Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. What a perfect line to describe Major League Baseball and their lesser known “objects.” Now when referring to minor league baseball (MiLB) players it may sound cruel to describe them as such, but not nearly as cruel as a life of a minor league baseball player chasing his dream.
Two weeks ago the NFL finished their yearly draft and over 200 players were selected. In June, assuming the MLB draft isn’t affected by COVID-19, over 1200 players will be selected onto 30 MLB teams. The road for the 900 who sign is a long one that will almost certain to end in failure. For the 200 NFL players drafted, over 80% will play at least 1 NFL game. Of the 1200 players drafted into baseball, it is a staggering 17.6% that will play only 1 MLB game (those numbers are from 1981-2010). Over the next few months the ESBC gambling podcast network will bring you a series of articles about the “Road to the Show.”
Not only will we chronicle the road for the drafted player (usually American born), but also the international free agent (usually Latin) and the defectee (usually Cuban.) In today’s article we break arrive at the tip of the iceberg. Like all of our sports content there are betting angles to exploit, it may sound cruel but by the end of this series it won’t sound nearly as bad. Baseball is a game of failure, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in Minor League Baseball.
In 2016 Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) sponsored a bill that exempted minor league players from earning overtime. The players never were paid OT but in the nearly 2,000 piece of legislation that it would be attached to in 2018, it specifically exempted minor leaguers from being eligible. On the surface it may look like government oversight gone wrong but digging deeper you find the true nature of the exemption. First we look at the father of Cheri Bustos, Gene Callahan. Callahan was one of the most influential political aides in IL and a tremendously successful lobbyist.
Not surprisingly he was MLB’s first lobbyist in Washington. The apple did not fall far from the tree. It is important to note that Bustos received backlash from constituents and pulled out quickly but the bill survived. The unofficial name of this act is: “Save America’s Pastime.” The irony is laid on thick here. You may be wondering why MLB would be so steadfast in their aims to keep the minor league pay down. They can afford it right? Sure they can, but they don’t have to.
In 2016 owners were seeing salaries rise and knew something must be done. Like most corporations in this country they took advantage of the most vulnerable. OT pay could be life changing for some guys. Ballplayers don’t clock out after the 9th inning. When on the road long bus rides are a given.
When transportation, warm ups, prep and everything else is added up you are looking at well over 40 hours per week. However since baseball players are technically “seasonal employees” they are not eligible for OT and the “save America’s past time” tried to keep it that way.
The bill was never passed into law but the implication was clear from MLB, their main goal is to keep the minor leaguer down. So what does a minor leaguer make? Obviously it depends but the average is about 1,100$ a month. By comparison on average as a California bartender I make a little more than double that a month on a low end. The high is is nearly triple that.
This obviously includes tips which make my wage higher than minimum wage so lets look at it from that angle. Each state has a different minimum wage but i will use the country’s average which is 7.25. A 40 hour work week nets a little less than 1100 per month a minor leaguer makes.
However it is important to note that a third of a minor leaguers salary goes to clubhouse fees. Essentially they pay for their uniforms to be laundered, their clubhouse to maintained and maybe a PB&J sandwich before or after a game, but definitely not both! You also must take into account the fact that a work week for a minor leaguer is over 40 hours with no OT. What becomes more disheartening for a player chasing his dream, is he isn’t allowed to complain about the low pay or anything else. MLB hides behind the mantra of “you got to earn it.”
In other words: If we paid you in accordance with labor laws, it would be too easy. This backwards thinking is nothing new when it comes to the MLB powers at be, but lately the MLBPA has lacked in it’s defense of it’s minor league players. Despite not being a part of the union unless you are on a teams 40 man roster, the MLBPA has power to cap the MiLB salaries. In the last few negotiations, most concessions were made at the expense of a group that can’t defend themselves.
Of the four major sports baseball’s “road to the show” is the toughest. Only 10% of the players drafted recorded a WAR of 0.1 or higher. If you are drafted in the first round you have a 66% chance to play 1 or more MLB game, second round is 49%, 3rd is 37%. If you are drafted in the 11th round or later, you have a 5% chance to play a single MLB game. The NFL rookies laugh at these numbers. Nearly every one of the first AND second round picks in this past April’s draft will play at least one NFL game.
When Kyler Murray had to choose between baseball or football it wasn’t as tough as most would think. Murray would have been a highly pampered MiLB player but still wouldn’t make the bigs until probably this year at the earliest. Instead he has not only been on the team since day 1, but he is also one of the faces of the Cardinals organization. Despite the hardships and the odds, there is no shortage of players ready to pay to achieve their dream like most Americans, now if only they were paid like most Americans.