Murray Chass made a brief return to the New York Times, and it’s quite welcome indeed

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Many have mocked long-time New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass since he left the Times a few years ago and began writing at his own website. After he kicked off his solo enterprise explaining how he was NOT a blogger and how bloggers are the worst and all of that, he has been called “The Blogger Murray Chass” around these and other parts.

And a good deal of his output over the past several years — including his seeming obsession with Mike Piazza’s back acne, his smearing of Stan Musial, and his reporting mistakes regarding Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame candidacy — has revealed that the the mocking is quite often earned.

That said: Chass is among the absolute best when it comes to writing about baseball’s labor and business history. He is particularly well-versed and well-spoken when it comes to the labor battles of the 1970s and 80s. Which is why it was quite nice to see the New York Times ask him to write a column about the 1975 decision by arbitrator Peter Seitz in the McNally/Messersmith case which ushered in free agency. It ran late last week and is well worth your time.

It’s worth it for two reasons. First, because as Chass notes over at his blog, the Times (and almost everyone else, to be fair) tends to jumble the history of free agency in baseball, often citing the Curt Flood case or the instance in which Catfish Hunter was set free by the A’s to sign with the Yankees as the birth of free agency. In reality neither of those cases actually did anything, even if they are important historical touchstones in the larger story of baseball free agency. Flood lost his case. Hunter’s was a singular matter involving an insurance premium that created no actual precedent.

The second reason it’s worth it is because it shows that baseball’s arbitrators are almost certain to be fired whenever they make a big decision and that, because of that, they can’t really think too hard about who they’ll please or anger with any decision. This is why discussion of the upcoming Alex Rodriguez arbitration shouldn’t really focus on whether the arbitrator is worried about his job security.

Anyway: always nice to see Chass talking about the stuff he knows so much about.

MLB now trying to get minor leaguers exempted from minimum wage law at the state level

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In recent years, Major League Baseball spent significant amounts of money lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. They succeeded last year, as minor leaguers are now considered seasonal workers and as such are not owed minimum wage or overtime pay.

MLB is not yet done attacking minor leaguers. Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times reports that MLB is trying to get Arizona lawmakers to exempt players from state minimum wage law. A proposed bill, HB 2180, is being sponsored by Rep. T.J. Shope (R – Coolidge) and would protect MLB from lawsuits, past or present, for not paying minor leaguers at least minimum wage during spring training. Minor leaguers already do not get paid for their work in spring training, so this is simply a preemptive maneuver by MLB to protect itself from potential lawsuits. As Giles notes, HB 2180 would enshrine the exemption in federal law in Arizona’s state statute.

Shope said, “I think it’s just trying to clear up what MLB considers a gray area on their blank. … My assumption is they obviously do have a concern, and are trying to protect a flank of theirs more in the pro-active sense.” Talking about minor leaguers, Shope said spring training is “essentially a tryout. You’re not on the team yet.”

Garrett Broshuis, a former major leaguer and one of the lawyers representing Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle in a case Craig wrote about here, spoke to Giles for his article. Broshuis said, “It really is just unfortunate, because the people of Arizona passed this law to require employers to pay all workers a minimum wage, and these ballplayers are performing a service that is a valuable service, and they deserve to be compensated at least the minimum wage for it.”

Broshuis is seeking class action status in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball in Florida and Arizona, the league’s two homes for spring training. Arizona is home to the Cactus League, the spring training league for the Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Reds, Indians, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers, Brewers, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners, and Rangers. A federal judge denied Broshuis’s request but he appealed and is waiting on a ruling.

MLB makes a ton of money during spring training the same way it makes money during the regular season: by charging for tickets, concessions, merchandise, and parking. Minor leaguers are part of the player population helping attract fans to the ballpark, so they deserve to be compensated for their work. That they are not is criminal enough, but to brazenly push legislation to remove any legal remedies they might have had is even more evil. MLB has been setting revenue records year over year, taking in more than $10 billion last year. The league and its individual teams can afford to provide a comfortable life for minor leaguers, but every day it makes the choice not to do so out of avarice.