaguer, everyone goes through the journey to the big leagues differently.

Just because one player got to the big leagues in just under two years doesn’t mean another player will get there that soon. Player X might get there in about two years, while Player Y might have to be in the minors for seven years. Player Y deserves to be paid a living salary as a player just as much as Player X, regardless of difference of level and time spent in the minors.

Another argument that is possible is, “If Minor League Baseball isn’t working, they need to find alternate means of income.” Yes, finding alternate means of income when necessary is a good idea. There is a bigger picture, though. There’s quite a bit one has to worry about.

Who knows if you’ll get cut from the team? Who knows if you’ll be able to afford an apartment or hotel room at the end of the day even if you’re working a “side hustle” in addition to fighting your way to the majors? Who knows if you’ll ever even get called up to the major leagues?

Worst of all, Major League Baseball wants it to be that way. Minor League Baseball players are designated as “seasonal employees” or “apprentices.” Because of this, they are allowed to pay players minimum wage. Let’s revisit the whole Tyler Cyr situation. I saw on Twitter from a person who quote-Tweeted the paycheck photo that it’s common for minor league players to be paid less than ten thousand dollars per year, well below the poverty line.

AHL salaries and workload compared to that of AAA MiLB salaries, an astonishing and potentially disturbing difference (Credit: USA Today)

This bothers me quite a bit. I’m pretty sure people in professions of all types work their tails off. At least from my point of view, people have career goals that they are pushing for. Baseball is no exception. So how on Earth does that mean MLB and MiLB deserve a free pass to give athletes working their way to the big-leagues a sub-poverty line salary?

I am appalled that people believe this is perfectly fine. It is not. Players deserve to be paid a living wage, regardless of whether in the majors or minors, and regardless of what stage of Minor League Baseball they are in.

There are rumors of a strike going around. Honestly, I hope this happens because minor leaguers deserve better. There’s no reason for them to be put in a financial situation similar to that of Tyler Cyr.

Also, I read that some minor leaguers attempted to sue MLB in 2014, however, said suit is being figured out. I hope these players get a decent settlement from the suit. Maybe that will be a wake-up call to the system that players at every level need a decent wage for the work they do playing the sport they adore.

There is a union known as the MLB Players Association. While this covers Major League players, Minor League players are excluded. After the 2021 MLB season, the collective-bargaining agreement will end.

Who knows if that means MiLB players get a chance to be covered by the association, but hopefully it does. In my opinion, if they do, it means that there will be a higher likelihood that players get the wages they work hard for and won’t have to excessively worry about making ends meet.

Overall, it riles me up that this is how Minor League Baseball players are treated. They work really hard to achieve a big dream only to get extremely little in return. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, I really hope these humans start getting a more reasonable income.

It shouldn’t matter if a player is in Class-A Advanced or at the Triple-A level. Players deserve livable wages, plain and simple. I pray they figure out a way to make that happen. Minor League Baseball players deserve better salaries.

SOURCES:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/athletics/article/A-s-players-called-up-from-minors-get-TLC-with-9185529.php

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/05/twins-pitcher-randy-dobnak-drives-for-uber-and-lyft-on-the-side.html

https://triblive.com/sports/giants-minor-leaguer-tyler-cyr-tweets-meager-paycheck/

https://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2018/6/5/17251534/mlb-draft-minor-league-baseball-union-phpa

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/gabe-lacques/2019/02/22/mlb-collective-bargaining-agreement-strike/2948101002/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_League_Baseball

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