Minor-league baseball players still paid next to nothing

Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIRE

This article (via MLBTR) is about minor-leaguers from the Padres organization, but it could be about Pirates minor-leaguers or minor-leaguers from any organization. Basically, a lot of them -- the ones who don't get six- or seven-figure bonuses -- are currently working second jobs, because their salaries as baseball players are so paltry.

[Cody Decker's] after-tax signing bonus as a 22nd-round Draft pick in 2009 certainly did, though.

"Six hundred and thirty eight dollars," Decker said, slowly enunciating the terms of his bonus. "I was able to get a nice steak and that's about it." ...

Baseball remains a seasonal job, where players are paid in-season. The pay isn't always great, especially for younger players. While the Major League minimum salary in 2012 was $480,000, the figure for first-year players, regardless of their organization, runs about $1,110 a month during the season.

Decker, who's in the upper minors now, is working as a hitting coach this offseason. The previous offseason, he worked as a bartender and bouncer. Another Padres minor-leaguer, Matt Chabot, currently works at Costco.

The massive discrepancy between the way major-leaguers and minor-leaguers live continues to amaze me. Of course there are plenty of minor-leaguers who can live well, at least for a while, on their bonuses, but the new CBA (which was negotiated by major-league players who don't have to worry about minor-league salaries anymore) reduces the number of big bonuses for amateurs. You can be a top-ten-round pick and still get a bonus of just a few thousand bucks if you don't have leverage to negotiate a bigger one. And there will continue to be a vast underclass of former late-round picks and low-profile Latin signings who make practically nothing, enduring endless bus rides to small towns, eating horrible food, and scrambling to find work in the offseason.

If nothing else, you'd think Major League Baseball would want to do more to protect its investments -- it must be difficult to eat healthy on a minor-league salary, and one would think that offseason training would be difficult for players who have little choice but to take minimum-wage jobs in their hometowns. Players who get tiny bonuses as amateurs don't often make the big leagues, but sometimes they do.

More broadly, though, there's no reason for minor-leaguers to live the way they do when there's so much money to go around.

In his book Out Of My League, Dirk Hayhurst describes his first season in the big leagues (which also took place in the Padres organization, although that's beside the point). One week, he's staying with two other players in a two-bedroom Portland apartment with no air conditioning; the next, he's staying in top-notch hotels and eating whatever he wants. He marvels that big-league players, who, after all, have been through the minor-league grind themselves, wouldn't find a way to pass down some tiny fraction of their wealth so that minor-leaguers can live reasonably.

But they don't, probably in part because of the culture of veteran worship in Major League Baseball. Veterans occupy privileged places in nearly aspect of major-league culture, and rookies (though their salaries are obviously awfully nice) are their subordinates. I'm sure the logic there, such as it is, plays a role in Major League Baseball's indifference to the lifestyles of future major-leaguers. Hayhurst also quotes a teammate telling him that if a player can't make his way through hardship in the minor leagues, he doesn't deserve to make big bucks in the majors. Whatever the reason, minor-league poverty is a strange, sad phenomenon.

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