LOS ANGELES — In May, Major League Baseball agreed to settle an 8-year-old lawsuit brought by current and former minor leagues for violating various wage laws. Four days ago, it was announced that the settlement totals $185 million and includes a stipulation that the teams will do so in the future Not are expressly prohibited – as before – from paying for their minor leagues outside of the regular season.
On Monday, the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who are investigating the continued utility of MLB’s unique antitrust exemption, sent a letter to Commissioner Rob Manfred asking him a series of poignant questions about how this might affect baseball in the Minor in particular League affects. The letter, which comes after a similar request was sent to a minor league advocacy group last month, shows at least some interest in pursuing legislation to repeal or limit the scope of that exemption. The league has one week to respond.
In response to the settlement, the league issued a statement stating, among other things, “We are only in our second year of a major overhaul of the 100-year-old player development system and have made great strides in improving the quality of life for minor- League player.”
And in response to the letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the league issued a statement that said, among other things, “We look forward to providing the committee with detailed information regarding baseball’s limited antitrust exemption.”
All of this represents a crescendo of frustration and despair from minor leagues, long paid reprehensibly low wages that the MLB advocated legalizing with the 2018 bill cowardly titled Save America’s Pastime Act, the minor league minimum wage and exempt maximum hour requirements. Advocacy groups and articles about living conditions have spotlighted the situation and drawn criticism of the league.
Prior to 2021, minor league salaries were increased but job numbers were cut as the league eliminated affiliations from more than 40 teams. And that year, MLB introduced a housing policy to eliminate a major source of stress and expense for players, but implementation has been uneven and reception mixed.
Despite these improvements, players are only paid during the season, and players with no major league experience make between $4,800 and $14,700 annually.
Asked if the problem was that the owners couldn’t afford to pay the minor leagues a living wage, Manfred said on Tuesday that he “kind of refuses[s] the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage.”
He explained: “I think we’ve made great strides in recent years in terms of paying minor league players – even putting aside the signing bonuses that many of them have already received. They get accommodation, which is obviously another form of compensation. I’m just dismissing the premise of the question. I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Granted, a “living wage” is more subjective than the federal poverty line, which the MLB only erases at the high end of minor-league salaries. A recent study suggested $35,000 for minor leagues to “balance them with a living wage.” An MIT calculator that takes into account the local cost of living puts the limit for a single adult with no children at $18.08 an hour in Maricopa County, Arizona — where many of Crew’s complexes are located. Elsewhere in the country, this figure is slightly lower or higher.
Of course, for smaller leagues, the issue is less where their salaries are falling relative to the bare minimum than their pressing financial woes and inability to negotiate for a larger chunk of the multi-billion dollar industry.
“I have very little doubt that Major League Baseball will give minor league players more carrots to avoid structural changes,” Harry Marino, chief executive officer of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, said just before Manfred addressed the media. “Free housing is great, except, guess what, if Major League Baseball wanted to take free housing away next year, they could.”
Hours before MLB hosts the All-Star game at Dodger Stadium, he mused if the league is concerned about the status of the antitrust exemption that allows for such bias and necessitates goodwill.
“I think the league is very nervous,” said Marino. “And I think with good reason.”