CTB: Live from the Winter Meetings

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We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold . . .

Wait. That was a different trip. This is Indianapolis, not Vegas, and it’s the Winter Meetings, not the Mint 400. Still, there’s that same “what in the hell am I doing here” feeling that Raoul Duke and the good Doctor Gonzo had on their fateful journey into the heart of the American Dream.  Every executive and agent I’ve slammed in print in the past three years is here.  The writers too. It’s enough to make a fellow wonder about his place in the world. 

Just kidding. I’m gonna keep slamming those worthy of slamming, keep calling the smart moves smart and the dumb moves dumb and let the chips fall where they may.  There’s a definite class reunion feel to this event and I’m just going to pretend that I’m that foreign exchange student no one thought would show.  If they don’t like it, hey, maybe they shouldn’t have credentialed the blogger. 

In the meantime, let’s talk baseball.  On tap this week:

  • The Mariners may go crazy.  They’ve already got Figgins. They’re reportedly in on Bay and Lackey.  They’re talking extension with King Felix.  Are they gonna put the 2010 AL West away in December 2009?

  • Jason Bay, Matt Holliday and John Lackey still freely roam the market. My guess is that they still will by the end of the week, but recent history shows that the earlier you sign, the better off you are. Of course now the teams know that too. But maybe the players know that the teams know that. But maybe the teams know that the players know that the teams know that and . . . wait, deep breaths. Just follow Rosenthal around. He’s gonna report it first anyway.

  • More likely to see action is the second tier of free agents, populated by the likes of Marlon Byrd, Jermaine Dye, Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre, a metric crap-ton of relievers and whatever catchers the Mets haven’t yet signed. I think Benito Santiago is still available.

  • Roy Halladay is still the alpha-trade chit, but one has to think that the Yankees and Sox and whatever dark horses may present themselves are gonna make Toronto sweat that Halladay-imposed spring training deadline a bit.  More likely to move this week: Milton Bradley.  Baggage handlers standing by.

  • The BBWAA will be meeting, and a subset of those guys will be casting Hall of Fame ballots for managers, umpires, pioneers, and executives.  Go Marvin Miller and Whitey Herzog. Also, the Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday.

  • There will be a trade show during which vendors will try to convince teams that, yes, they really do need new LCD “No Pepper” signs for the backstop.

  • A job fair for those looking to break into the biz will take place.  Wanna be the assistant to the assistant ticket taker for the Mudville Tea Totallers of the Western League? Now’s your chance, Bunk.

There will be a ton more happening, some official, most non-official, some transaction-related, some not (for team-by-team previews, check out Matthew’s posts on the NL and the AL).  I’m going to do my best to sniff out the news as it happens and, failing that, I’ll certainly be grokking the scene and passing along my observations to you.  All I know for certain is that (a) I have a press pass that has not yet been revoked for cause; (b) I have a laptop with a wireless connection and a hella-long lasting battery; and (c) I know a lot of lawyers in central Indiana in the event I need someone to bail me out.

Refresh often, my friends. Refresh often.

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

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We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.