The underwhelming pay of minor leaguers has been a hot topic of conversation this season. It mostly started at the end of June, when two Congresspeople proposed legislation that aimed to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In doing so, it would allow Major League Baseball to continue paying minor league players what is effectively under minimum wage.
While one of those two Congresspeople — Cheri Bustos (D-IL) — withdrew her support, Major League Baseball doubled down. In a June 30 press release, MLB said that minor league baseball is “not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship.”
A common refrain from those who read columns showing empathy towards the players went something like, “If the minor leaguers don’t like it, they can just quit and do something else.”
At Baseball Prospectus, Trevor Strunk explains that Major League Baseball’s monopoly on the sport means that the players are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If a minor league player does choose to seek employment elsewhere, his options are limited to the independent leagues within the U.S, which pays similar to or less than the minor leagues. Otherwise, he’s forced to travel abroad to South Korea or Japan, for instance. And that’s only an option for a select handful of players.
Strunk further illustrates that all of the risk falls on the players. None of it falls on the owners. If a player chooses to pursue playing baseball, he endures years of substandard pay in the minor leagues with no union representation for the hope of a future major league payout where the minimum salary is just north of $500,000. If a player takes that risk and doesn’t reach the majors, he’ll be no better off than where he started and can either go into coaching or reenter the workforce inexperienced and, oftentimes, unqualified.
Rightfully so, Strunk calls it a “coercive contract system.” In other words, as he puts it from the point of view of the owners, “You can take a risk on yourself for four years, and I’ll profit either way.” It’s a well thought out column and worth the read.