Greetings from day two of the Winter Meetings


For the second day in a row I am the first person in the media room. Given that I was not exactly the first person to go to sleep last night, I am far less proud of myself for being an early riser today than I was yesterday. Viva la Winter Meetings.

This is the first of the four Winter Meetings I’ve attended where there was not some fairly major-to major signing after 9pm local time. This was OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for me to have to interrupt my evening circulating plans to blog about something, but it was less OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for anyone else to clear out either. There are many fine establishments to quench one’s thirst here at the Opryland Resort, but last night they were all crowded.

But it did make for good people-watching. The sports bar here — Fuse — performed a noble service in attracting all of the Ed Hardy shirt-wearing 20 and 30-something men so they did not come into close contact with the rest of us. Next door, Def Leprechaun played once again at the Irish pub, attracting people who seemed around 65% less-amused at a band with a clever name last night than they were the night before. They’re OK and all, but less is more with those guys.

But those were just places where my party and I passed through while looking for the real action of the Winter Meetings, which took place in the large bar off the main lobby, called The Falls. This is where major and minor league lifers found their friends, held impromptu reunions and reminisced about their younger days. “Hey, you sonofabitch! How the hell ARE ya! Hawhawhaw!” [back slap back slap back slap].  It was the real life version of that “Seinfeld” episode when George met the Houston Astros executives. Except the lone Houston Astros executive I saw last night was Kevin Goldstein, and he was calm and dapper.

I tried my best to keep my ear to the ground, but really, there was not a ton of gossip to be had.  The best I could do was to take joy in little moments.  Like seeing Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy not looking stressed and cold, which is how we last saw them. Like seeing managers, agents, executives and reporters stack their empties on a brick wall that should not have been able to hold that many empties.  Like seeing some jerk at the bar telling Brad Ausmus to “get a job,” and then, when Ausmus looked perplexed, hearing the jerk say what he meant was that he thought he was a great managerial candidate and that “get a job” meant “I’d love to see you managing a team.”  You’ll hear rumors today that that jerk was me, but don’t you believe it. Ahem.

Anyway, back at it today.  Mike Napoli was fun yesterday, but we’re still waiting for a big, big move a la Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke.  Given that we put up 68 posts at HBT yesterday, you know that if something like that happens — or if 66 or so smaller moves happen — we’ll have it for you, so tune us in and rip off the dial.

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.