Battling for the Field of Dreams
Less than 10% of minor league baseball players who sign contracts each year get the chance to play a single game in the major league. Most young baseball players would work for free if given a chance to play for a Major League Baseball (MLB) team. Players with a pro contract don’t dwell on the money in the beginning, they just want to play.
There are 1,200 minor league players drafted each year and Major League Baseball has authority over their contracts and working conditions. MLB players earn an average of $3.3 million per year with a minimum of $507,500 per season. But their minor league counterparts don’t share the lucrative earnings due to a league labor rule requiring all first year players to be paid a mere $1,100 a month.
MLB defines players as "creative professionals," who are typically exempt from hourly pay laws. Under the labor law, minor league players are not entitled to minimum wage guarantees or overtime pay and MLB is not required to compensate them for off-season work or spring training. At the upper levels of minor league ball most players earn $2,150 a month, still barely above minimum wage. MLB said in a statement, "For the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.” The league stands firm on minor league salaries as a way of keeping team costs down, since an increase of $10/hour per player could add millions to the bottom line.
Unlike the Major League Baseball Players Association, which has helped secure lucrative multi-million dollar contracts for its members, minor league players don't have a union. Currently, the average MLB team is worth $1.54 billion (Forbes). Pro player earnings have increased 2,000% since 1976 while their minor league counterparts only increased 75% during the same timeframe. Factoring in inflation, minor leaguers earn less today than they did 30 years ago.
Last year the "Save America's Pastime Act" was introduced in the House of Representatives to "clarify certain requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 with respect to minor league baseball players." The bill was introduced in response to a lawsuit by a group of more than 2,200 former minor leaguers who are suing MLB for back pay based on federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws.
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