Life has been pretty hectic in America over the past few weeks.
In the sports world, everything has come to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Currently, the NBA, NHL, and MLS have suspended their seasons, the NCAA has canceled March Madness, and Major League baseball has postponed opening day, with some industry insiders estimating that baseball might not return until July.
For fans and ballplayers, the news was tremendously disappointing. For several area players, the news is even tougher than many realize.
As the news came down last week that the remainder of spring training was being canceled, and the players were being sent home, minor-league players were told that they would not be paid until the season resumed.
“I definitely have a strong opinion on the whole thing,” former NIACC player and current Atlanta Braves prospect Bryce Ball said. “You just have to go on social media and see what everybody says. Every other sport, their lower-level teams are getting taken care of. It’s kind of disappointing to see. With how many billions of dollars these guys bring in, you should be able to take care of the product. But things could change.”
Even when they are getting paid, minor league ballplayers don’t make much money. While major league baseball brought in $10.7 billion in revenue last season, the average starting salary in the minor leagues was between $1,100 and $2,150 per month. The catch is that players are not paid during the offseason or during spring training, and are classified as “seasonal workers.”
While a few top draft picks receive signing bonuses worth millions of dollars, the majority of minor league players have to work part-time jobs in the off-season, in addition to working out and staying in shape for the upcoming year.
One way that some minor leaguers have started to cope with the low pay is by “income pooling.” A company called Pando has helped start the practice. Nobody pays any money until somebody in the income pool group makes it to the major leagues. Once they’ve made $1.6 million, that player kicks back 10 percent of his salary to the other players in the pool.
For most players through, the minor league life is filled with small paychecks, crowded apartments, and fast-food meals.
Ball is one of the lucky ones. After he and his Braves’ teammates were told that the season was being suspended, he returned to his offseason home in Dallas and went back to his part-time job working in the athletic facilities at Dallas Baptist University, his alma mater.
“That’s what I’ve been doing the past couple days,” Ball said. “DBU has been helping us out. I feel for all those other guys who are trying to find a job, stay financially stable, and keep their head above water.”
Brandon Williamson, a former pitcher at NIACC, and current pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization, was extremely disappointed when the team was told that they were being sent home, though he is trying to find the bright spot in a tough situation.
“Yeah, it stinks,” Williamson said. “We were all getting ready to play some ball. We were getting geared up, and our games were about to start for spring training. We’re all getting excited for the start of the season. It’s nice to be home, too, and get a little bit of time at home. You find the positives, but it’s less than ideal.”
While players can try to find a part-time job for the time being, the uncertainty of when the season will resume makes it tough. Without knowing how long they will be able to work, the players have a tough time finding an employer willing to hire someone who might only be able to work for a few weeks. In addition, since they are still under contract, the players are not able to file for unemployment.
Six teams, including the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, have announced that they will pay their minor league players their usual stipend through the end of the originally scheduled spring training, but teams are not required to do so, and until the league puts together a plan for compensation, many players are essentially left to fend for themselves.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with teams on Monday on a possible solution to the problem, but as of Wednesday, no plan had been announced.
"As of now, there has not been a plan laid out financially for us to be taken care of, whether a little bit of money here and there," Ball said. "There has not been anything like that mentioned. It’s kind of crappy that we have to be on our own. Most of us probably had an off season job, now not knowing when we’re going to go back, we can’t really get a job. We're still under contract with them. It’s tough."