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Memo To Manfred: Time To Pay The Minor Leaguers, Now!

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Minor league ballplayers are illegally underpaid. Instead of fighting the lawsuits, MLB should realize that paying the players is in their best interest.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Commissioner Manfred:

You are no doubt acutely aware of several lawsuits that have been filed against Major League Baseball in regard to the shameful wages that baseball pays its minor league players. One of them was recently tossed out because of baseball's antitrust exemption, but another one, a class action suit that claims that MLB is in violation of minimum wage laws, continues. Now you're a lawyer and the commissioner of baseball and I'm not either one of those things. But I'm still here to tell you that minor league ballplayers deserve a living wage and that it's in baseball's best interest to give it to them.

Minor league baseball salaries are appalling. First of all, they're paid for only five months a year, getting nothing for spring training or any of the training and workouts that they are expected to do in the offseason. They work seven days a week, for the most part, for five straight months. For that, they're paid less than a fast food worker earning minimum wage.

According to this website, the monthly salary for minor league ballplayers is:

$1,150 for short-season players.

$1,300 for Low-A.

$1,500 for High-A.

$1,700 for Double-A with a $100 per month increase for every year in Double-A.

$2,150 for Triple-A, going up to $2,400 for the second year and $2,700 for the third.

Now, players on the 40-man roster are well-compensated. I have no issues there. A player on the 40-man gets over $40,000 a year their first year on the roster and over $80,000 a year their second season or if they have one day of major league service time. But those players are represented by the union and their salaries are subject to collective bargaining. The rest of the players are at the mercy of their employers. In other words, you.

Those wages are ridiculous. Heaven help any minor leaguer assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones or San Jose Giants and be expected to live on those salaries. Yes, there is a per diem to buy food when they're on the road, but that rarely covers much more than fast food.

(And a side note to Tony Clark: Why isn't the union looking out for the interests of their future members? I know you'd tell me the costs of organizing the minor leagues would far outstrip the money the MLBPA could bring in from dues from minor leaguers. But that's no excuse. Powerful unions are supposed to help weaker employees. If anything, it would shut off the possibility of MLB trying to use "replacement players" again in any future labor dispute.)

I'm telling you that the minimum salary for all minor league ballplayers should be what Triple-A players get and it should go up from there. And players should be paid for the actual 12 months a year they spend on baseball and not just the five months that they're actually playing baseball. And I'm telling you that it's not only the right thing to do, but it's in your own best interest as well.

The first reason that you need to pay the minor leaguers is because what you're doing is illegal and a violation of minimum-wage laws. I know you have a team of expensive lawyers who tell you otherwise and maybe you can steer this to an anti-worker judge who will back them up. I know you're lobbying congress to make minor league baseball players exempt from all minimum wage laws. You know more about the law and these lawsuits than I do. Fine. If that's the way you want to play, you might get away with it.

That brings me to the second point. It's immoral. You're preying on the dreams of young men, some of whom you've picked out of third-world ghettos, and paying them less than they need to live on. You live in penthouses and the people who make it possible for you to do so are wondering how they're going to be able to pay their bills next month if they suffer a shoulder injury and get released. You say that you're running a business and not a charity and that your obligation is to maximize profits. Fine. I hate that we live in a society in which that's an argument that someone can make in polite company, but you've got me. Point taken, monster.

Third, you tell me that you can't afford to spend an extra $3 million or so a season per team to pay these minor leaguers a living wage. Heh. That's a good one. You almost had me there. Good to see even you're not serious about that one.

But let me tell you why you should pay your minor leaguers in terms that you'll understand: It's in the best interest of the sport. You already know the connection between diet, exercise and sleep in making quality athletes. Right now, too many of your minor leaguers are living off of Taco Bell and sleeping on an old couch in an two-bedroom apartment shared by four other teammates. Even those in the low minors who get to stay with host families aren't getting the kind of nutrition they need on the road. And heaven help the Dominicans who are sending home a good chunk of their salary to their families living in third-world poverty. Minor leaguers who are well-fed and well-rested are going to have a much better chance of developing into quality major leaguers. Sure, some of them will still eat nothing but Taco Bell and sleep on an old couch, but that's their problem then. At least then when you release them, you'll know it's because they couldn't handle being a major league ballplayer and not because you sabotaged them to fail.

I know the counter-argument here. The players who are really prospects get big bonuses and can live off of that until they make the major leagues. One, you know that it's only a tiny percentage of minor leaguers who get six-figure bonuses. Most get four-digit bonuses and a plane ticket. You also know that every year someone comes out of nowhere to become a major league ballplayer. Take the Cubs' Ryan Williams, who got a $1,000 bonus as a 10th-round pick out of East Carolina. Two years later, he's a legitimate major-league prospect. How is he supposed to live off of that $1,000 bonus? On top of that, a lot of those big bonuses go to paying off their parents' mortgage, buying an SUV and the rest goes into taxes or a retirement account in case they never make the majors. It's a smart use of money, but it often puts those "real prospects" into the same poverty as the disposable organization players.

And that brings up another point: A lot of those players can live off that tiny bonus and chase a dream because they've got parents who can finance it. But those parents are going to be overwhelmingly middle-class (or above) and white. You keep talking about expanding opportunities for poor and minority Americans and increasing interest in the sport among young people. Right now, a lot of young, lower-class Americans see football and basketball as a means of upward mobility. Even if they make the NFL or NBA, they have the opportunity to get a free college education, something they could never afford on the tiny partial scholarships that NCAA baseball programs give out. But if they knew they could make $25,000 to $30,000 a year right out of high school playing a sport, even if they never make the majors? That might change a lot of young men's interests. Everyone knows that MLB salaries are better than those in the NFL and there are health-related issues for avoiding football. But many kids look at the drudgery of years in the minors as opposed to the glory of college football (and the diploma that should come with it) as tipping the scales towards playing football.

More importantly though, even if the kids never make the majors, they've become baseball fans. Heck, even if these young players start playing baseball and never even make the minors, they're much more likely to become fans for life. And you know fandom is a collective thing. As more of these young athletes start talking about baseball, more people outside the sport will be interested in baseball. MLB easily spends more than $2 million a season per team advertising. What could be better advertising that thousands of high school kids all over the country telling their peers about how they want to win the World Series?

On top of all that, minor league salaries could convince kids in emerging baseball markets to take up the sport. You're making outreaches to Mexico to increase the popularity of the sport there. But a kid in Mexico can play in soccer's lower divisions, stay at home and get paid. Same goes for Brazil. And can you imagine how much making an American living wage would mean to those kids taking up baseball in Uganda? If anything, the first minor leaguers from Uganda would come back home in the winter and would be able to buy bats and balls for their whole village. We wouldn't have to wait until one made the major leagues, which might be decades in the future.

So forget that what you're doing is immoral and illegal. Think about it as the cheapest and best way to market the sport and put a better quality product on the field. Pay the minor leaguers, Commissioner Manfred. You can thank me later.