One of baseball’s most vulnerable communities has been put in an even worse position due to the coronavirus. Minor-league baseball players have been left scrambling after the start of the Minor League Baseball season was delayed due to fears of spreading the coronavirus.
The situation is pretty dire, according to Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal. It’s reached a point where some international prospects have left the United States to go home because they don’t have other options. As Diamond points out, those prospects could have a hard time getting back into the United States depending on what travel restrictions are in place.
Things aren’t much better for minor-league players staying in the country. As one agent told Diamond, “Minor-league guys are screwed.”
MiLB players don’t get paid until season starts
Issues surrounding minor-league players are plentiful, but the biggest problem they face revolves around pay. The vast majority of MiLB players do not receive a living wage. Sure, there are occasional outliers who receive multimillion-dollar bonuses, but those players are generally first-round picks. Those types of deals are not common.
On top of that, minor-league players only get paid in season. They are considered part-time apprentices and do not receive paychecks in the offseason. Because of that, many minor-league players depend on an April paycheck. With the start of the season in limbo, minor leaguers are uncertain when they’ll begin receiving compensation in 2020. Players who desperately rely on that money may have to wait until June to get it.
Some minor-league players have filed a lawsuit to try and raise pay, but a bill passed by Congress exempted minor-league baseball players from federal labor laws. Major League Baseball spent a significant amount of money lobbying to keep the status quo and not pay minor leaguers more money.
MiLB players don’t have other options
MiLB players are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Association. While major-league players also face plenty of uncertainties about the season, they have received guidance from the league. Major-league players also make significantly more money than minor-league players, and are more prepared to get by without a consistent paycheck.
The nature and uncertainty surrounding this delay puts minor leaguers in an impossible spot, according to Diamond. They can’t collect unemployment, and finding a temporary job could prove difficult. From the Wall Street Journal:
For now, though, minor leaguers face an uncertain future. They’ve been instructed to stay in shape, even as gyms around the country close. They can’t take a part-time job, because they don’t know when they’ll have to depart suddenly to head back to spring training. They can’t collect unemployment, because they are technically still employed by their baseball teams. Now that they aren’t in spring training more, they will no longer get the team-provided lodging and meals.
One minor-league player, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Blake Gailen, told Diamond he would usually give baseball lessons to kids to supplement his income, but that’s going to be more difficult with many people practicing social distancing due to the coronavirus.
How can we help minor leaguers affected by coronavirus delays?
Crowd sourcing and GoFundMe pages are options. A group called More Than Baseball is accepting donations which it says will assists minor-league players.
The easiest option, of course, involves major-league team owners stepping up and paying minor-league players to help them get through the delay. Team owners in other sports — as well as other professional athletes — have agreed to pay arena workers who have been affected by postponements. Minor-league baseball players are similarly vulnerable, but no team owner or major-league player has vowed to help minor-league players yet.
Baseball made a record $10.7 billion in revenue in 2019. There’s more than enough money to go around. That’s been the case for some time now, but the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic should be more than enough to spur owners to do the right thing and fairly compensate minor-league players.
Minor-league baseball players may have a solution soon
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will speak with teams Monday at noon ET. He’s expected to discuss minor-league pay on that conference call, according to Diamond.
It’s unclear what the league will decide, though the fact that minor-league pay is on the docket suggests MLB realizes it is a significant issue. Minor-league players are the lifeblood of the major-league game. Making sure they are taken care of in a time of crisis should be a priority.
Who knows, maybe this will be the thing that convinces MLB — and its team owners — that taking better care of minor leaguers is something that needs to be done on a permanent basis.
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