Baseball: Disparities in Pay for Professional Players

By: Greg Levinsky

Professional baseball players in America are overpaid. This statement is undoubtedly truthful for an exclusive group of 750 that compete at the game’s highest level; nevertheless, over 5,500 minor league baseball players earn unlivable salaries each year.

Most minor leaguers make below the $11,880 American poverty line for a single person, thus demonstrating a paradox to the first statement of this piece. Taking into account a spouse and children whom they likely will not see regularly for at least seven months of the year, the lifestyle nor salary is desirable.

The sole motive for continuing to play Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is to advance to Major League Baseball (MLB).

“It’s been a long time, it’s definitely a grind,” said a minor leaguer who asked to remain anonymous. “I still love playing baseball and as long I have the opportunity I’m going to keep fighting and grinding.”

Undoubtedly, the game’s best players make too much money. According to USA Today, the average MLB player makes $4.4 million a year. There are 71 players in the MLB set to make over $15 million during the 2017 campaign. For example, Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw is set to receive $33 million, roughly one million dollars per time he plays.

A $30,000 pay raise for all 250 players in an MLB team’s farm system would cost a mere $7.5 million, according to Ted Berg in his recent article. This amount is less than what 165 individual players will earn in 2017.

“I never knew that,” the anonymous player said. “That’s not a lot of money to them. They make so much money year in and year out, I don’t think that would make any of them broke.”

One on hand, major leaguers get the chance to go to salary arbitration hearings against their own teams. The highest level athletes at their sport are unionized and can negotiate their salaries. Lucrative endorsement deals do not even factor into these overpaying MLB contracts.

On the other hand, most minor leaguers players are unable to negotiate their contracts and fall under scaled payments.

After being drafted, minor leaguers sign a seven year contract with their parent club. “We would go up $100 every year starting with $1,100 [a month],” said Peter Hissey, who spent seven seasons in the Boston Red Sox system before retiring after the 2015 season. His maximum salary was $1,600 a month.

The MiLB regular season runs from April until September. Despite being under control of their parent teams during the offseason and spring training, minor league players only receive this abysmal pay during these six months. If they make the playoffs? No extra pay either. Report to spring training early? Live in a luxurious college-style dorm.

The “offseason,” or lack thereof, is spent not only in spring training, but often in fall and winter leagues to help train for the next season. The life of an MiLB player is unglamorous.

“The money is in the back hand,” Hissey was told, meaning that once he reached the Red Sox he’d receive a sufficient stipend. Now 27, Hissey is enrolled as an undergraduate freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School.

Most MLB players also secure performance based bonuses in their contracts. For example, according to MLB.com, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers earns an extra $100,000 for each All-Star nod he receives on top of his $292 million salary over eight seasons.

Cabrera’s All-Star bonus could give an entire roster of an MiLB team an extra $4,000 each. That cash spike would double many current minor league player’s salaries.

The anonymous player rendered 2015 Eastern League All-Star honors and received no stipend for an extra three days of work. “A trip to Portland, a lobster dinner, and a chance to represent my team in the All-Star Game.”

“They’re used to getting the cheapest of everything,” said Mike Coziahr, who has worked as an MiLB clubhouse manager for six seasons, and is currently in his first season as the home clubhouse manager with the Portland Sea Dogs.

“There’s all kinds of misconceptions about how minor leaguers are paid, they aren’t paid like [Alex Rodriguez],” said Coziahr. “They’re not asking for millions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’re asking to be paid fairly.”

“I definitely think we should get more money. I’m not saying we should be rich because we are not MLB players,” said the anonymous player. “But I definitely think we should have something to show for being professional baseball players.”

Major League Baseball should be ashamed of the salaries that their affiliated players receive.

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