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A look into a minor leaguer’s finances

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On the heels of recent legislation that codified legal underpayment of minor league baseball players, the intrepid Eno Sarris of The Athletic spoke with former minor leaguer Eric Sim about the financial difficulties he experienced trying to work his way to the major leagues.

Sim, now 29, was selected by the Giants in the 27th round of the 2010 draft. The catcher played in the minors from 2010-15, then played in the independent American Association in 2016. He briefly played in Double-A and Triple-A, but spent the bulk of his career in Single-A.

Included in the article is a picture of Sim’s contract, signed with the Giants on June 24, 2010. It ascribed a $1,100 monthly salary at rookie ball (domestic and foreign, denoted as R and 1F), short-season Single-A, and regular old Single-A. Double-A had a $1,500 monthly salary and Triple-A had $2,150. If you do the math, those are yearly salaries of $12,000, $18,000, and $25,800, respectively. However, minor leaguers are only paid for the regular season, which is five or six months out of the year, so you can halve those numbers I just listed. As Sarris notes, minor leaguers are not paid for spring training or during the offseason which is why so many of them end up working one or two jobs during the offseason.

Sarris asked Sim to describe what a typical day was at an away game. He typically arrived at 3 PM for a 7 PM game and worked for the duration of those four hours excepting about an hour break for a pre-game meal. After the game, which ends around 10 PM, Sim did about an hour of post-game recovery and ate a post-game meal while packing for an upcoming trip. For the next 12 hours, in this particular instance, he would be traveling by bus from Augusta, Georgia to Lexington, Kentucky with only a few bathroom and food breaks. Minor leaguers don’t travel in luxury which is something we know from watching Bull Durham but don’t really take into consideration.

In a typical month, teams only have a couple of off-days. In fact, looking at the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies Triple-A) schedule, they have exactly one day off in May. The players will be traveling by bus from city to city nine times in that month. Nine grueling bus rides with one day off in the entire month. Sarris correctly notes that if he were to spend 10 hours traveling for work, it would be considered company time. It often isn’t characterized that way for minor leaguers.

Sarris gets a typical spring training day a typical offseason day from Sim as well (during which, remember, minor leaguers don’t get paid). It’s worth reading his full article to find out what those are like. Sim says he and his teammates would use his meager meal money to get a $1.50 “huge” pizza during happy hour at a sports bar in Scottsdale, Arizona during spring training. Sim said, “None of us ate healthy, as healthy food is expensive as [heck].”

Importantly, Sarris points out that minor leaguers have so many hidden costs as part of their job. Gas. Gym memberships. Facility fees. Clubbie fees. Paying for supplements out of pocket. Equipment, much of which isn’t provided by their teams. Sarris doesn’t mention this, but even the meager signing bonuses players sign when they’re drafted in the late rounds, as Sim was, have been cut into with agent fees and such.

Sim described his living situation. “We all got a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, the rent was $1450 plus utilities and everything else, so we had seven guys in our apartment. Six guys in three rooms, one living in the living room. We shared it evenly so we each paid around $300… almost half our paycheck.”

Sim, by the way, ended up significantly out-earning his baseball pay — by more than double — with a few months of offseason work as a bartender.

I don’t know how one can read about Sim’s experience in the minors and not feel horrible about their living conditions, and not want to fight to raise their standard of living. I can’t imagine being an owner of a sports team, someone with wealth reaching into the billions of dollars, and know intimately about those conditions and not only do nothing to fix it, but to lobby Congress to codify doing less. It’s absolutely shameful that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball capitalize obscenely off of the labor and the product of their players, then turn around and spit in their faces like this.

Again, the full article by Sarris at The Athletic is worth your time. If you’re not subscribed, subscribe or get a free trial.

Derek Jeter calls Bryant Gumbel “mentally weak”

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Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.

Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?

That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:

JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”

GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”

JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”

GUMBEL: “Not in so–”

JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”

. . .

DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”

BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”

DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”

I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.

That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.

No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”

Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.