If, dear minor league player, you decide to tell the general public of your disgust with professional baseball because, for the honor of allowing you to play among its chosen immortals, it’s paying you in stale beer and day old hotdogs, expect your words to echo off into the endless vacuum.
Indeed, you’d be lucky to get ignored. The alternative is a tidal wave of angry, bitter, vitriol declaring you an ungrateful whiner with no concept of how hard the real world is, where working stiffs daily have their souls slowly snuffed out in torturous professions established by Satan himself. They have mouths to feed, mortgages to pay, bills to weep over. You have baseball, the dream, the game, the joy, the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. You fly over all in a fantasy land where money has no value. How dare you talk of such trivialities in the face of all you have, you acquisitive minor league swine!
But there will always be a minor league swine, or two (or in this most recent case, three) who dare because minor league baseball is not a fantasy. It’s a profession. A cruel one that justifies its cruelty by offering a golden carrot so valuable and coveted that many young men will put their blinders on and drudge after it until getting their teeth on it or put down trying. But this carrot does not negate the fact that, at its lowest levels, professional baseball is exploitation. It has been for years. Decades. So long, in fact, that it has become a victim of its own belief system: that a player must sacrifice and succumb to unfair treatment as part of “chasing the dream”.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s true that a player must sacrifice to make it to the top of a sport. To make it to the top of anything requires you to deny yourself. One must spend years in sports, from childhood to adulthood. Years of caravanning around countryside in tournament leagues. Years of juggling jobs and school and schedules and family and debt and more debt and more debt still. Move back home. Ask the parents for money. Ask the friends for money…. Defect from a country. Risk deportation. Leave your home, family, and friends forever, all for the chance to shatter yourself like glass on the steep and jagged rock of pro-baseball hoping that you might be the one who doesn’t break.
I get it. Hell, I did it. As a matter of fact, I wrote the goddamn book on it. But just because all this sacrificing is an accepted concept, one we’ve become accustom to to the point of romanticizing it, doesn’t mean what minor leaguers go through is fair or needs to persist.
In my first year I was paid $800 dollars a month. After housing, taxes, dues and insurance were taken out, that was down to $360. My minor league brothers and I were oblivious because we were playing the game and chasing our dream, all suffering from the delusion that we were only weeks from the bigs and escaping the bills, and mortgages, and mouth feeding struggles we still had. But even then, as naive as we were, it was comical. We’d look at our checks and have sad, satirical chuckles, punctuated with the now tongue-in-cheek phrase, “living the dream!” Over time, however, it became much less funny.
As the reality of your minor league situation sets in, you learn to become inventive. You problem solve. You steal. You lie. You cheat. You almost have to. How else can you survive? How else can you justify all that you’ve leveraged to get to where you are? When the window of big league glory starts to slip shut and you realize you’ll never get the years you gambled on this “dream” back, you’ll do anything.
I was lucky. I was a white American born male. I had options when my minor league season was over. I worked two, sometimes three jobs while sleeping on someone’s floor. I lived next to a school that let me work out in their gym for free because I couldn’t afford a gym membership. I had parents that could mortgage their house to help me, if necessary.
Latin players aren’t so fortunate. The deaf ears of most outsiders who mock any complaints a minor leaguer might have are almost always thanks in large to the tone deaf nature of American capitalism, where we think athletes are, and should be, perpetually happy because they dominate our new feeds. But we have no concept of what foreign born players go through to chase their dream, not just of major league success, but of breaking free of a truly crushing cycle of poverty. Nor do we really want it.
Baseball has the money to at least alleviate the minor league struggle. It just doesn’t have anyone telling it that it must. In fact, it will tell you that if it did alleviate things players wouldn’t work as hard to make it to the top; that they wouldn’t want it as badly if the minors were comfortable. Gosh, thank you, MLB, for being so considerate.
And thank you, major league players, for not speaking up and allowing this wonderful, character building cycle to continue. For those who may not know, the MLBPA routinely bargains away the rights of minor leaguers and amateurs even though minor leaguers and amateurs have no say at, representation on, or power over the MLBPA’s negotiating table.
Odd, isn’t it, that MLB players aren’t more vocal about the minor league plight since, after all, if they pushed to make the minors less harrowing, the players in those leagues would stop trying so hard to take their major league roster spots. Obviously major league players should make the rules for minor league ones since they suffer from zero bias on the matter…
Odd, isn’t it, that Baseball will tout it’s charitable efforts and desire to see change in suffering communities. That it will set up institutions to help kids break out of poverty and punch their tickets to its meat grinder, wherein it will turn them into live stock, expect them to behave as such, and toss them right back into the dirt when they fail?
At some point in this conversation, it became out of fashion for minor leaguers, who truly do get paid like shit, treated like shit, worked like dogs, and screwed when injured, to complain about any of it. Why? It’s a matter of perception. We believe these players getting a chance at a chance at a chance to make their dreams come true and have buckets of money dumped on them nightly should be treated like this. “it’s part of paying their dues.”
Fact is, most of these players will never EVER get close to that scenario. The ones that do will get a brief nibble of the golden carrot before falling a apart, never to be heard from again. And while you might think that nibble is well worth the effort, a shiny merit badge that tells the whole world you once made it, that badge will not pay your bills, get you a job in the real world, or earn health coverage for your family. Plus, all to often the response you will get upon proudly brandishing your cup of MLB coffee badge will be, “yeah, you made it, but you weren’t very good.” Congratulations, wear it proudly.
It’s not baseball’s fault minor leaguers are so stupid and plagued by group think to the point they wont help themselves. It’s not the fan’s fault either. It’s not societies fault for unwittingly agreeing that crap treatment and low wages are worth it for chances at fame dipped jobs—America has been duped by that one for ages. It is, however, everyone’s fault for acting like things are not allowed to improve, grabbing up our pitchforks and torches when someone we—errantly— think is more privileged than us speaks up.
It’s ironic how we roast the players at the top when they complain about not making as many millions as they thought they were worth, declaring such complaining to be tone deaf and insulting to the millions of us who’ll never know that kind of financial comfort. And yet we’re happy to turn around and roast minor leaguers who have it worse than us, saying that we’d trade places in a heart beat so we could have their chance at being the insufferable, greedy bastards we hate at the top.
I hope the minor leaguers who are suing major league baseball win, or at the very least bring some awareness to a broken system. By God, it has been a long time coming.