Minor League Lifestyle Underscored by News of $400 Weekly Payments

John Hickey

Following Twitter can drive you nuts, particularly if you are political, but there are times when it is instructive and only marginally political.

Take Tuesday morning, when ESPN’s Jeff Passan broke the news that minor league players will be receiving $400 per week through at least May 31 from Major League Baseball during the shutdown with the nation in the grip of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Players are without a job with baseball shut down, and they could really, really use the help.

True, the $400/week is not going to pay every bill. It might keep you in ramen and Easy Mac with enough left over maybe for some toilet paper. But it’s a start.

Reading the reactions to Passan’s Twitter post was enlightening. Here’s a sample:

“400 a week is not good news at all. That is a poverty wage.” -- @Scottso23140780

“$400 a week…that’s $28,000 a year. Where do you know that $1600/month pays for rent + food + living? It’s won’t. Remember these are PROFESSIONAL baseball players. Shame.” -- @DrJesseMorse

“I make more money per week at my camp counselor job over the summer. Pro baseball players (regardless of their level) should be making more than a college student.” -- @shaun_nestor

“Lol what the hell’s $400 a week going to do? I make more than that for collecting unemployment right now.” -- @SCianciolo45

And it goes on. And, yes, it’s true that $400 is less money than the players would get if they were drawing full unemployment from a state like California.

It’s a lesson that some of even the most intense baseball fans don’t know much about the minor league lifestyle. All drafted players and most undrafted ones get signing bonuses. At least 34 players from the 2019 draft got more than $2 million to sign. Most got $125,000 or more.

So, there is some money for drafted players to fall back on. There’s less for undrafted ones. And they all need some help, because once players get into the lower minor leagues, there’s not much money to go around.

During the MLB strike of 1994, the minor leagues kept on playing. So, I took a trip from the Bay Area to Medford, Ore. to see check in on the progress of Ben Grieve, who’d just been drafted by the A’s and was starting his pro career after being the second player taken in the draft.

It was an eye-opening experience for me, because I learned how much these players – most of them on their own for the first time and most of whom would never wear a Major League uniform, were adopted into the community. In Medford that season, and for many seasons before, players would stay at the homes of families in the area, with minimal room and board.

Sone of the players had their own cars; others were able to take loaners from the families they bunked with or from local businesses. Others did without and bummed rides with teammates.

The point is, their lack of any kind of substantial salary was softened by the community; many of the fans I met during that stay were members of the families hosting players. Grieve was the exception; money wasn’t an issue for him. For most of his teammates, it was.

Fast-forward to 2020, and that hasn’t changed much. Players at the lower minor league level don’t get paid much. Should they be paid more? No question. Many make more money with offseason jobs than they do from baseball.

When you hear about baseball players paying their dues, it’s often about not getting paid much at all. For some 2020 minor leaguers, they are now in position to make more not playing baseball than they will once games start up.

So, while getting $400 per week during this shutdown isn’t much, it will help these guys get by.

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