Inside Major League Baseball’s exploitation of minor leaguers

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Ted Berg of For the Win has written an excellent story about what it’s like to be a minor league catcher in spring training. About how many of them there are and how much work they do. Of how critically important it is to the big league team and big league players that they are there. After all, when pitchers report, they’ve gotta throw to somebody.

Except they’re not paid. No one is paid for spring training. Checks — and for minor leaguers, they are extraordinarily small checks — do not start until games do. The minor league catchers burning 4,000 calories a day with no days off for over a month in the Florida and Arizona sun are doing it for free. But it’s not volunteer work. It’s mandatory.

All of this provides a fantastic illustration of a point we’ve hit over and over again in this space about how Major League Baseball takes advantage of its minor leaguers and, in our view, exploits them. It has paid them less than minimum wage for years and, when a lawsuit arose challenging that, MLB greased politicians in order to get a law passed to allow it to continue to do that legally. In case you forgot:

After a lobbying effort by MLB, last year’s $1.3 trillion congressional spending bill — signed into law by Donald Trump in March — included an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act to exempt minor-league baseball players from federal minimum-wage protection. The so-called Save America’s Pastime Act, originally introduced in 2016 by a pair of congresspersons who received campaign donations from MLB’s PAC, appeared on page 1,967 of the 2,232 omnibus 2018 spending bill.

Minor leaguers are now considered “seasonal workers” and spring training is considered “a try out,” legally speaking. Factually speaking that’s utter garbage, of course. Baseball at the highest levels is a full-time, year-round job and the guys in a minor league camp are there because they already got a job, not because they are getting a try out.

Like I said, we’ve argued that point here over and over again. Berg’s story, though, shows the practical, human side of it. It shows just how much work minor leaguers put in and lays bare just how cynical and disingenuous Major League Baseball is when it comes to the topic of minor leaguer’s pay and the alleged “seasonal work” that is professional baseball.