When he’s not patrolling center field for the Pirates, Andrew McCutchen serves as the senior editor for Derek Jeter’s The Player’s Tribune, a media platform for professional athletes. McCutchen published a must-read article today in which he explains how baseball has increasingly left children from lower-income communities behind.
McCutchen goes over the various costs a family considers: equipment, motels/hotels, gas, tournament fees. Kids from families that can’t afford it or choose to spend their money on more staple needs are simply never seen, and many wind up quitting baseball as a result. McCutchen, who didn’t come from riches, is an outlier as he was fortunate enough to meet several people who helped pay his way into competitive baseball.
The financial struggles don’t end once you’re in college or the minor leagues, either, as McCutchen details. “The fact is, no matter how good you are, you’re not getting a full ride in baseball,” he says. Had he not torn his ACL when he was 15 years old, McCutchen would have chosen to play football in college over baseball as his tuition would have been paid in full on a scholarship compared to only 70 percent with baseball. In the minor leagues, players are paid less than minimum wage, a problem that has been brought up recently.
Fixing the myriad issues are quite difficult, but McCutchen has one idea that he thinks would work well:
[…] when I was a kid, I looked at baseball players growing up in Latin America with a lot of envy. If you’re a talented kid in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, a team can come along and say, “We’re going to sign you for $50,000 and take you into our organization and develop you, feed you, take care of your travel.” To me, as a 14-year-old kid whose family was struggling, that would have meant everything to me. I would have taken that deal in a second.
That kind of system would make the game a lot more attractive to kids from low-income families.
This is a more important issue than it may seem at first blush. If the only people who can afford to play baseball are those born into privileged families, then the baseball talent pool will become very homogenized, and that would be boring. Part of baseball’s allure, along with the beauty of the game itself, are the diverse personalities from Yasiel Puig to Alex Rodriguez to Chase Utley, each of whom can appeal to various segments of the fan base. Craig Calcaterra has done yeoman’s work refuting the claim that baseball is dying, but it certainly could begin to die if issues like the one McCutchen brings up aren’t addressed properly.