Professional talent with amateur pay

How Minor League baseball players struggle to live


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons via Wikimedia

Peter Benavides, Author

Whether they are picked first or are a post-draft signee, a first-year player can expect to make barely over $1,000 per month. From perspective, the national average for a fast food worker is $16,500. Most minor league players are earning less than the federal poverty line.

The common belief is that professional athletes are all living in 4-story mansions with an indoor pool and movie theater, when in reality, that can’t be farther from the truth. Of the 0.5% of high school players who will eventually be drafted, 10% of those 0.5% will make it to the MLB. So minus the %10 of professional players who make it to the show, the rest will be stuck in the minors. In minor league baseball, there are three main levels: AAA, AA, and A. While there are rookie ball leagues and high and low A, the bulk of the minors are those three.

For most minor leaguers, their spending money comes from their signing bonus, with the rest of it they will need to use it to live. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 which equals to a full-time annual paycheck of $15,080. Most players earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season with most hovering around the $1,100 per month. For 40 hours plus 20 of overtime, that levels out into $4.00 an hour. Making $3.25 an hour less than minimum wage requires players to hold down jobs during the off-season, and those with families often have to work two jobs during the season. There are cases of as many as six teammates living together in a two bedroom apartment. Minor league catcher Matt Paré described his living arrangements in an interview with Minor League Adjustments, “Since September alone, I have slept at over 20 different locations with the sleeping arrangements including, but not limited to futons, pullout couches, standard couches, air mattresses, a bean bag, and a surprisingly comfortable shaggy rug. Sometimes, I had the luxury of sleeping in an actual bed.” How is it possible for minor leaguers to live this life while the MLB minimum salary is half a million dollars?

The “Save America’s Pastime Act” was recently introduced to congress to make sure the union-less minor-league players can continue to make less than minimum wage. The MLB released a statement supporting the bill saying, “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 also called the players “creative professionals” who are often exempt from hourly pay laws. They also added that it would be impractical to pay the players for how long games last, and how much time they spend time practicing or doing other work for their teams.  

In 2014, 3 minor league players filed a lawsuit against the commissioner of baseball over the minuscule pay. They attempted to expand it to a class-action suit to include thousands of other minor league players, current and retired. However the court shot it down claiming that each case was to unique and that they could not see all the cases as being uniform together. This is a major setback for the hopes of sufficient pay. A setback that leaves career minor leaguers who are invaluable for developing the MLB superstars of today and tomorrow, wondering how a player like Giancarlo Stanton can make $325 million while they are struggling to feed their families.