LOS ANGELES – Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred defended the sport’s treatment of minor leaguers, prompting immediate criticism from a players’ advocacy group.
“I kind of reject the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers’ Association of America before Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
“I think that we’ve made real strides in the last few years in terms of what minor league players are paid, even putting to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have already received. They receive housing, which obviously is another form of compensation.”
MLB raised minimum salaries in 2021, increasing Class A pay from $290 to $500 per week, Double-A from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700 over the roughly five-month season. Players are only paid in-season, with salaries ranging from roughly $5,000-$15,000 annually.
Amateur players residing in the United States and Canada who are selected in this week’s amateur draft have slot values for their signing bonuses, which clubs use as guidelines, ranging from $8.8 million for the first pick to just under $150,000 for the last selections of the 10th and final round. MLB says it spends about $450 million each year on signing bonuses for first-year players.
Last November, MLB announced it was requiring teams to provide furnished accommodations, with a single bed per player and no more than two players per bedroom. Teams are responsible for basic utility bills.
“Most minor league baseball players work second jobs because their annual salaries are insufficient to make ends meet,” Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, said in a statement responding to Manfred. “His suggestion that minor league pay is acceptable is both callous and false.”
Papers filed Friday in federal court revealed MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle a lawsuit by minor leaguers. MLB agreed in the deal to rescind any prohibitions against teams paying wages to minor league players outside of the season.
An early estimate is that perhaps 23,000 players could share the money with an average payment of $5,000 to $5,500, with $55.5 million going to the players’ lawyers.
Leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked Manfred to explain by next Tuesday the impact of potential legislation stripping the sport’s antitrust exemption from covering the sport’s relationship with minor league players.
While players with major league contracts are unionized, players with minor league contracts are not. The Major League Baseball Players Association gave Advocates for Minor Leaguers $50,000 last November, according to a federal disclosure statement.
“It is exciting to see players recognizing and appreciating the power of their collective voice in effecting positive change in things that they live day to day,” union head Tony Clark, a former first baseman, told the BBWAA in a question-and-answer session prior to Manfred’s. “Harry Marino and the Advocates for Minor Leaguers have done a tremendous job in engaging and educating the the minor leaguers and helping them to find their voice. ... We are watching. We are providing support when and where possible.”
In other news:
— Manfred said the Oakland Athletics need to quickly reach a binding agreement for a new ballpark, and that relocation — the team is exploring Las Vegas — could be considered if a deal isn’t struck for a facility in the Bay Area. "It needs to happen now. It needs to be done.”
— His preferred location for a new Rays ballpark would be on the Tampa side of the bay rather than in St. Petersburg, but he says the site alone won’t be a determining factor.
— MLB is moving ahead with plans for advertising on uniforms next season. The new labor contract agreed to in March allows teams to add uniform and helmet advertising patches. San Diego in April became the first team to announce a deal for 2023, with Motorola. “I think that jersey patches advertisements on jerseys are a reality of life in professional sports,” Manfred said.
— Clark is worried about the sport’s increased commercial deals with sports gambling companies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which outlawed sports betting. A BetMGM Retail Sportsbook opened this year at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and DraftKings is building a sports book scheduled to open next year at the southeast corner of Wrigley Field. “We’re entering a very delicate and, dare I say, dangerous world here," Clark said. “When you have players suggest that no sooner was PASPA repealed, that they started to have book houses following them on social media, that gets you a little twitchy pretty quick.”
— MLB says it is unable to let former and current major leaguers who defected from Cuba play for their nation in the World Baseball Classic. The Association of Cuban Professional Baseball Players was formed with the goal of gaining entry to the WBC, which will be played next March 8-21.
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