A week ago over at Brew Crew Ball, I explored the importance of union membership for big league ballplayers. The MLBPA is considered one of the strongest unions in America, which is exemplified through their fight for free agency, guaranteed contacts, and an excellent pension program that a player vests in after just 43 days of service time in the major leagues.
Unfortunately these same protections aren’t extended to the minor league players that make up a bulk of the workforce within any MLB organization. It can be a tough life down on the farm, making long road trips by bus, playing 144 games over the course of just five months. It’s only worse when you add in the fact that most players are essentially earning less than minimum wage, and typically bring home a mere $6,000 annually.
Late last week at “The Hardball Times,” Chris Mitchell published a piece surmising that lack competitive pay in the minor leagues may be deterring potential players from pursuing a baseball career. And that’s not just competitive in terms of other athletic careers. Mitchell shows that on average, a minor leaguer could make more money if he had chosen employment as a fast food cook, a dishwasher, or a black-jack dealer. Most players, especially those chosen in the lower rounds that receive negligible signing bonuses, are forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck.
The data shows one side, but players’ voices are often absent. For this feature, I spoke with two professional baseball players, who agreed to share their stories anonymously. One player has minor league experience, while the other has experience in the MLB and minors.
My signing bonus was a little less than $100,000 but taxes took away a lot, it was only about $60,000 after. But I’ve got most of that invested right now to save for down the road. I do have some in an account that I can use if I really need to, which is important because right now down in extended spring training we don’t even receive a regular paycheck. We get $115 per week of “meal money,” but let’s say you wanted to go to a movie and grab a bite after or something, then you’re already down $30 and still have the rest of the week to get through.
Extended [spring training] is probably harder just because we have to be up at like 5:50-6:00 to get to the field where it’s later for higher up levels, but we work our asses off at the field for 10-12 hours a day. People at McDonald’s make more than us and they’re just sitting behind a cash register.
We are provided hotels to stay in, but it’s basically impossible to go grocery shopping to provide the meals for ourselves. Some teammates and I actually had an argument about it with our training staff and nutritionist. The team expects us to eat well and make sure we’re getting our nutrients, but all of the healthy food that’s good for you is so much more expensive. So it’s difficult to maintain a good diet and most of the guys just end up eating a lot of fast food.
As of right now, my mom is acting as my agent and if I had to pay a real agent, I would be either 1. bankrupt or 2. not be able to support myself at all. In the offseason, I worked at Bath and Body Works stocking shelves from 5:00 a.m. until noon so that I’d be able to have a little bit of walking-around money. At least it didn’t cut into my training schedule and I was still able to work out and condition in the afternoons.
Everything is a factor for us players and our development in baseball: conditioning, eating right, getting enough sleep, stretching, etc. If I didn’t have to worry about money like I do, it would take one more thing off my mind and help sharpen my focus and improve on the field, I have no doubt.
My signing bonus was more than $300,000, but after taxes it came out to only around $200,000. I believe pay scales are preset to each level and you get a $25 per diem on the road that I believe is the same at every level. Paychecks come every other week, when I was in AA I was getting around $700 every two weeks. But after taxes and clubhouse dues, most of the time I was just breaking even or coming in in the negative.
They don’t help with housing at all, so you have to live with roommates. Typically it’s more [roommates than bedrooms] to help lower the living cost, ha. Financially, it’s extremely stressful. It’s an ongoing joke with other players about how we are paid, but at the same time it’s also very frustrating. I was fortunate enough to receive a nice bonus, so I had a little more peace of mind. But for my teammates that were drafted in the later rounds, it was a year long grind. They would have to work their tails off during the offseason, getting other jobs to make ends meet and to try and save up some money to have during the next baseball season since like I said, you’re usually losing money each month during the season.
Now that I’m in the major leagues, the biggest difference is in our diets. It’s nearly impossible to sustain a healthy or consistent diet in the minors due to our low income and a limited amount of restaurants that are open to go to when games are over. I think if more effort was put into helping out that way, it would definitely affect a player’s outlook on the situation. If we saw the team working to get us good food to eat and improve our diets, we would be far more appreciative because we can see them making an effort to contribute to us reaching our full potential. A consistent diet definitely gives us more of an edge as far as performance goes in the big leagues.
Editor’s Note: Signing bonus information has been adjusted to protect these players’ identities.