Former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard announced his retirement with a post at The Players’ Tribune two weeks ago. Today, The Players’ Tribune published a video in which Howard discussed what life was like financially as a minor leaguer in the early 2000’s as well as the planning and decisions he had to make as he established himself in the majors.
As the above caption shows, Howard says he made $800 a month while playing for Low-A Batavia in 2001, which as the Phillies’ affiliate at the time. He added that $100 of that would end up going to his host family. For the uninitiated, host families are basically regular people who open their doors to house minor league players during the summer, providing them food and shelter at a much cheaper price than if the players were to rent an apartment or live in a motel for the season.
Howard’s advice — don’t spend frivolously, save money, rely on financial advisors and veteran teammates, have boundaries — is sound. But it would have been nice to see him use his experience as a grossly underpaid minor leaguer as a jumping-off point to advocate for current and future minor leaguers getting paid a livable wage. Earlier this year, as a result of MLB’s lobbying efforts, the underpaying of minor leaguers was codified into law, essentially classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers or apprentices.
Major leaguers have benefited from the presence of the MLB Players’ Association as one of its roles is as a union. MLBPA’s union is one of the strongest of its kind in the U.S. in an era of rapidly declining union strength. It is because of the union that players can negotiate their salaries in front of an arbitrator, can reach free agency, and can negotiate for more control over where one is traded. Minor leaguers have never had union protection, which is why they have been consistently taken advantage of over the years.
Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that some minor leaguers have broached the idea of trying to form a union. That was spurred in part by the recent legislation that passed earlier this year, but also because of the MLBPA’s reluctance to widen the umbrella to represent minor leaguers. Indians reliever Andrew Miller, who is on the executive board of the MLBPA, “In negotiations, everything is essentially traded dollar for dollar. There might be a possibility for us to pressure the MLB side to raise wages on the minor league side. However, we would probably be sacrificing, say, arbitration, or some sort of dollars that are being spent on us elsewhere. That is just the reality of the deal.”
Of course, the owners will use any plea to pay minor leaguers a livable wage as reason to cut corners elsewhere. However, per Shaikin, guaranteeing the approximately 300 minor leaguers in the Dodgers organization $25,000 per year would cost less than infielder Logan Forsythe‘s 2018 salary, which is $9 million. According to Forbes, the Dodgers are valued at about $3 billion. $9 million is 0.3 percent of $3 billion. For someone making $50,000, that’s the equivalent of $150, or a monthly payment on a cheap car. If Dodgers ownership wanted to, it could ensure each of its minor leaguers lives a healthier, less stressful lifestyle for the equivalent of the monthly payment for a Kia Rio for someone making $50,000. That team owners actively choose not to pay their minor leaguers adequately, even to the detriment of their own organizations, is a moral failing. It would be nice to see more players, current and former, call it out.