Life of a minor leaguer: “drugs, booze and cheap motels”

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That’s how Australia’s news.com.au describes life for baseball’s minor leaguers to its readers who are, presumably, not terribly familiar with baseball. Thing is, they cite the “drugs, booze and cheap motels” in an effort to paint the life of minor leaguers as a bad thing. Hell, compared to the fact that they’re not paid a living wage and are treated like heads of cattle, the drugs, booze and cheap motels are the best part!

But really, the story isn’t wrong. It’s just kinda funny to read about things we think of as common described by outsiders. Especially when they use phrases like “as foreign as a Frenchman,” which I am TOTALLY gonna steal from this guy and use again sometime soon.

Anyway, prepare yourself for the worst

Booze

Baseball players drink, partly because they don’t always need to be the most athletic specimens in the world of pro sports, but also to pass the time. These guys play up to 160 Games in a season in the Majors or 140 games at minor league level. That’s six games a week for six months. Each night, win or lose, their adrenalin is pumping. A beer or two or seven or eight helps.

No team spirit

Baseball, like cricket, is a team sport that is largely about the sum of individual performances rather than a bunch of guys working together as in the football codes. But it’s off the field that you really feel that lack of spirit, especially at minor league level. Guys in the minors would trample their best mate to get a promotion to the Majors.

Most players in a minor league club barely know each other’s names, let alone hang out together. There are exceptions, but for the most part it is a lonely, selfish mini-universe where the ethos of “one for all, all for one” is as foreign as a Frenchman.

This, right here, is the sport’s secret shame.

Cheap soulless hotels

All those games means a whole bunch of road trips. And road trips mean seedy hotels. At minor league level, a Holiday Inn is like the Hilton. More likely you’ll end up staying in some three star dump on a highway between Crapsville Illinois and Dumpsburg, Arkansas.

I am tired of seeing Crapsville, Illinois dumped on like this. Sure, it was a pretty bad scene in Crapsville 10-15 years ago, but since then they opened up Crapsville Brewery, which makes a great IPA and they turned the old Crapsville Metalworks factory into loft apartments. Really, Crapsville is now like the Brooklyn of the greater Armpit City, Illinois metro area.

Dumpsburg, Arkansas is awful, though. Just a wretched place.

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.