The minor leagues are brutal

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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.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.