Nearly every player who first picks up a glove and dons a Little League uniform has aspirations of someday playing professional baseball. For the fortunate few, the ones with the talent and perseverance to rise up through the ranks of organized baseball, they’ll one day sign a professional contract. Interestingly, very few fans of professional baseball understand the exploitive nature of baseball’s draft and free agent system.
While the elite major leaguers—marquee players such as Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez and others—routinely command contracts measured in the millions, first year minor league players sign their first contract and make $850/month, all for the privilege of riding busses, playing under substandard lighting, and fighting the fear of failure. Certainly, players drafted in the early rounds (usually 1-10) of baseball’s major league draft, held each summer in early June (the 2006 draft occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday) receive signing bonuses, some as hefty as $1 million-$2 million (White Sox outfielder Joe Borchard, signed for $5.3 million in 2000), most receive much less. In fact, major league baseball has worked diligently to get a handle on bonus signings over the past few drafts. Part of this campaign has been to demonize agents like Scott Boras, as greedy money-grubbers, bent on destroying baseball's "pristine" image. For high school and college stars, high-powered agents such as Boras, are their only hope of ever getting a small fraction of value from their baseball talent, before it fails them and leaves their dreams and aspirations shipwrecked by their final unconditional release. In today's market, a first or second round pick might receive $1 million signing bonus and a great deal of fanfare, but by the time prospects are taken in the 10th round, the bonuses are rarely more than $5,000.
(Note: It is interesting to me, how often the Major League Baseball Player's Association receives the scorn of anti-union pundits, when in reality, it does little, or nothing, to reverse the practice of enriching the highest echelon of its fiefdom, while those toiling in baseball's equivalent of the sweatshop, never receive a scrap from the elite's buffet table.)
For all the prestige assigned to a high school or college star signing their first professional contract, the reality of the economics quickly becomes apparent. For the majority of farmhands, toiling in professional baseball’s lowest rungs of its system of professional wage-slavery, better known as the minor leagues, most players make less than the federal minimum wage. Here’s a good example of a first year player, either drafted in the lower rounds of the draft (the draft traditionally runs about 50 rounds), or signed as a free agent:
**$850/month salary (the standard amount paid to first-year minor leaguers signing their first professional contract)
**6-8 hours/day (the typical day spent at the ballpark preparing, playing and winding down; this would be for a home game and doesn’t take into account the time spent riding a bus between 6-8 hours, or more, for the typical road trips encountered by minor league players at the lower levels.)
**7 days per week (minor leaguers and major leaguers typically play every day, with very few off days.)
**$3.29/hour (the average hourly wage of a typical first-year minor leaguer, for the prestige of wearing the uniform of the Brockton Rox, Lansing Lugnuts, or San Diego Surf Dawgs, based upon a 60 hour work week.)
Of course, if that player is promoted, rather than released, after his first summer, he’ll receive a whopping increase of $200/month the following summer and see his hourly wage rise to just over $4.00/hour!
Since most dads secretly harbor hope of their sons playing professional baseball, those dreams and aspirations play into the exploitive practices of the American capitalist model of exploitation. Since many players are drafted out of college, playing minor league baseball merely prolongs the inevitability of having to leave the four-year cocoon that is American higher education.
Of course, I don’t know many fathers who wouldn’t love to brag to friends, family, and co-workers that junior just signed his first professional contract, the reality is that their young athlete would be better served marching down to the local McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s, and applying for a job flipping burgers. They’ll at least be making more than the federal minimum wage, and after three years, they’ll probably have been promoted to a shift manager and may even have availed themselves to each one of these corporation’s management training programs. Now I’m no fan of the fast food industry, but in our money-driven system, a management track in fast food is a better option than filling a roster spot for some minor league owner, who profits from the exploitation of your baseball talent, to fill some seats, sell some hot dogs and receive the benefits that derive from a lease agreement that plays on our unhealthy elevation of baseball above other businesses that benefit the community more.
It’s always interesting to me how so many liberal do-gooders like to rail against their favorite targets, such as Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Exxon-Mobil and other corporations, who arguably deserve every bit of scorn heaped upon them. Yet, you’ll find a good many of these very same people occupying seats at their local minor-league ballpark, perpetuating a system of labor profiteering that is much worse than those practiced by other, non-sports entities. So this summer, when you buy that ticket for your favorite minor league baseball team, just keep in mind the unfair system of indentured servitude that you are supporting.
Baseball's Free Agent Draft (notice the irony of this site--while clearly laying out a case against why any young man would want to roll the dice in a system stacked against them, it turns around and offers help in entering the baseball machine.)
Player's salaries (based on 2004 numbers--I have little reason to believe it has changed dramatically.)
A rant (and accompanying article) on baseball's exploitive wage system