MLB Issues Ridiculous Defense Of Anti-Player Legislation

*Cracks Knuckles*

Thursday, in response to the anti-player Save America’s Pastime Act proposed by some jerk in Congress and denounced by it’s no-longer-as-jerky co-sponsor a day after she was bombarded with negative reactions, MLB released a totally bogus statement siding with the legislation, that makes them sound like a bunch of freaking idiots. In my humble opinion. I’ll just walk us through the text, point by point, and tell you why they’re either wrong or dumb, or maybe just making things up.

There are approximately 7,500 players in Minor League Baseball.

Good start, seems about right. Maybe I’ve misjudged you, MLB.

MLB pays over a half a billion dollars to Minor League players in signing bonuses and salary each year.”

Maybe not. That money is paid to minor leaguers, but a signing bonus is not salary; it’s an incentive to sign a contract instead of going to college to play baseball and/or other sports, or instead of staying in college to continue playing baseball, or, eventually, instead of being a math teacher or a scientist or an IT professional or a businessman. Also, from Baseball America’s JJ Cooper:

Minor League clubs could not afford these massive player costs.”

This is about the dumbest thing anyone has ever thought and then put in writing. Probably you could find dumber, and hey, there’s like half a dozen more sentences in this release, so we may yet. Of course minor league teams can’t afford these costs. They’re reliant on their parent clubs. These aren’t knock-off baseball clubs in a parallel league. They’re MLB’s teams with MLB’s players and coaches.

MLB heavily subsidizes Minor League Baseball by providing Minor League clubs with its players, allowing professional baseball to be played in many communities in the United States that cannot support a Major League franchise.”

The idea that we’re to make some distinction between affiliated minor league teams and their parent clubs continues – they “subsidize” the MiLB clubs? Compared to independent leagues, this is true, but to pretend that the clubs would not operate without MLB assumes that MLB would ever not want to operate teams and leagues to develop their young players. It’s a fallacy. If MLB thought it made sense to teach their players without traveling and without playing in front of increasingly large crowds, they would shut it all down and play complex ball from rookie to AAA.

Moreover, for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.

Ahh…”seasonal”. This argument is sickening. You know what’s seasonal? Cleaning toilets at a water park in New England. When the park closes for the summer, you go home and find something else to do for money for the rest of the year, and YOU DO NOT THINK ABOUT CLEANING TOILETS AT THE WATER PARK OR PRACTICE CLEANING TOILETS OR LIFT WEIGHTS AND RUN AND EAT PROPERLY SO YOU’RE READY TO CLEAN TOILETS NEXT JUNE.

And when the “season” ends, the expectation for many players is to be available for instructional league, with no pay. After that, plenty of minor league players do have other jobs in the off-season. I can recall hearing of Phillies affiliated players working as substitute teachers and home improvement store employees, among other things. Those that make decent bonuses from the draft or International Amateur free agency can spend their time training and relaxing and getting healthy for the upcoming year. Those that do not often need the money just to survive. And if you can’t take the time to stay in shape, or work your throwing program or get in your hitting, at best you’ll fall behind the curve, and at worst, if the club thinks you’ve shown a lack of dedication, you’ll simply be cut. The rest of us call that “being fired”. Seasonal employees don’t risk being fired for not honing their skills all winter, nor for showing up half a uniform size larger.

And when the next “season” of your employment rolls around? Spring Training. And you know what they like? When you show up early. And you know what’s frowned upon? Showing up ON TIME. They won’t pay you for the spring, but if you don’t give them more of your time than they’re allowed to require? Tsk, tsk, young man. A mark against you.

Were I flush with extra time, I could write a lot more about the asinine phrase “short-term seasonal apprenticeship”, but I think nine-year minor leaguer Colin Young says it pretty well:

Minor League Baseball players always have been salaried employees similar to artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Except, none of those other professionals are dictated to by a ~$10B a year conglomerate of corporations. If they are? They’re called contractors and they make real money. Or they’re hired as employees, and make real money.

Like those professionals, it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many promotional or charitable appearances they make.

The notion that a player’s time on the job can’t be tracked is absolute trash. We live in an age where anyone can broadcast on social media that they have signed in or out of the hotel they like to stay on a business trip, or the place they like to eat or go to worship, or the bar they go to drink or sometimes the place they go to legally score dank, sticky weed, (depending on the jurisdiction). ANYONE. The idea that MLB, which can take the time to track down a guy who GIFs the game he loves to 3500 dedicated baseball fans who just want to see a clip of something they’re probably watching anyway, the idea that this organization claims it can’t keep track of its players time on and off the job, is either a lie or The Dumbest Thing Anyone Has Ever Thought And Then Put In Writing. Sorry “Minor League clubs could not afford these massive player costs.” You got got.

And even if it were difficult, or even if it were impossible, to accurately track your Own. Employees’. Hours. –  I have a suggestion: estimate. Take a representative sample of players and properly track them for a full year, regular season and off-season. Pay them a salary commensurate with the minimum wage for the states and localities where they work, including overtime pay for the number of weeks where the estimate says they would work more than 40 hours. And hey, if you don’t want to pay overtime, there is a mechanism – just pay your employees the new Labor Department Standard OT exempt minimum of $47,476 per year! For 7500 players, that’s roughly $350M a year.

Hmm…feels like we’ve seen a “$” and a “3” and a “5” in that order somewhere recently…

Oh, I remember; it’s from the valuation of the 1/3 share of MLB Advanced Media that Disney is reportedly buying – $3.5 Billion. MLB literally made enough money Thursday to pay for a decade of minor league service! I think, MLB, we may have stumbled right into a solution. I know you can’t announce it until this Disney Deal is done, but let me be the first to congratulate you on coming to your senses:

good job by #MLB to sign all their future superstars (and their teammates) to a 10-year contract extension

(Sorry, Jon).

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  1. Dante

    July 01, 2016 12:18 PM

    That last point is pretty damn ridiculous. We don’t think we should pay you based on all these things that we REQUIRE YOU TO DO: show up for spring training (at least on time, if not earlier), practice and conditioning, making appearances. but the “summer apprenticeship” line is the most egregious for sure.

    I think an hourly wage would be difficult to implement (though not impossible, as you state), which is why I agree they should be paid the overtime exempt minimums salary. that way players aren’t motivated to do more based on the money, but for the ability to stand out from someone doing the minimum work.

  2. Feeling the Bern

    July 01, 2016 12:57 PM

    When comrade Bernie becomes Tsar, all this will change and the commissioner’s office lined up against a wall!!!!

    • Brad Engler

      July 01, 2016 01:48 PM

      I had no idea Milwaukee’s mascot was so pro-labor.

  3. CJ

    July 01, 2016 01:18 PM

    Wish I had time to research a more objective take on this. Who filed the class action (I know, a couple of ball players, but really, who is behind it?)

    When something is declared an Obvious Outrage after existing nearly 80 years, I can’t help but question motives.

    • Brad Engler

      July 01, 2016 01:47 PM

      Similar things were probably said about free agency in the 70s. It took nearly a century to bust the owners’ codified grip on players’ service. Didn’t make it any less reasonable.

      • CJ

        July 01, 2016 04:18 PM

        Fair point, though I don’t know that that point was actually made prior to free agency. Do you know who is behind this suit? The lawyers behind it? Did players approach them or vice versa?

      • Brad Engler

        July 01, 2016 05:29 PM

        A former minor leaguer who is now an attorney started that large class-action suit.

      • CJ

        July 01, 2016 10:35 PM

        Is there a reason he’s not identified?

  4. Romus

    July 01, 2016 02:27 PM

    If this movement is successful….will this raise ticket prices and the cost of concession products at minor league parks?

    • Brad Engler

      July 01, 2016 04:31 PM

      To my knowledge that is all controlled by the minor league owners. So if shouldn’t make a difference. But could I be wrong – like could MLB try to force, say, a popular AAA team like Lehigh Valley to pass along more to the Phils? Franchise fee, or what have you…I do not know.

      • Romus

        July 01, 2016 05:00 PM

        Interesting…that ‘franchise fee’ aspect is certainly possible.

  5. simple fact

    July 03, 2016 12:23 PM

    Some things to remember:
    The MLB Draft is FORTY (40) rounds long to fill the ranks with cannon fodder and the occasional 26th rounder who makes it to the big leagues
    They draft 1200+ kids plus the international players who do not count in the US Draft

    Realistically, I don’t see why a kid in the rookie league whose talent doesn’t warrant the significant signing bonus should be paid 47,000 when many hard working, not so athletically talented workers, don’t make it for laboring just as hard or harder at life, not playing a game.

    I could see some type of graduated scale which pays kids a little more as they advance from rookie to single A to double A to triple A but no one puts a gun to the head of a kid drafted in the 4th, 5th , 20th or 40th round to sign.

    If you want to make the argument that the kid wasn’t smart enough to go anywhere else but baseball, well he better be pretty damn good or else he could choose to work for a living instead of playing baseball.

    Yes, baseball is owned by the rich but at the same time, it is also a profit center and a business. Think North Dallas Forty and Nick Nolte arguing with the coach and owner. “Every time I call it a game you call it a business but then every time I call it a business you want to remind me it’s just a game!”

    FA has put money in the pockets of the players and did not ruin the business side of the game. You could argue that FA has in fact, transpired the game to the heights of profitability for the owners even as it made the players rich beyond imagination.

    I believe that the MiLB would not be hurt by paying these players a guaranteed pay scale as the bonus money is paid to a few and except for the highly sought after is not enough to retire off of. I agree, the players are no longer part time players. They are expected to stay in shape, follow regulated workouts mandated by the companies personnel training staff during the offseason and, as stated, if they do not show up ready to go, they will quickly be cut unless the MLB team spent a significant investment in them to start with. At the same time, expect prices to rise if this happens but the MiLB is a limited market so prices could not rise above what the market would bear, i.e., market economics.

    I don’t understand how any of these leagues continue to operate with Antitrust impunity, this should have been revoked years ago but they own the media and spend money on lobbyists to keep this in tact.

    Baseball has held a unique exemption from antitrust laws in accordance with the interpretation of the Supreme Court in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1922). The Court held that antitrust laws do not apply to professional baseball. Professional baseball had a reserve system in which once a player signed with a team, he became the property of that team only until he retired from the team or the team no longer wanted him. Major League Baseball (MLB) has had eight work stoppages since 1972, with player strikes or owner lockouts causing the cancellation or postponement of games in 1972, 1981, 1985, and 1994, as well as spring training cancellation in 1990. The MLBPA was formed in 1954, and MLB had its first collective bargaining agreement in 1968. To date, the baseball players association has won virtually all of the labor disputes. This accounts for baseball players having the highest salaries among the four major sports leagues.

    Should be an interesting case as it moves forward.

    • Brad Engler

      July 03, 2016 11:33 PM

      I disagree that a player that fills one roster spot should be treated differently than one who fills another, or someone who works long hours at a non-profit or a tech start-up. But if you want to have a sliding scale, start the rookie ball guys at the $47k number and give more to those at higher levels.

      Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts. Keep coming back!

    • Shane

      July 06, 2016 11:55 AM

      A valid point.

      I have to wonder how relatively poor teams like the Rays, Marlins, A’s, and Indians will fare if all of a sudden they had to dramatically increase their operating costs for their minor leagues. Would they still run all of them? Perhaps drop their AA affiliates? With a weak Minor League system, can those teams ever hope to compete again?…perhaps even causing the team to fold? Why run the business if it cannot make money? The truth is that you cannot make a drastic change in any system and expect no consequences to ripple through that system, sometimes unintended consequences can make things worse. What if MLB just collectively decided to get rid of all AA teams to cover the costs? Or would we all enjoy seeing our ticket prices increase dramatically too? Would anyone pay double to see the Rays?

      Also, what exactly is the going rate for small market baseball players? I read once that the typical Independent League players make about $4.50 per hour. Seasonal entertainment businesses are exempt from minimum wage laws. I read some even play for free. Seeing how I have paid money to play Softball and Ice Hockey, I understand. Maybe Minor League players should consider themselves lucky?

      It is easy to paint large corporations that earn hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year as greedy. However, you need to understand that the vast majority of that money goes out again to pay for everything. Taxes, Salaries, Insurance, Utilities, Loan Payments, etc. Sometimes more as they must take out loans to cover present costs they hope to pay for with future earnings. Think of your own “revenue” and notice how much you get to throw in your Scrooge McDuck vault and swim in at the end of the day. Maybe the Yankees and Red Sox have deep vaults, but I doubt the Rays do.

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