While introducing the players in each team’s lineup during Sunday’s Futures Game at Petco Park, MLB Network broadcaster Matt Vasgersian referred to players as “property” of their respective teams multiple times. It’s a colloquial way of saying a player is in a particular team’s minor league system. I made a tweet about one particular instance in which Vasgersian referred to Hunter Renfroe as “property of the Padres” and received a handful of replies noting that this isn’t exactly new behavior for Vasgersian.
This isn’t meant to single out Vasgersian because he’s not the only one to have called prospects “property.” As fans and media types have gained awareness of the labor issues in the minor leagues, referring to players that way has gone out of style, deservedly so. But we haven’t eradicated it yet. Let’s do that.
The plight of minor leaguers has made headlines recently when a proposed bill sought to change language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 so that Major League Baseball could continue to underpay its minor league players. One of the two Congresspeople who backed the bill, Cheri Bustos (D-IL), rescinded her support after receiving widespread public criticism. MLB doubled down, saying that minor league ball “not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship.” They’re professionals right up until the time MLB has to cut a check.
So how much do minor leaguers make? According to MiLB.com, they earn $1,100 per month maximum in their first contract season, or $13,200 per year. They earn $25 per day in meal money at all levels, only for road games. Teams typically haven’t focused on making sure their minor league players eat well. The Phillies made headlines earlier this year by investing about $1 million to make sure their young players have healthy meal options. Most of them have to live on gas station grub, fast food, and ramen noodles. They’re sharing apartments with more roommates than there are bedrooms, often by a factor of two or three. Or, as was illustrated in the movie Bull Durham, players shack up with friendly locals known as “host families.”
The players are treated like indentured servants, so it follows that the language reflects that. Paying attention to the language can be a small step towards paying minor leaguers a living wage, as it forces people to empathize with them.