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Congress and MLB are working together to screw minor leaguers

Representatives Brett Guthrie and Cheri Bustos introduced a bill allowing MLB to keep minor league ballplayers from earning a fair wage.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a November Rasmussen poll, just eleven percent of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing. Since then, the formerly illustrious body has done little regain their faith, utterly failing to pass meaningful legislation that would keep terrorists from buying assault rifles or Zika from running rampant through the South.

But don't worry, because Congress is about to get 30 big fans in the form of Major League Baseball's owners, thanks to a bill introduced by Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky's 2nd district) and Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois's 17th disctrict) today to make minor leaguers exempt from Federal minimum wage requirements:

Both Guthrie and Bustos have received money from Major League Baseball's PAC, and Bustos's father used to work as MLB's chief lobbyist.

The justification the "honorable" congresspeople make above is total and utter bullshit. First, minor league teams do not pay the salaries of their players. Those players are paid directly by their parent clubs. Moreover, Major League Baseball needs its minor league system to continue to sift through the amateur talent that it finds, in order to put the best product on the field at the Major League level, where teams make their real money. Reducing the number of affiliates would almost certainly harm the teams' bottom lines. Finally, MLB made $9 billion last year. It can easily absorb the cost increases associated with making sure their future ballplayers aren't forced to scrounge.

As a reminder, while Major Leaguers earn a minimum of $500,000 per year, minor leaguers earn far, far less than that. David Dorsey recently reported that "those who aren't on the 40-man rosters or have no big-league experience make less -€” in most cases, far less -€” than $2,500 per month." Players for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, in Guthrie's district, typically earn around $1,500 per month. Given that they're often at the ballpark or working out 10-12 hours per day, and get few days off, that's something like $4 or $5 per hour. Also, minor leaguers aren't paid during the offseason.

"But what about that sweet signing bonus money?" you might be wondering. Sure, some players do get an impressive signing bonus (some of which will go to taxes and to a player's agent). But that's in the high rounds. Twins prospect Chris Paul, for instance, who works as an Uber driver in the offseason, received a bonus of just $50,000 to sign with the Twins as a college senior even though he was a sixth pick. Of the 315 players taken in the first 10 rounds, 34 of them got $10,000 or less to sign. One seventh rounder had to settle for $5,000. A ninth rounder and a tenth round pick each got just $2,500.

It only gets worse from there. The draft, after all, is 40 rounds long and there is no floor on how little you have to pay a pick. The overwhelming majority of ballplayers from that draft will not make enough to live on without some kind of assistance from family, or getting a second, third, or fourth job during the offseason (when they also need to be training). And the overwhelming majority of them, when they leave organized ball, will leave it with nothing.

For two years while I was in graduate school, I served as a clubhouse manager in the Pirates minor league system. I saw a few high draft choices in that time. Andrew McCutchen was one.

But the overwhelming majority of players who came through were either late picks, undrafted free agents, or international amateurs. They didn't have a nest egg. They didn't have anything. And every couple of weeks, I had to gather up $20 in dues from each of them that they couldn't really afford. Some of them already had families. I can't imagine managing that on $1,500 a month.

Every day I watched all of them attack the pregame spread of PB&J, lunch meat, fruit, chips and cookies until there was nothing left and they had to dip into their own pockets for ballpark pizza or hot dogs. And I watched as they were released from their contracts, with everything they owned in a suitcase and a team-issued duffel, go off to start a different life.

It's pretty intolerable. Nobody expects minor leaguers to make a fortune, but they need to at least make a living wage during the season. They need to be compensated fairly for the time and effort they put in. And by that I mean ALL of the time and effort, including the mandatory workouts and Spring Training (for which ballplayers earn a small per diem).

It's fundamentally un-American not to pay a person a fair wage, and this bill is the very definition of that. It's about making sure that billionaires don't have to pay their employees enough to live on. And it's a damn shame when representatives like Brett Guthrie and Cheri Bustos are willing to bend over backwards to protect a handful of billionaires, but refuse to do anything to help the rest of us. Shame on them, and shame on us if we let them. Contact your congressperson and strenuously object to this legislation:

UPDATE: Representative Bustos has reversed her position on the issue, releasing a statement that reads, in part:

While In the last 24 hours, several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention that have led me to immediately withdraw my support of the legislation.... While it’s important to sustain minor league baseball teams that provide economic support to small communities across America, I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players that draw us to stadiums like those in the Quad-Cities and Peoria.

Whether it’s on the factory floor, in classrooms or on the playing fields of one of America’s revered traditions, I strongly support raising the minimum wage and the right to collective bargaining for fair wages, and I believe that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do."

This is fantastic news that has been met with a good deal of snark online. But this is how we want our Congressional representatives to be, responsive to the concerns of voters and preventing the exploitation of workers. I embrace Rep. Bustos's change of heart, and thank her. And I call on Representative Guthrie to do the same thing.