On the heels of recent legislation that codified legal underpayment of minor league baseball players, the intrepid Eno Sarris of The Athletic spoke with former minor leaguer Eric Sim about the financial difficulties he experienced trying to work his way to the major leagues.
Sim, now 29, was selected by the Giants in the 27th round of the 2010 draft. The catcher played in the minors from 2010-15, then played in the independent American Association in 2016. He briefly played in Double-A and Triple-A, but spent the bulk of his career in Single-A.
Included in the article is a picture of Sim’s contract, signed with the Giants on June 24, 2010. It ascribed a $1,100 monthly salary at rookie ball (domestic and foreign, denoted as R and 1F), short-season Single-A, and regular old Single-A. Double-A had a $1,500 monthly salary and Triple-A had $2,150. If you do the math, those are yearly salaries of $12,000, $18,000, and $25,800, respectively. However, minor leaguers are only paid for the regular season, which is five or six months out of the year, so you can halve those numbers I just listed. As Sarris notes, minor leaguers are not paid for spring training or during the offseason which is why so many of them end up working one or two jobs during the offseason.
Sarris asked Sim to describe what a typical day was at an away game. He typically arrived at 3 PM for a 7 PM game and worked for the duration of those four hours excepting about an hour break for a pre-game meal. After the game, which ends around 10 PM, Sim did about an hour of post-game recovery and ate a post-game meal while packing for an upcoming trip. For the next 12 hours, in this particular instance, he would be traveling by bus from Augusta, Georgia to Lexington, Kentucky with only a few bathroom and food breaks. Minor leaguers don’t travel in luxury which is something we know from watching Bull Durham but don’t really take into consideration.
In a typical month, teams only have a couple of off-days. In fact, looking at the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies Triple-A) schedule, they have exactly one day off in May. The players will be traveling by bus from city to city nine times in that month. Nine grueling bus rides with one day off in the entire month. Sarris correctly notes that if he were to spend 10 hours traveling for work, it would be considered company time. It often isn’t characterized that way for minor leaguers.
Sarris gets a typical spring training day a typical offseason day from Sim as well (during which, remember, minor leaguers don’t get paid). It’s worth reading his full article to find out what those are like. Sim says he and his teammates would use his meager meal money to get a $1.50 “huge” pizza during happy hour at a sports bar in Scottsdale, Arizona during spring training. Sim said, “None of us ate healthy, as healthy food is expensive as [heck].”
Importantly, Sarris points out that minor leaguers have so many hidden costs as part of their job. Gas. Gym memberships. Facility fees. Clubbie fees. Paying for supplements out of pocket. Equipment, much of which isn’t provided by their teams. Sarris doesn’t mention this, but even the meager signing bonuses players sign when they’re drafted in the late rounds, as Sim was, have been cut into with agent fees and such.
Sim described his living situation. “We all got a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, the rent was $1450 plus utilities and everything else, so we had seven guys in our apartment. Six guys in three rooms, one living in the living room. We shared it evenly so we each paid around $300… almost half our paycheck.”
Sim, by the way, ended up significantly out-earning his baseball pay — by more than double — with a few months of offseason work as a bartender.
I don’t know how one can read about Sim’s experience in the minors and not feel horrible about their living conditions, and not want to fight to raise their standard of living. I can’t imagine being an owner of a sports team, someone with wealth reaching into the billions of dollars, and know intimately about those conditions and not only do nothing to fix it, but to lobby Congress to codify doing less. It’s absolutely shameful that Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball capitalize obscenely off of the labor and the product of their players, then turn around and spit in their faces like this.
Again, the full article by Sarris at The Athletic is worth your time. If you’re not subscribed, subscribe or get a free trial.