Dirk Hayhurst continues his winning streak of great stories about the less-publicized parts of baseball. Today he talks about something with which he’s extremely familiar: how rough a go minor leaguers have it.
Hayhurst, who famously slept on an air mattress on the floor of his grandmother’s spare room in the offseason because he simply couldn’t afford anything else, notes the biggest problem with the painfully low wages and extreme physical and psychological demands of being a minor leaguer: no one wants to hear you complain about it:
Being a minor league player is a brutal experience—a brutal experience you, dear minor league player, can never speak of. If you ever decide to tell the general public of your disgust with professional baseball, that it’s paying you in stale beer and day-old hot dogs for the honor of playing among its chosen immortals, expect your words to echo off into the endless vacuum . . . at its lowest levels, professional baseball is exploitation. It has been for years—decades. So long, in fact, that it has become a victim of its own belief system: that a player must sacrifice and succumb to unfair treatment as part of “chasing the dream.”
You can look no further than the news of the past couple of months for evidence of this. Specifically, the reaction to a lawsuit filed over unfair labor practices filed by several former minor leaguers back in March. A suit which quite accurately notes that most minor leaguers earn less than $7,500 for an entire season — well below minimum wage — and are required to work mandatory overtime. A suit which notes that, though players are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long, making finding paying jobs in the offseason difficult. Most of the people I saw responding to that gave a yawn at best and chastised the players for being ungrateful at the opportunities they’ve been given at worst. Very few people actually considered what it might be like to spend several years trying to scrape by like that.
And, yes, playing professional baseball is a great opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t real problems with how minor leaguers are treated and compensated. Hayhurst is probably the person in the best position to point this out, and his words on it are well worth your time.