Must-click link: surviving spring training on $0 a day

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We’ve talked in the past about the pending lawsuit filed by former minor leaguers against Major League Baseball alleging violation of fair labor practices. Specifically, that minor leaguers are paid way, way less than minimum wage and, at various points in the year, are expected to do things for no pay. Conditioning regimens, personal appearances and all of spring training for that matter.

Today Tony Dokoupil of NBC News has a story about one of the plaintiffs in that suit. His name is Witer Jimenez and he played in the Phillies organization. He came here from the Dominican Republic thinking he actually had a job that would pay him a living wage. Nope. When he got to the Phillies camp in Clearwater he was impressed by the training facilities and the team hotel, but was surprised by the fact that his salary was exactly zero dollars for the month and a half he’d be there:

“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his Latino teammates, gathered one night in the hotel. “Un lio,” they agreed. “A mess.”

Finally, late one night a team official knocked on the door, and took out a roll of money. He peeled off a $20 bill and handed it to Jimenez. “With that we washed our clothes,” he recalled. “If there was any left, we had to eat with that.”

He said lost nearly 20 pounds off an already slim frame. Resentments festered and boiled. His mind returned to the scene at the airport when he left the island. His mother cried and his father embraced him.

“Don’t forget,” the older man warned. “You gave up your education for this.”

Whether the practices major league teams employ regarding minor leaguers are illegal is for the courts to decide. There are some arguments on the other side, of course. For example, MLB may argue that there are all manner of in-kind benefits paid to players that make up for the low and in some cases no salary. Stuff like those free hotel rooms. Or they may convince a judge that players are seasonal employees, even if the requirements of minor leaguers are a more or less year-round proposition. The lawyers will hash all that out in the coming months and years.

But the legalities aside, I remain dumbfounded that teams continue to treat minor leaguers like this simply from a competitive perspective. We’ve long heard stories about how the lack of money in the pockets of minor leaguers forces them to subsist on peanut butter and jelly or, in some cases, five-for-$5 Rally Burgers and the like. Or, as is the case with Jimenez here, to subsist on little if anything. When you’re in the business of developing professional athletes you’d think you’d not create incentives which force them to utterly disregard basic nutrition.

In an age when teams look for every possible edge, however small — that Extra 2%, if you will — how they can’t spend a tiny fraction more on the quality of existence of their baseball players is an utter mystery to me.