December 26, a date to remember

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ruth.JPGAs MLB.com’s Mark Newman points out, today — Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009 — marks the 90th anniversary of the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. 

The infamous deal lost some of its luster once the Red Sox snapped the supposed “curse” it brought upon the franchise with their sweep of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, but it’s an important day in baseball history nonetheless.  In fact, as Newman points out, it’s an important day in world history:

The Ruth sale happened on Dec. 26, 1919.

The FM radio was patented on Dec. 26, 1933.

The United Soviet Socialist Republic was formally
dissolved on Dec. 26, 1991.

Two disasters have occurred on Dec. 26: the Indian Ocean
tsunami in 2004 and a Taiwan earthquake in 2006.

Mao Zedong was born on Dec. 26, 1893.

The Pilgrims landed at what became New Plymouth on Dec. 26, 1690,

And on Dec. 26, 1776, the British lost the Battle of Trenton after General George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River.

Cursed or not, it’s a day of much importance.  And to us baseball fans, it doesn’t get much more important than the Big Bambino.  The “Sultan of Swat” had a .342/.474/.690 career batting line over 22 professional seasons.  He hit 714 home runs and tallied 2217 runs batted in.  We celebrate a lot this time of year — the holidays, a new year, good food — and yet it always seems relevant to celebrate the game’s ultimate icon.

Minor League Baseball teams sold over $70 million in merchandise in 2017

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Every so often here, we discuss the criminally low pay of Minor League Baseball players. Most of them make less than $7,500 a year, which includes the regular season as well as spring training, playoffs, and offseason training. The abysmal pay forces minor leaguers to eat unhealthy food, live in cramped quarters, and forego consistent, quality sleep, among other things.

What makes this situation worse is that Minor League Baseball is a huge money-maker for their parent teams in Major League Baseball. Josh Norris of Baseball America reported yesterday that Minor League Baseball teams sold $70.8 million in merchandise in 2017. That represented a 3.6 percent increase over the previous record set in 2016. This is just merchandise. Now think about concession and ticket sales.

Minor League Baseball COO Brian Earle said, “Minor League Baseball team names and logos continue to be among the most popular in all of professional sports, and our teams have made promoting their brand a priority for their respective organizations. The teams have done a tremendous job of using their team marks and logos to build an identity that is appealing to fans not just locally, but in some cases, globally as well.”

You may recall that Major League Baseball had been lobbying Congress to pass legislation exempting minor league players from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Doing so classified baseball players as seasonal workers, which means they are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. That legislation passed earlier this year. Minor League Baseball generates profits hand over fist and it is now legally protected from having to share that with the labor that produced it.

Many points of divergence led us to this point, but the question is how do we change it? Minor leaguers are routinely taken advantage of because they don’t have a union. Compare the minors in baseball to the minors in hockey, where minor leaguers have a union. As SB Nation’s Marc Normandin pointed out last month, the minimum salary for American Hockey League players is $45,000 and the average salary is $118,000. They receive a playoff share of around $20,000, and receive health insurance that covers themselves as well as their families. Furthermore, the minor league hockey players’ per diem is $74, about three times as much as minor league baseball players’ per diem of $25.

Major League Baseball and its 30 teams have shown no inclination towards treating minor league players simply out of moral obligation or good will, so the minor leaguers need union coverage to force their conditions to improve. This could be as simple as the MLBPA expanding its coverage to the minor leagues because, after all, some minor leaguers do become major leaguers, right? Or the minor leaguers could themselves create a union. It’s easy to say, but tougher to do, which is why they still don’t have a union.

At any rate, every fan of baseball should be enraged when they read that Minor League Baseball keeps setting records year after year when it comes to selling hats and t-shirts, then refuses to share any of that wealth with the labor responsible for it. It’s morally reprehensible.