Minor League Baseball Players Demand More Than Peanuts and Crackerjacks

By Ryan Eden

The life of a professional baseball player is long thought to be glorious and potentially historic. As contracts for the game’s elite continue to grow, fans can only swoon at the type of money players may receive. Alex Rodriguez’s suspension this year will cost him in the ballpark twenty-five million dollars.[1]  However, for every elite player earning the type of money most can only dream of, there remains dozens more professional baseball players stuck in the minor leagues, anonymous to most, who barely make ends meet, and are fed up with that.  On February 7, 2014, three former minor league baseball players filed suit against Major League Baseball’s Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and three Major League Baseball clubs, the Miami Marlins, San Francisco Giants, and Kansas City Royals, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.[2]

The rules of Major League Baseball state that for each of its thirty teams to only have forty players on their roster.[3]  Of those forty, only twenty five may be considered active on the club’s major league roster, with the rest designated for assignment to a club’s minor league affiliate.[4]  So while there are only 750 players on active Major League Baseball rosters, with over 250 minor league teams across various leagues and levels of professional baseball which several thousand players on these rosters, there is a considerable disparity between the number of minor league players and major league players.[5]  There is an even greater disparity in salary from the MLB to the minor leagues.  Under the current CBA agreement the MLB Players Association has with MLB, the minimum salary for a player who reaches an active roster is $500,000.[6] Meanwhile, the maximum salary for a first year minor league player is $1,100 a month.[7]

While minor league baseball players will be unlikely to see salaries reach anywhere near the minimum for a MLB player, they just seek what they feel would be just compensation, as they see their current wages as both unlivable and illegal.  While most minor leaguers will claim that they endure a work week longer than forty hours, if you calculate a forty hour work week at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, you get $290 a week, which translates to approximately $1,250 a month.  This means that even a player making the maximum allotted salary, calculated at an assumed forty-hour workweek is being paid less than the federal minimum wage.  This becomes a further issue as the minor league baseball season lasts for only about five months[8], requiring players to seek alternatives each offseason just to get by.

The three former players who have filed the lawsuit are seeking back pay for what they have alleged as clear violations under the FLSA.  One hurdle these plaintiffs will need to get over though is that they are indeed covered by the FLSA.[9]  As the FLSA does not extend coverage over seasonal employees, the plaintiffs may strikeout before even making it anywhere close to a trial.[10]

While the outcome of this lawsuit is something to look at in the coming months, several ideas have been pitched among baseball analysts and sportswriters as to how to fix this problem moving forward.  Zachary D. Rymer the lead MLB writer at BleacherReport.com suggests not only increasing salaries for players on a monthly basis during the season, but to provide them with a yearlong salary.[11]  It was estimated that MLB revenues in 2013 were between eight and eight and a half billion dollars.[12]  With revenues that high, there is no reason to think that a deal cannot be struck that would provide minor league baseball players with fair and livable salaries, they are professionals after all.

[1] Ray Sanchez, “Alex Rodriguez drops lawsuit, accepts 162-game suspension” CNN February 9, 2014. Available at http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/07/us/alex-rodriguez-lawsuit/

[2] Susanna Kim, “Pro Sports Glamour? Minor Leaguers Say They Barely Get Paid” ABC News February 12, 2014. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/minor-league-baseball-players-minimum-wage/story?id=22467458

[3] MLB Official Info – MLB Miscellany: rules, regulations and statistics. Available at http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/about_mlb/rules_regulations.jsp

[4] Id.

[5] Minor League Baseball – Teams by Classification. Available at http://www.milb.com/milb/info/classifications.jsp

[6] Michael McCann, “ In Lawsuit Minor Leaguers Charge They are Members of ‘Working Poor’” Sports Illustrated February 12, 2014. Available at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20140212/minor-league-baseball-players-lawsuit/

[7] Id.

[8] Zachary D. Rymer, “MLB Must Finally Answer for Exploitation in the Minor Leagues” Bleacher Report February 12, 2014. Available at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1957838-mlb-must-finally-answer-for-exploitation-in-the-minor-leagues

[9] Supra note 2.

[10] Id.

[11] Supra note 8.

[12] Maury Brown, “Major League Baseball Sees Record Revenues Exceed $8 Billion for 2013” Forbes December 17, 2013. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2013/12/17/major-league-baseball-sees-record-revenues-exceed-8-billion-for-2013/


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