Perhaps that’s not the best title for a piece that probes a hidden side of baseball, but it’s one that I’ll take away from the struggles of many players who never reach the big leagues nor a reasonable pay day. Side conversations at the park with one of the players’ fathers opened my eyes to how wide the pyramid of wealth is in a sport that, as Bob Nightengale reports, will generate a $10 billion revenue stream by the end of this year.
No doubt the perception of money to be made in the sport is the carrot that’s dangled in front of players is the pursuit of a big pay day. But only 10% of minor league ballplayers will ever see a day in the major leagues, and a significant subset of the 90% who don’t make it will work for less than minimum wage, continuing to support themselves with jobs during the off-season. The idea of playing into one’s 20s and 30s primarily because of the love of the game (“I’d play even if they didn’t pay me”) is fast becoming a part of the past, and as revenue steams keep widening, players have become less tolerant of the lack of trickle down money.
This is the backdrop to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 32 former minor leaguers by a minor league pitcher turned attorney, as reported by Mother Jones in the summer of 2014. And in a landmark ruling last month, the U.S. District Court in San Fran ruled that the lawsuit can be certified as Class Action. Baseball America reports this means that roughly 10,000 current and former minor leaguers can join the class action suit dating back to 2011. Frankly I can see both sides of the argument.
This is another interesting facet of the game in which labor law tries to match what has progressed much beyond a game, to a fundamental business practice. Although MLB and MiLB has argued that players in the minors are no different than individuals volunteering to do a low or no paid internship in certain business sectors, the fact is these athletes spend considerably more years working for the clubs than interns do in business.