When we consider the term “professional baseball player”, most of us imagine a jet-setting major leaguer with an fat contract (an average of $4.47 million annually in 2017). In the United States and Canada, 750 players find themselves on big league rosters while approximately 6,175 toil in the minors hoping to beat the odds and get called up someday. Their chances are not good; fewer than 10% of minor league players ever land a major league roster spot.
Put bluntly, the life of a minor leaguer is not at all a glamorous one. Their earnings – as little as $1,100 per month – are often significantly below the federal minimum wage threshold, they’re only paid during the season, and they’re ineligible for overtime pay despite regularly working 60-70 hours per week. Spring training is mandatory, yet they receive no pay aside from a small stipend for living expenses. They may work as much as seven months with only eight days free. Financial hardship leads to difficult living circumstances and poor dietary choices. Players with families must often choose between pursuing their dream and time with and the welfare of those families.
Americans adore the romantic notion of “paying one’s dues” in any field with the potential for fame and fortune. The struggle to reach the majors will always exist; there are far more talented players than there are spots on major league rosters. The question is whether minor league players must endure such grim financial circumstances as part of the process. Most fans know little of the players’ true circumstances and also enjoy the narrative of players chasing their dreams in the face of hardship, and so there’s little sympathy on that front. Entities with a financial stake in the matter – major league players, owners, and front office personnel – have been and will continue to be unwilling to approach the problem with an unbiased perspective. They frequently argue that adversity at the minor league level serves as incentive for players to work hard and eventually reach the majors.
What can be done about the circumstances of minor league players? A good start would be representation on the Major League Baseball Players Association. Though minor leaguers have no voice on the MLBPA, the union makes a great deal of financial decisions affecting the minors. Minor leaguers may also encourage legislation extending labor laws to professional baseball, or they may litigate. Players undoubtedly fear being blackballed as the result of taking such actions, and it’s unlikely that change will come until a few courageous individuals step forward.