Labor Day: Minor League Wins Fair Labor Lawsuit against MLB

Midway during the Major League Baseball owners’ lockout of its players, I promised myself that I was done. No more universal DH, ghost runner, launch angles, tender limbs, watered down Hall of Fame standards and — most of all — no more haggling between the billionaire owners, the multimillionaire players and meddlesome, anti-baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. I pledged not to watch or listen to one-third of any inning of any 2022 game. Unlike more important self-help vows I’ve made, I stuck to my pledge — no small feat for a fan whose summers for the last seven decades have included daily baseball doses.

But another constant disappointment is the principal reason I’ve steadfastly refused to contribute one thin dime to baseball — its years-long miserly, shameful treatment of minor league players. Advocates for Minor Leaguers (AML) crunched numbers and found that the median annual salary for a minor league player today is $12,000. The federal poverty level is $12,800, and the 2021 average MLB franchise has a $1.9 billion value.

MLB team owners pay their minor hopefuls a standard $400 weekly salary at the Complex League level, $500 per week in Single-A, $600 per week in Double-A and $700 per week in Triple-A. Players are paid only during the regular season and playoffs, despite being required to perform year-round in off-the-field duties. Minor leaguers, whose numbers were slashed when Manfred mandated that 42 teams be eliminated, make an annual salary of between $4,800 and $15,400. Weekly payments for entry-level minor leaguers are less than what minimum-wage workers earn in some states for a 40-hour workweek.

Unlike major-leaguers, minor leaguers don’t draw checks until their first regular season game. Professional baseball is specifically exempted from federal labor protections. However, teams still are subject to state wage laws which owners routinely ignored. Instead, owners contended that players should be classified as short-term seasonal apprentices similar to farm laborers, a specious argument that a federal judge rejected.

Harry Marino, who played four minor league seasons, and is now AML executive director, said: “Guys struggle with housing, nutrition and making ends meet on a fundamental level. The system is outdated, exploitative and needs to change.” Last year, one viral AML video showed how nearly a dozen St. Louis Cardinals Double-A affiliate Springfield players were forced to sleep on the floor of a hotel banquet room while on the road.

In 2014, three retired minor league players filed a lawsuit which claimed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as abuses of state minimum wage and overtime requirements. Eight years later, MLB agreed in court to pay minor leaguers $185 million to settle. An early guesstimate is that as many as 23,000 players could share the money with an average payment to each of $5,000 to $5,500. MLB grudgingly told the court that it approves of the settlement.

Garrett Broshuis, the players’ lead lawyer and a one-time minor league pitcher, called the settlement a “monumental step” toward “fair and just” compensation for the players. Broshuis continued: “I’ve seen first-hand the financial struggle players face while earning poverty-level wages — or no wages at all — in pursuit of their major league dream.”

The minor leaguers’ court win is a refreshing victory for the good guys against the stuffed-pockets, Scrooge McDuck-type tycoons content to let their prospects subsist on a bologna sandwich and sleep on the floor while they eat wagyu beef aboard chartered jets. Good baseball is everywhere — high school, college, Little and Pony Leagues, and the Independent League. Fans shouldn’t support the MLB tightwads, and can find better, more enjoyable baseball outlets close to home.

Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi

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Syndicated columnist Joe Guzzardi writes about immigration issues and American baseball history. Twitter @JoeGuzzardi19