The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Baseball officials to lobby Congress to help MLB avoid paying minor league players minimum wage

A young fan waits outside the stadium where the minor league team the P-Nats play in Dale City, Va. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Minor league baseball players get paid peanuts — well, most of the time. Save for a freak major league player coming down with a pre-existing contract (ahem, Dan Uggla), those who start in the minor leagues and remain there make less than minimum wage.

This is the driving factor behind a class-action lawsuit filed in July by minor league players against Major League Baseball, which operates the minor leagues, in U.S. District Court.

It looks like MLB isn’t going to concede easily, especially when it has the help of Stan Brand, vice president of Minor League Baseball. At a the winter meetings last week Brand said MiLB had plans to lobby Congress with the aim of getting an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act, arguing that minor leaguers are seasonal employees and thus not eligible for federal wage protection.

“In the coming year, we will be seeking legislation to clarify that professional baseball players are not covered by these federal wage and hour laws,” Brand said (via Baseball America). “Just as we did in the 1990s to save the antitrust exemption, we will need your help to explain to our legislators the importance of this issue to the future of minor league baseball and their communities’ investments in stadia and infrastructure. I do not want to overstate the threat this suit presents, but I think my honest assessment is that it is equally perilous for our future as the antitrust repeal was in the 1990s.”

NBC Sports reporter Craig Calcaterra was quick to poke a hole in Brand’s argument, however. He writes that the suit would likely not affect the bottom lines of minor league owners who operate stadiums because MLB pays the minor league players. Calcaterra continues:

“Brand and his friends worry that if Major League Baseball clubs have to pay minor leaguers a living wage, they’ll pass on their higher costs to minor league baseball somehow. Which is in no way the problem of or the fault of minor league players who are making $5K a year for what is, in reality, a full-time job. If minor league teams made crap deals with Major League Baseball, change the deals, don’t lobby to keep the workers who get the people to buy tickets to your games in poverty.”

Minor league players make base salaries of $5,500 per year. This amount covers only the months of the season and not any training — including mandatory spring training — that players generally do to keep fit. They do this, though, because of the dream. If players make it to the majors, they get a 90-fold salary increase. The minimum wage in MLB is $500,000 per year.

This kind of discrepancy between minor league and big league pay is not uncommon, but it is more extreme than even the D-League and the NBA. The lowest paid D-League player makes $13,000, while the minimum salary in the NBA is $507,336.