M.L.B. Commissioner Rejects Idea That Minor Leaguers Aren’t Paid Fairly

LOS ANGELES — Asked why Major League Baseball’s team owners do not pay minor league players a living wage — whether it was because they could not afford to or because they didn’t want to — M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested those players were actually compensated fairly.

“I kind of reject the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage,” he said in a news conference with reporters before the M.L.B. All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.

“I think that we’ve made real strides in the last few years in terms of what minor league players are paid, even putting to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have already received,” he said. “They receive housing, which obviously is another form of compensation.”

How much minor league players, who are not represented by a union, are paid has been a particularly hot-button issue of late. Last week, M.L.B. agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by thousands of current and former minor league players over past wage claims.

Under the proposed agreement, which still needs to be approved by the case’s judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, M.L.B. must formally notify all 30 major league clubs that they can no longer prohibit teams from paying players during spring training, extended spring training or any work period that is not during the championship season, which includes the regular season and the playoffs.

Additionally, both Congress (the Senate Judiciary Committee) and the executive branch (the Department of Justice) have recently taken an interest in M.L.B.’s antitrust exemption and the minor leagues.

Amid a wave of players and advocacy groups becoming more public with their concerns about life in the minors, M.L.B. reorganized the minor league system two years ago, a move it claimed would also lead to improved working conditions.

M.L.B. raised pay for minor league players in 2021, with Class A minimum salaries rising from $290 to $500 a week and Class AAA salaries increasing from $502 to $700. And this season, it enacted a housing policy in which all 30 M.L.B. teams were required to furnish housing to most players. (In the past, players often had to pay for their own housing, which resulted in instances where several of them were jammed into a room.)

Tony Clark, the executive director the players’ association, attended an event this week with his son, Aeneas. The union will soon have to decide on the introduction of an international draft.Credit…Phillip Faraone/Getty Images For Fanatics

Still, according to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit founded in 2020, the “vast majority” of minor league players “make less than $12,000 — below the federal poverty line.” In a statement issued Tuesday, the group’s executive director, Harry Marino, a former minor league player, rebutted Manfred’s assertion that they are making a living wage.

“Most minor league baseball players work second jobs because their annual salaries are insufficient to make ends meet,” he said in a statement. “The commissioner makes an annual salary of $17.5 million. His suggestion that minor league pay is acceptable is both callous and false.”

(M.L.B. has argued that minor league players were similar to apprentices — like those in art, music and theater — temporarily aspiring to break into the major leagues, where they would be handsomely compensated. The most talented amateur players can earn bonuses in the several millions when they sign with M.L.B. teams.)

Tony Clark, the head of the M.L.B. players’ union, who also met with reporters on Tuesday, and Manfred both addressed numerous topics concerning the sport, including the state of the annual amateur domestic draft; potential upcoming rules changes; and the competitiveness of teams.

The sides have until Monday to decide whether to introduce an international draft, the one outstanding item from the collective bargaining agreement the sides negotiated over the winter.

M.L.B. has long wanted an international draft, while the union has opposed it. But the union has also wanted to end the qualifying offer system in which draft picks are tied to top free agents, as they believe that system has hurt the market value for those players. In order for it to be dropped, the union would have to agree to the draft.

Manfred, who has expressed interest in expanding M.L.B. to 32 teams, said he couldn’t provide a timeline on when that could happen, particularly because the ongoing stadium struggles of existing franchises — the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays — were priorities.

“I need to get Oakland and Tampa resolved before we can realistically have a conversation about expansion,” he said. “It’s just those situations in my view are serious enough and timely enough that they have to be our No. 1 goals.”

Added Clark: “Growing the game, we are a big fan of. Expansion, we would be a fan of.”

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