Did you know baseball evidently needs saving? From what, you might ask? Is it from sluggers using specific drugs that challenge the records of the heroes current sportswriters had when they were kids? Is it from Clayton Kershaw going on the DL? Is it from the horrors of the Yankees winning the World Series? No. Evidently baseball needs saving from the oppressive measures of the Fair Labor Standards Act. But what, you say? Major league players are millionaires! Indeed. This is about making sure that minor league players don’t receive proper compensation.
Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced the “Save America’s Pastime Act” late last week. The bipartisan legislation—Bustos is a Democrat, Guthrie a Republican—proposes to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and create a specific exemption for minor league baseball players (who are not unionized) so that they are explicitly not guaranteed the minimum wage, and thus not allowed overtime pay.
Minor leaguers are professional athletes, so they’re never going to get widespread sympathy from the public, but MiLB’s wage structure is set up such that that they can barely earn a living while playing baseball. At best, they can break even. It’s tricky to conceive of sports jobs on hourly terms, since the responsibilities of a professional athlete extend so far beyond simply clocking in and out on game days, but minor league baseball players live all of the round-the-clock lifestyle of MLB players, just without getting the pay to justify it.
The bill alleges that MiLB players need their wages locked in at poverty level and that if players start getting paid at least as much as fast food workers, grassroots minor league baseball is at risk:
If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the Majors and putting teams at risk.
This is bullshit. Major league owners pay the salaries of their farm teams. MiLB teams don’t need attendance revenue to pay their players, the money comes from the top. As ESPN noted, bumping every minor leaguer’s pay by $5,000 would shake out to 5 percent of Justin Verlander’s salary. MLB made $8 billion in revenue in 2013 (the number is certainly higher now). But the “Save America’s Pastime Act” isn’t about saving money, and it certainly isn’t about saving America’s pastime.
If you are asking why a Democrat like Bustos would be involved in such a horrible piece of anti-worker legislation, the answer is pretty simple. Her father in Major League Baseball’s chief lobbyist. The entire justification is completely ridiculous. Major League Baseball is going to support a minor league system because they require a minor league system to prepare players for the major leagues. The idea that teams in Missoula and Batavia are going to fold because the Yankees and Dodgers have to pay the minimum wage to the players does not hold up to even the first bit of scrutiny.
Outside of the grotesque nature of the arguments for this rather Orwellian named bill, Grant Bisbee explores just how despicable it is by thinking of the minor leaguers themselves. Basically, minor leaguers develop no job skills for the future. If they sign out of high school, they spend their traditional college-aged years learning nothing but to hit and field and pitch. If they do go to college, they probably leave after 3 years without a degree and spend their post-college years, when their friends are starting to find stable jobs and figure our careers, learning nothing but to hit and field and pitch. Most of them will never see a 40-man roster, not to mention actually playing in the major leagues. Far less will become wealthy. For most, this is a career dead-end. This bill is about making sure a 26 year old outfielder with a .700 OPS in Chattanooga doesn’t get paid if he goes to visit a nursing home in a team event, not about protecting players, the minor leagues, or baseball itself.
…Bustos has since withdrawn her support of her own bill in what Bill Shaikin calls “a flip flop monumental even by Washington standards.” Honestly, this is enough that her constituents should seek to primary her out of a job in 2018. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is doubling down and saying that minor league players aren’t really employees–they are creative class people like artists and musicians. Yeah, that makes as little sense as it sounds.