To paraphrase the movie Bull Durham, minor league baseball is a great job, enabling grown men to show up to the ballpark each day and play ball rather than selling appliances. Kevin Costner’s character didn’t quit in the opening scene and ended his season with the “dubious distinction” of hitting the most home runs in the minors.
Along with being an entertaining film, it showed that baseball outside the “big show” is a grind with a lot of travel and minimal pay, especially compared to those in the majors. Sometimes players are cut for no reason beyond making room for someone else the organization believes has more potential.
Unfair labor practices were an issue
Major leaguers average $4 million annually with a minimum wage of $700,000. Conversely, some minor leaguers make as little as $3,000 per season despite working 50-70 hours a week during the five-month season. It adds up to well below minimum wage with no extra pay for overtime. A class action lawsuit was filed in 2014 on behalf of minor league teams for all 30 MLB teams to address this issue. The two sides settled (although a judge still needs to sign off on it) on May 10, 2022.
Since minor league players were only paid for playing during the season, they were not paid to attend spring training and participate in instruction leagues. This settlement ensures that thousands of minor leaguers get compensated for all the outside work that makes them better players and bigger team assets. As part of the settlement, MLB will issue a notice informing teams that they can now pay players at spring training, extended spring training and instructional leagues. The league officer previously blocked teams for paying, arguing that the players were seasonal workers instead of year-round employees.
A long time coming
Fixing the pay scale is another step in an ongoing overhaul of major league baseball’s minor league system, which operated much the same way for a century. Some of these traditions sound quaint, like rooming in the homes of locals in the town where they play A ball to save money, but many of the 5,000 players earn between $4,800 and $14,700 and have other non-baseball jobs during the off-season.
- Other recent changes to benefits include:
- More than $450 million in signing bonuses each year for first-year players
- Free housing
- Multiple free meals daily
- Quality health care
- College tuition if they choose to go to college after being drafted
The league previously tried to have the class action dismissed in 2020, but the U.S. Supreme Court denied the request. The settlement avoids MLB being assessed penalties.