Is MLB’s Decision to Provide Housing for Minor Leaguers Enough?

Baseball players enjoy the experience of competing and bonding with other teams, but the challenge of finding affordable housing has long been an issue for the minor leagues that come to the Valley. (Photo by James Franks / Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – News that MLB owners will provide housing for about 90% of eligible minor league players, including those participating in Extended Spring Training and the Arizona Complex League, has been good greeted by players and defenders who have worked to change the way the minor leagues are treated.

“This is huge news. It’s going to help a lot of the guys who don’t have the income to support their families at home, ”said Canaan Smith-Njigba, an Arizona Fall League prospect. “Hopefully MLB puts a little more money in our pockets in terms of revenue and that’s the next step. Especially during the season because it’s really tough. I’m grateful MLB is helping us there. “Down. Right now, I’m glad we have something for ourselves.”

But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Players and defenders have spoken out against MLB’s track record of not providing affordable equipment or food to Minor Leaguers. There is also the issue of fair pay: the majority of players earn between $ 8,000 and $ 15,000 per season, which means that most players revolve around the game. federal poverty line for 2021.

There is a larger problem that plagues minor league baseball, and that is the knowledge that players are not being treated well enough, and “teams are reluctant to make a change” to treat minor leagues as bad. full-time employees and humans, as they do in MLB, said Jeremy Wolf, director of outreach for More Than Baseball, an organization that strives to provide resources to help minor leaguers.

MLB resumed minor league operations last October, when the contract between the two independently operated leagues expired. Thursday’s housing announcement is the latest in MLB’s changes to the minor league system, including a restructuring of teams and leagues that include minor league baseball and a salary increase for players.

MLB statement says the policy will provide minor leagues with housing at all levels of minors “with a few exceptions,” including players with Major League uniform player contracts or those expected to earn a salary. six digits over a full season.

Another major development for minor leaguers is that leases are no longer permitted. Previously, players were responsible for their own accommodation and leases. If a player was promoted or demoted, he was forced to bear the burden of multiple leases.

“The owners kicked off our first season modernizing the player development system with a focus on addressing long-standing issues that have plagued Minor League players for decades,” said Morgan Sword, executive vice president of MLB baseball operations, in the release. “This step forward recognizes that the unprecedented nature of the past two years has further exacerbated the affordable housing challenges across the country that existed before the pandemic.
The owners are confident that this investment will help ensure minor league players have every chance to achieve their dreams of becoming major leagues. “

Politics looks like a win for every player and defender who has worked hard to rethink the minor leagues into an organization that prioritizes players and prepares them for success in MLB.

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A statement from Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers and former minor league with the Diamondbacks and Orioles, said, in part, “This is a historic victory for the players, who have forced the hand of the league speaking throughout the 2021 season. Make no mistake: this victory is the result of collective action by the players.

Wolf said the organization approved the owners’ decision to provide team accommodation for the players.

“When there is progress in things, we are happy. We know things could always be better, ”said Wolf, who played in the minor leagues with the Mets. “We know the treatment of players can always be better, but this is a new start in this area.”

And, in the MLB statement, Sword touted the changes owners have made since minor league operations resumed: in-season trips with better geographic alignment, ”Sword said.

“What is the purpose of mistreating players? It is clear that minor league players are in an environment which is not conducive to their performance and development and they are in an environment which pays them very little, which does not treat them like full time employees, that doesn’t give them every possible opportunity to be successful, ”said Wolf. “So when a team or the league says, ‘Hey, we’re going to pay the players more. Well, that’s good. It’s an acknowledgment of the problem, but then you look at their proposed solution, and it’s 10 or 20 or 50%. But that’s $ 15,000 per year instead of $ 12,000 per year. In the press releases, they talk about a 35% increase, but in reality, it is an increase of $ 3,000. It is almost an interesting game of cat and mouse.

Organizations like More Than Baseball and Advocates for Minor Leaguers, among others, exist to help Minor Leaguers because the help does not come from the teams. And all the progress that are agreed to move forward at a “snail’s step,” Wolf said.

The treatment of players impacts their decisions on whether or not to pursue their dream of an MLB career. Kieran Lovegrove, who last played in the Angels minor league system, is a strong advocate for changing the way minor leagues are treated. In a tweet, Lovegrove said the job wasn’t done until MLB and minor league baseball tackled what he called the Four Pillars of Athlete Success: Sleep, Hydration, nutrition and mental health.

Lovegrove spoke to ESPN in July about the struggles minor league players face when most of them earn less than $ 15,000 a season. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment was around $ 1,098 per month in 2020. And, as ESPN reported, one individual cannot meet basic needs if they earn less than $ 26,225 per year anywhere in the United States

Marino said the minor leagues do not have a say in the housing plan (which is not abnormal, as minor league baseball does not have a player association or formal group to defend. their needs). Many Minor Leaguers have just landed a second or third job for the offseason, as they do every year, to top up the pay they only get during the season. And they are still responsible for their own training expenses during the offseason.

“In short, housing is just one aspect of the fundamentally flawed MLB Minor League system,” Marino said. “As we head into the 2022 season, the Minor League players remain committed to working together to improve their working conditions by any means available, until the players finally get the table seat that all of them have. workers deserve. “

Edwin Perez contributed to this story.

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Julio V. Miller