Major League Baseball has rolled out a slew of new rule changes this past week, set to hit the league in 2020. Included in the new singular trade deadline and limited roster spots policy could be a change long overdue: paying minor league players a living wage.
Emily Waldon of The Athletic has been a vocal advocate for the rights and fair wages of minor league players, recently producing a powerhouse of an article about the real, jarring struggles that those who are still waiting on their ticket to the show face. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, minor league players being able to afford food that isn’t ramen noodle packages could soon be a standard.
Passan’s report indicates that MLB owners are widely in support of improving conditions for minor leaguers — despite the fact that the league lobbied to have the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” an act that makes minor leaguers exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime laws, quietly inserted into a $1.3 trillion federal spending bill that was required to keep the government running last spring. This would include improvements to player salaries — which often keep players far under the poverty line as things are structured right now — as well as nutrition, ballpark amenities, and transportation. However, the major league owners reportedly want owners of minor league clubs to contribute to the quality of living improvements — a change from the current system, under which major league teams pay all player salaries and are responsible for supplying coaches and trainers to the affiliates. It’s possible that while this new way of doing things would be beneficial for most players, it could end up hurting plenty of others, as Passan writes that the potential new standards of quality could lead to contraction of some minor league affiliates. While we all know that not every minor league player is going to end up reaching the majors — not even a majority of them, for that matter — a reduced number of teams would obviously decrease the number of job opportunites for players in affiliated baseball and would lead to fewer players being able to chase their dreams of playing in the majors. Perhaps that’s a small price to pay in exchange for livable conditions for the majority of players, but it’s a factor to consider.
While this feels like huge win for minor leaguers now and in the future, it still merits a mention of how long the change took and that not all the rules moving forward will benefit players—but will all certainly keep the owners happy. The cutting of roster spots and by proxy all but sending utility players to the unemployment line has now made it even harder than it already was and neglects the hard work and growth players strive for just to reach the roster expansion in September. But hey, it keeps teams comfortably under the luxury tax. Not to mention that MLB still has lobbyist willing to throw down millions of dollars re: the “Save America’s Pastime” Act, to continue to systematically deny players overtime pay while exploiting them for revenue. Even though we’re getting there, let’s not turn a blind eye to where we’ve been, or let the excitement deter us from all the work that’s left to be done.
We’re at the very beginning of the bargaining stages, so Tony Clark, Rob Manfred, and Major League Baseball could swerve deeper or further from this at any moment. One thing is certain though: the CBA is becoming more fluid with the changes the game demands and no owner wants to be on the wrong side of history (or, more importantly, Twitter).