AuthorZirin, Dave

For decades, being a minor league baseball player meant living a nightmare of poverty wages and substandard conditions. Given that the average major league baseball salary is $4.4 million, and profit margins for the bosses are off the charts--thanks to regional cable television contracts and the churn of publicly funded stadiums--the pauperism of minor league players has been a national disgrace discussed in baseball circles for years.

But the wheels may finally be turning, thanks to the power of grassroots organizing. On August 29, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) declared--at long last--that it would organize minor league players into a union. In a statement, MLBPA Executive Director and former major league player Tony Clark said, "Minor leaguers represent our game's future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide. They're an important part of our fraternity, and we want to help them achieve their goals, both on and off the field."

Less than two weeks later, on September 9, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB would voluntarily recognize the MLBPA as the union for minor leaguers. This is what you do when you know that you have been defeated.

There is still much work to do. The average annual salary for the 5,000 athletes who play minor league baseball in a given season is between $5,000 and $14,000. That is not enough to make ends meet, so many players must find other work during the off-season, sometimes taking on two or three jobs. Their living conditions are challenging, and some even live in their cars.

The plight of these players has gotten major publicity in recent years, thanks to the work of advocacy organizations formed by these athletes and their allies. Earlier this year, current and former minor league players won a $185 million settlement from the MLB in a class-action lawsuit over violations of minimum wage and overtime laws. Additionally, the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated that it will hold hearings to examine MLB's long-standing antitrust exemption--in place since 1922 -- and its treatment of minor league players.

I reached out to Simon Rosenblum-Larson, a player who was recently released from the minor leagues and who co-founded More Than Baseball, an organization...

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