A fielder for the High Desert Yardbirds.

To Semi-Pro a Professional

Recently an article came across my phone that was talking about a team in the Pecos League abandoning their home field. The reasons made sense and the article hit that element just right. However, at some point, the writer chose to refer to the players on the High Desert Yardbirds as semi-pro. He didn’t say this with any derision, it was offered simply as a matter of statement as he transitioned to the next part of his story. Still, the term was used, and an ensuing discussion with some baseball fans about the phrase leads me to believe it’s time we unpack that phrase and what it actually means.

In the technical sense, semi-pro is short for semiprofessional which means engaging in an activity for pay or gain but not as a full-time occupation. On the surface, this is a very simple definition, but in reality, it is archaic and doesn’t truly fit. Take me for example, I am a full-time Paramedic, but I also have in the past taught CPR as a part-time job. Does that mean that I was only a semiprofessional CPR instructor despite needing to be licensed to teach? If we use only the technical definition of semi-pro, then yes, I’m not a professional CPR instructor, but a semiprofessional one. The thing is, we all know that’s hogwash. Simply because person A isn’t full time at something doesn’t mean they aren’t professional. 

In this case, though I’m specifically talking about the term as applied to baseball and that’s where I think the topic gets interesting. No one would think to call someone playing for the Eugene Emeralds a semi-pro player, or the Emeralds a semi-pro ball club. Context lets us know that the Emeralds are a professional baseball team playing in an affiliated league. The players are paid to play a short season of professional baseball, hence everyone knows they are professional ballplayers and call them as such. Except, the same is not true when it comes to the Yardbirds in the PL.

Or, is it? The Emeralds play a 60-70 game schedule and all their players are paid, albeit at a rate far below a livable wage. They travel to play other professional teams, and the facts of the Emeralds’ existence are in line with other professional short season leagues across the globe. Throughout the industry of baseball, people view the Emeralds, their league, and their players as professional. The Yardbirds play a 60-70 game schedule and all their players are paid, albeit at laughably low wages. They travel to play other professional teams, and the facts of the Yardbirds’ existence is in line with other professional short season leagues across the globe. Yet, within the industry of baseball and especially among a lot of fans the Yardbirds are viewed as less than professional.

The distinction in that last paragraph is important because it gets to the heart of why the semi-pro term needs to simply go away. When people call the Yardbirds semi-pro they are doing so as a form of derision. This can be conscious or subconsciously, but slice it however you want to the term semi-pro is being used to laugh at, mock, and question the existence of the Yardbirds, their players, and their league. They aren’t actual professional ballplayers, they are semiprofessional, you see? Except that isn’t close to true and in totality, the only thing separating an Emeralds player from a Yardbirds player is that one plays for an affiliated team in the Northwest League and the other plays for an unaffiliated team in the Pecos League.

There are certainly issues with the PL pay structure and the fact that they still allow pay-to-play. None of the issues with the PL stop them from being a professional league with professional players on professional teams. Whether affiliated or unaffiliated professional ballplayers deserve at the very least the respect of being seen as a professional at the game of baseball. Regular season, short season, fall league, unaffiliated, affiliated, United States, Mexico, Panama, Japan; none of these differences in leagues matter because a professional baseball player is a professional baseball player. Ditch the semipro term, throw it into the sun and forget that it exists, the professional ballplayers playing for your enjoyment will be thankful when you do.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – PecosLeague.com

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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