Nationals manager Matt Williams: “I’ve got Bryce’s back, in every way”

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Matt Williams met with Bryce Harper yesterday and then made a concerted effort to diffuse any notion of perceived animosity between the Nationals manager and his 21-year-old star.

“I’ve got to let you guys know something: I’ve got Bryce’s back, in every way,” Williams said prior to the Nationals’ game against the Rockies. “And that will not change.”

The relationship between Harper and Williams was called into question after the outfielder openly questioned Monday night’s lineup, which had Harper (just activated off the DL) batting sixth and in left field, with Ryan Zimmerman moving back to his old position at third base.

Harper said he believed Zimmerman should remain in left field, with Anthony Rendon at third base and Danny Espinosa at second base. Without expressing it explicitly, Harper suggested he would rather play center field, with Denard Span the odd man out in the Nationals’ suddenly overcrowded outfield.

Williams talked to Harper afterward and made it clear he’s simply trying to put the young slugger in the best position to succeed and help his team win.

“I want him to play every day, and I want him to play the way Bryce knows how to play,” Williams said. “He’s going to hit in different spots in the lineup, and he’s OK with that. And he’s going to play in different spots in the lineup, and he’s OK with that, too.

“I know there’s a lot made of it, and I know there’s a lot of discussion about it. But he and I are good. There’s no rift. We have a conversation every day. I’ve got his back, and I support him all the way. I’m happy to write his name in the lineup every day. Who wouldn’t be?”

Harper didn’t make himself available during pregame media availability in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

Teammates seem less concerned with what Harper says and more concerned with making sure he stays healthy and productive, as he was during Monday night’s win, in which he reached base twice, drove in a run and made two impressive throws from left field.

“He brings a lot of energy to our team when he plays this way,” shortstop Ian Desmond said after Monday’s game. “The way he went about his business today, putting pressure on the defense, made a good throw back to first base there … that’s the kind of stuff that he does. When he plays, he impacts the game. But we need him out there every day.”

Williams echoed those sentiments yesterday, saying he’s not concerned with how other players might have perceived Harper’s comments.

“No, I let him know that I support you, that part of my job is to do that and that I admire his talents and the way he plays the game and how happy we are to have him on our team,” Williams said. “That’s the extent of it. That will not change, and there’s no problem between he and I, certainly. There never has been. I respect him, he respects me. Like I said, I’m really happy to put Harper in that lineup every day. Because it gives us a very good chance to go out there and win a ballgame.”

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.