Farm Hands Starve in MiLB as MLB Harvests a $9.5 Billion Cash Crop

Kent Babb of the Washington Post recently submitted a story that is all too familiar to me. regarding the low salaries that MiLB players make and the difficulties player have making a quality of life based on those saleries. You can read Philly.com’s repost HERE.

I’ve been around these kids for years. It’s why Baseball Ross and I have opened our home to three different players over the years, rent-free. It’s so hard to know that these kids that everyone seems to want a piece of are living in such poor conditions and are under so much financial strain.

One year, we knew of SIX guys living in a one bedroom, one bathroom garage apartment. To live in such cramped conditions, they were paying $280 per guy, per month.  Something that gets left out is that yes, when moving from low-A Lakewood to Clearwater the  increase in wage is $200/month. The biggest difference is that in Clearwater, the players are responsible for their own housing while in Lakewood (and Williamsport) the players live with host families. So in the example above, they gain $200, take out the $280 for rent and they are actually losing $80/month with their “promotion”.

We went to buy a mattress and got to talking to the salesman. The store is across the street from the stadium. He told us that every spring they get a ton of players looking to buy the absolute cheapest mattresses, sometimes one that isn’t even long enough for them to stretch out on without their feet hanging off. He told us, “These kids are professional athletes and they are sleeping on bad mattresses, how can they perform at their best?”

It’s a difficult situation. Former Phillies minor league pitcher, Eric Pettis wrote a book “Just a Minor Perspective” (available for Amazon Kindle-you can find it by clicking HERE) that outlined his experiences in the minor league. Two of his anecdotes have always stuck with me:

  1. How on the long bus trips, there were not enough berths on the bus for everyone to be able to sleep in a “bed” so some had to sleep in the seats or even on the floor.
  2. How before a game there was only peanut butter, jelly and bananas available in the club house. If you had to stay on the field to work with a coach, it might be all gone by the time you got into the locker room and you’d have to play on an empty stomach.

The pregame "spread" in Williamsport a few years ago. (Photo courtesy of Eric Pettis)

The pregame “spread” in Williamsport a few years ago. (Photo courtesy of Eric Pettis)

On the plus side, according to Matt Gelb of Philly.com, this year, the Phillies have taken a step to make sure young developing athletes get the nutrition they need. This year, they will spend $1 million to provide healthy meals for the minor league players and staff. You can read the article HERE.

It’s important to remember that players do not just show up an hour before game time. For a starting pitcher on the days they do not start, they need to report by 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. If the player is Spanish speaking, they will often need to report by 1 p.m. for their mandatory English class.  By the time the game ends at may be 9:30-10:00, they still need to shower and change clothes so many nights, they do not get to leave until after 11:00. It makes for long days. Travel days, sometimes they need to be on the bus by 8 or 9 in the morning and are only given $20 for meal money. Then there’s hours of travel followed by a game and not leaving the stadium until much later.

It’s a hard life. Norwich High School in Norwich, New York made the following document available on their website that outlines the odds for a high school  baseball player to make the majors:

Baseball
–High school senior players who go on to play NCAA men`s baseball: Less than three in 50, or 5.6 percent

— NCAA senior players drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team: Less than eleven in 100, or 10.5 percent.

— High school senior players eventually drafted by an MLB team: About one in 200, or 0.5 percent. Drafted baseball players almost always go to a minor league team. These teams abound; there are over 150 of them, compared to 30 in the majors. The big leagues have 750 players, yet the 2004 draft alone took 1,500. Hence some estimate that only one in 33 minor leaguers ever makes it to the pros. If that’s correct, the chance of a high school player making the big leagues is one in 6,600, or 0.015 percent. That’s roughly the chance of a thief guessing your PIN number on the first try.

This article doesn’t even address the long odds of a Latin player to make it. It’s a hard, hard life, one in which few see the ultimate reward of a MLB contract. For many it’s more than a dream, it’s a way out of poverty, a way to not only feed themselves but also their family.

Major League Baseball needs to take a hard look at itself. Yes, they are a business but it would be like a farmer working horses in the fields all day and feeding them barely enough oats to survive. Wouldn’t they harvest a richer crop if their horses, or in this case, players were working in optimum conditions? Fair pay is just the first step.

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3 thoughts on “Farm Hands Starve in MiLB as MLB Harvests a $9.5 Billion Cash Crop

  1. Hi Betsy. Read your article about ballplayer living conditions with much interest. I don’t know the situation in Lakewood, but I can tell you that players here in Williamsport do not all live for free. Some host families are like you and Ross, but many of them collect rent from the players.

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