Lost amid all the ruckus of Major League Baseball restructuring Minor League Baseball into a soulless monstrosity of the owner’s opulence has been the treatment of the players. It’s not that people stopped caring about how minor leaguers are being treated, but with a virus raging throughout the country and communities losing their baseball teams the plight of minor leaguers was put on the backburner. When MLB announced pay raises for minor leaguers in February that was met with acceptance if not celebration. The raises weren’t, and aren’t, enough but they were something. Inadequate as it may have been, the pay bump by MLB seemed to get people to stop worrying about how they are treating their minor league employees.
If there’s one thing that has become clear about MLB under Rob Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner it is that there’s always one more rake around the corner for him to step on. That latest rake comes in the rumors swirling in the air that MLB has decided to not allow minor leaguers to stay with host families for the 2021 season. At the same time, there have been no indications that MLB intends to provide housing for the affected players. This seems like a surreal situation, but again, this is MLB we are talking about and thus it ends up being par for the course more than anything else.
The situation came to light thanks to a tweet from former minor leaguer, Sal Giardina. He has since deleted the tweet. However, the tweet stated,
“So let me get this straight minor leaguers make no money as is and now can’t have host families this year because of COVID? Good thing MLB upped their pay 400 dollars a month… to bad it will be gone now because of rent”.
That’s just one tweet, but where there’s smoke there’s fire. In attempting to get to the truth of the matter I attempted to contact officials at MLB, but received no response. I had initially received a few messages from active minor leaguers stating that they had heard the same information as in Giardinia’s since-deleted tweet. However, they weren’t willing to put their names behind what they told me or even be quoted anonymously. While that unfortunate it shouldn’t come as a surprise that players making poverty-level wages as is weren’t willing to speak out against their employer/s.
Before it could completely die out the fire gained a little more traction in the form of Aron Carleson. In a series of exchanged tweets, Carleson explained that his role was that of host family coordinator for the Arizona Diamondbacks. When asked about the suspension of the host family program Carleson responded, “We were only told that the Diamondbacks were not allowing hosting this year due to the Pandemic. Told about a month ago. We let our prior host families know.” Carleson further clarified that “We are ‘chatting’ about adopting and trying to come up with some creative ideas.” After that Carleson did not respond to any further inquiries.
At this time the Diamondbacks are the only team where someone associated with the team has confirmed that there will not be host families for minor leaguers during the 2021 season. To a lot of people, the loss of the host family program may seem like it’s not that big of a deal. Those people likely haven’t had to try and survive on the salary of a minor leaguer.
For those unaware, host families are a tradition within the ranks of minor league baseball. The brass tacks of the host family are that it is a family that supports the local minor league team and has agreed to house as many players as they can for the entirety of the ongoing MiLB season. They will provide room and board for these players, which helps the players immensely as the wages they are paid by MLB are barely enough for them to survive on, let alone to pay for housing. That host families might not be utilized in 2021 is in and of itself not surprising. As recently as February there were stories being published that laid bare the fact that MLB didn’t know if they would use host families for 2021 due to Coronavirus concerns.
One thing needs to be clear, if this were a simple issue of MLB possibly putting the host family program on hold due to the Coronavirus there would not be much of a story here. It is completely understandable to not want to have ballplayers traveling across various states and then returning to spend time with a host family while a deadly virus is still in circulation and nowhere near enough of the American population is vaccinated. The issue isn’t the possible suspension of the host family program. The issue is MLB considering suspending that program while apparently offering no alternatives to the players.
The end result is that players who would once have been able to use host families will have to find housing of their own. That’s hard enough for someone working a job that pays a decent wage. Now imagine doing that while you are a Single-A player making $1,000/month. You’ve just landed with the Beloit Snappers and start scoping out potential apartments. All the single-room apartments you’re finding are around $705/month. Those are out because after taxes that would leave you short on utilities, food, etc. You decide it’s a better idea to hook up with a couple of teammates. The only problem is that as you’re looking at larger apartments you realize those present the same cost issues. What do you do? Keep the same roommates and get a smaller apartment, the perfect solution. You and your three mates decide to plunk down the $837/month for a two-bedroom. Sure, by the time rent & utilities are paid, food is bought, and any other essentials are procured you won’t have any money left but you will be sleeping on the living room floor, so that’s a bonus, right?
The above is a situation that never needs to happen. MLB knows that they could prevent this nightmare scenario in an instant. Manfred and his cronies could agree to increase minor league pay across the board yet again. They could make it where every single player is being paid a wage they can live on, but they won’t. Alternatively, MLB themselves could always buy blocks of apartment housing or build their own apartment complexes to house players. However, the issue with this approach has been evident when MLB teams have tried this with hotel housing for their players. The cost of the room is taken out of the players’ pay, which means that it still represents the same scenario as a player trying to find an apartment on their own. The better solution remains one where pay is increased for every minor league player.
History has shown us that MLB does not care about the struggles faced by its minor leaguers. They’ve read the stories of minor leaguers living five, six, seven guys to a one-bedroom apartment before and they’ve said, “Let’s pass legislation that says we don’t have to pay minor leaguers a minimum wage, that’s the stuff.” There’s no reason to doubt that MLB would look at the current landscape and decide it’s best to have future big leaguers struggling to find places to live. This is what you get when a group of owners and an organization view players as property and not as human beings.
A new minor league season is almost upon us. For most, it will mean cheap baseball and family fun. The communities that still have their minor league teams are anxiously awaiting the financial windfall of their teams returning. For a select few, the ones who make a minor league season possible it means a time of housing and living anxiety. Minor league players have been mistreated by MLB enough, but as long as people are willing to turn a blind eye to their treatment there’s no reason for MLB to not keep treating minor leaguers like their personal punching bag.
Lead photo courtesy of Karl Merton Ferron – Baltimore Sun