June 4, 2020

Minor League Players and Covid-19

March 20, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

The MLB owners made the right call and sent the players home. When no one really knew how bad Covid-19 was going to be, MLB ownership got word that their players were at risk. They have invested millions in their teams and so like the billionaire class from which they spring, they moved to protect what is theirs.

Some of the teams went further. The Rays, Tigers, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Indians, Padres, Cardinals and Marlins took steps to assure their minor league players an income stream in the coming weeks and months. The move is one of magnanimity that reflects well on those that have taken the step, but the number of teams in the circle of trust is outnumbered by the number of teams outside the circle.

It is rare that there is good news for minor league baseball players unless they make the bigs. The stories are as old as baseball itself: the pathetic pay scale, the crap accommodations, the late night bus rides through palookaville. It’s all about the crap shoot, all about what it takes, whether it is about the grit, the talent or that rare combination of the two that creates the outliers who thrive in the most intensely competitive atmosphere imaginable.

Our society has for too long gloried in the culling process as though humans are cattle. You got your winners and then you got your losers. You either make the big money and ride in the fancy cars or you travel in steerage with the bums.

There have been many moves over the last seventy-five plus years to change all of that. The progressive movement, the loose aggregation of organizations that advocate for a social safety net that provides basic necessities for all citizens without regard to race or creed and fair wages for honest work; they have begun to focus some attention on the plight of minor league players and demand fair wages and better treatment for them from those that use them as little more than… cattle. Most minor league players are little only competition for the players that the MLB ownership knows will more likely make contributions to their bottom line. The numbers don’t matter. Suffice it to say that only a small percentage of all the players on minor league rosters will ever make a 40-man roster and some kind of decent wage for their years even at the Triple-A level.

I read one comment on an article in the Washington Post about the issue. The comment suggested that the players step in and form their own pool of funds to support minor leaguers. Sounded like a fair plan. If anyone knows how harsh the conditions intrinsic to the minor leagues are, it is the players who spent time there, but now make the big money. And yet for all the seeming equity of that suggestion, it overlooks the vast wealth differential between say a Ted Lerner, who is worth literally billions, and say a Bryce Harper who is worth, millions.

One might argue that there are more players than owners and so the players got billions too. Yes, but only a small percentage of MLB players make Bryce Harper and Mike Trout money. Maybe thirty to fifty players cash in like that at any one time and when you compare their wealth to that of the thirty owners, it’s chump change what they got. And besides, if you think the owners are cheap, try getting anything of value out of Bryce Harper.

It is fair to say that the obligation lies most with the players union. They are heirs to the legacy of many decades of labor struggle in which many people died to create the modern labor movement, ghost of its former self that it may be. They are part of that progressive movement whether they recognize it or not. They have an obligation to push MLB ownership to do something to fairly compensate and protect minor league ball players.

But it falls not only on the players, but on fans as well. The owners make their money on our backs as well as the players. It is time fans took some responsibility for the game they love. Call and write to your favorite team, especially if you cannot find their names in the group above. Let them know what you will do if they cannot act responsibly as we define it in the modern world. When there is a nationwide, nay, worldwide crisis that affects us all, everyone has to do their part. The billionaires need to make contributions of scale. They got more to give and they should step up to the plate and do their part. If not, we shouldn’t be supporting them. Boycott their games and see what happens.

Ask the great names of the civil rights movement what it took to force cities across the nation to integrate, to provide fair accommodations to people of color. It wasn’t just marching, it was boycotting the businesses and affecting the bottom lines of those that make the decisions about who gets served at the larger table at which we all sit and hope for a fair share. Vote with you wallet. It is the best voice you got.

 

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