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Weep not for the Independent Leagues


Last week we talked about how the new provisions in the just-passed federal spending bill — specifically, the subset euphemistically-entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act” — will eliminate labor law protections for minor leaguers. Specifically, it exempts them from the Fair Labor Standards Act.

While it was initially thought that the law would allow the leagues to pay players less-than-minimum wage, that’s not really accurate. Technically, the bill mandates that baseball employees receive minimum wage for a 40 hour work week, which works out to $290 per week. Practically that’s no help to minor leaguers, though, in that minor leaguers are NOT working 40 hour work weeks and only get paid during the season. That means that team obligations and training between September and April — and there are a lot of those sorts of obligations — represents unpaid labor. When we say minor leaguers make less than minimum wage, it’s because they are, effectively speaking, making far less than minimum wage once you account for their actual labor, which Congress is now saying need not be accounted for.

That mandate that players be paid actual minimum wage will do something else, though. As J.J. Cooper of Baseball America wrote on Friday, it could mean the end of the Independent Leagues, as they aren’t even paying their players that $290 a week:

In some independent leagues, this new bill could blow up their salary structure by massively increasing costs. In others, it will mean closing the doors.

“If that is the case, it puts us out of business,” said Mike Shapiro, the president of the Pacific Association’s San Rafael Pacifics. “It would be the ruination of at least lower level independent leagues like ours. We’re struggling enough with worker’s comp . . . It’s the end of independent ball, certainly at the lower levels.”

Today Jeff Passan of Yahoo takes aim at that:

Oh, and just this week, MLB’s lobbying efforts in Washington to inure themselves from having to pay minor league players a living wage somehow wound up in the spending bill. Never mind the collateral damage that low-level independent leagues now must pay minimum wage to players, which essentially murders their business, which means MLB’s effort to make sure minor leaguers live near the poverty line indirectly means fewer people get to see and play baseball. Awesome.

I’m failing to see the problem.

The Independent Leagues are colorful and irreverent and a fun time is had by all, but if your business model is predicated on paying people less than minimum wage, your business model is flawed. If you can’t pay your workers $7.25 an hour, you don’t deserve to stay in business. At least not as a profit-making operation like the Indy League operator quoted above is. And don’t even get me started on his dig at worker’s compensation, which is crazy to complain about given that indy operators are making money off a pursuit that has an inherent risk of serious injury to workers.

If you want to keep the West BFE Wildcats in business, turn them into a club team with volunteer players like that college friend of yours who plays rugby with his drinking buddies. Run it like those semi-pro softball guys who travel around and share in weekend tournament purses or something. Don’t expect, however, to continue to operate them like a business with underpaid people as your employees. You have no God-given right to make money running a baseball league and the rules of capitalism are far less forgiving than anything He’s handing out.

It’s bad enough that Major League clubs are now legally allowed to treat minor leaguers like summer lifeguards or whatever. Going even farther below that is not something which should be defended, even if, on some philosophical level, you like the idea of indy baseball.

The Players’ Weekend uniforms are terrible

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The Yankees and the Dodgers have a storied World Series history, having met in the Fall Classic 11 times. Part of what made those falls so classic was the livery worn by each club.

The Yankees’ uniforms have gone unchanged since 1936. The Dodgers, though changing cities in 1958, have had the same basic, classic look with only minor derivations for almost as long. You can’t even say the names of these teams without picturing pinstripes, those red Dodgers numbers, both teams’ clean road grays, the Yankees navy and the Dodgers’ Dodger blue.

They looked like a couple of expansion teams last night however, at least sartorially speaking.

As you probably know it’s Players’ Weekend this weekend, and teams all over the league wore either all black or all white with player-chosen nicknames on the back. We’ve had the nicknames for a couple of years now and that’s fine, but the black and white combo is new. It doesn’t look great, frankly. I riffed on that on Twitter yesterday a good bit. But beyond my mere distaste for the ensembles, they present a pretty problematic palette, too.

For one thing the guys in black blend in with the umpires. Quick, look at these infields and tell me who’s playing and who’s officiating:

The white batting helmets look especially bad:

But some guys — like Enrique Hernandez of the Dodgers, realized that pine tar makes the white helmets look super special:

There was also a general issue with the white-on-white uniforms in that it’s rather hard to read the names and the numbers on the backs of the jerseys. This was especially true during the Cubs-Nationals game in the afternoon sunlight. You’ll note this as a much bigger problem on Sunday. It’s all rather ironic, of course, that the players have been given the right to put fun, quirky nicknames on the backs of their jerseys but no one can really see them.

The SNY booth was reading many people’s minds last night, noting how much Mad Magazine “Spy vs. Spy” energy this is throwing off:

I’ll also note that if you’re flipping between games or looking at highlights on social media it’s super hard to even tell which team is which — and even what game’s highlights you’re seeing — just by looking which, you know, is sort of the point of having uniforms in the first place.

I’m glad the players have a weekend in which they’re allowed to wear what they want. I just wish they’d wear something better.