BLOG: How baseball’s minor league system affects future stars
Written by Scott Heric
Baseball players who advance to the major leagues can expect to be well paid. Recent data shows that the average salary for a Major League Baseball player in 2021 was $4.17 million. While that’s only half the National Basketball Association’s average salary, it’s ten times the Major League Soccer average salary.
However, not everyone makes it to the major leagues. An MLB career almost always begins in minor league baseball and can involve years of playing for salaries only baseball insiders describe as “poverty wage”.
Minor League Defendersa nonprofit founded by former baseball players to improve working conditions in the minor leagues, reports that the median annual salary for a MiLB player is $12,000, which is below the poverty line US federal for an individual.
Advocates For Minor Leaguers is pushing for a series of changes across Minor League Baseball. Chief among them is the creation of minor league unions that would give players a voice in decisions that affect their financial situation and career opportunities.
Why does Minor League Baseball need a union?
The power of unions lies in collective bargaining. Regardless of the industry, the voice of a single employee will rarely be enough to bring about change. However, union representatives generally speak for the majority, exerting an influence that leaders must respect.
As an example, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is made up of 1,200 members which include players, managers, coaches, and trainers. The MLB player count is just over 1,000. MLBPA membership is not open to minor league players.
If player stories are to be believed, the problems that exist in MiLB go beyond the meager salaries players receive. Players also complain of poor living conditions, difficult travel schedules and unfair contracts. As a result, many gamers suffer from anxiety and depression. A MiLB union would provide minor leaguers with a voice that could bring about positive change.
What changes are happening in Minor League Baseball?
One of the biggest issues reported by minor league players is with housing. Because salaries are often insufficient to cover the cost of rent, players report sharing apartments with multiple players, some of whom have families with children, live in cars, or sleep in team clubs. Even when they can afford rent, players are often reluctant to commit to rental deals due to the high likelihood that they could transfer to a club in another city at any time.
In late 2021, MLB announced the approval of a new policy that will require teams to provide housing for the majority of minor league players. The policy, which will take effect at the start of the 2022 season, states that accommodations provided must be furnished and the league pays for utilities. Reports said the new policy came in response to complaints from players and advocacy groups.
Minor league defenders attributed the victory to “collective action” by minor league players, but also pointed out that the housing provision plan was developed without player input, a situation that the unionization of players in minor league baseball could resolve.
What are the biggest changes in Minor League Baseball?
With housing for MiLB players moving in a positive direction, the next issue defenders are looking to address is the uniform player contract. Every Minor League Baseball player is required to sign the contract, which bars players from being able to get better pay or benefits on other teams for seven seasons.
The uniform player contract also commits minor leaguers to training and “rendering professional services” year-round, regardless of whether they are only paid during the season. Many players report that training and other team duties, such as representing teams at public events, compete with the jobs they have to do during the months when they don’t get a check. MiLB payroll.
While unionizing minor league baseball players would clearly provide a mechanism to improve working conditions for players, past efforts have stalled. Some experts cite fear and immaturity among minor leaguers as an obstacle that would be very difficult to overcome. However, recent victories and the growing influence of groups like Advocates For Minor Leaguers signal that more positive changes may be coming.
Scott Heric is the co-founder of union, a digital payment platform built on the mission of giving organized workers control of their financial destiny. Recognizing that the majority of unions only accept cash or checks, with little to no visibility or control over digital revenue generation, Scott launched Unionly in April 2020 to bring much-needed modernization to the processes employed by unions to manage financial projects.