It’s Time

We’re a week into pre-season games, and I’ve yet to watch more than a couple of innings. Not by choice, of course. Merely an artifact of MLB’s preference for playing games with no effect on the standings* in the early afternoon. It makes sense from a player preparedness perspective, but it can be aggravating for those of us with other commitments.

* I’m not going to call them “meaningless.” They may not matter to MLB executives, but they’ve got plenty of meaning for fans waking from their winter nightmares of no baseball. One imagines they have at least a little meaning to the players, especially the minor league invitees hoping to score a place on the big league club.

But, barring another rainout, I should be able to catch the whole Mariners/Rangers game today and tomorrow’s Mariners/Indians game as well. That should improve my outlook on life and–given baseball’s usual effect on my writing–speed me through several chapters’ worth of Demirep‘s second draft.

Speaking of the Cleveland Indians, the “Chief Wahoo” logo will no longer appear on their uniforms. As was widely reported last year, the team will continue to sell a limited number of souvenir items bearing the logo in order to maintain control of the trademark. As I said when the move was announced, that’s somewhat inside out and backward, but it’s better than the nothing we continue to see coming out of the Washington D.C. football team.

As for those minor league players I mentioned a moment ago, let’s not forget that they’re playing–and training–without pay. They don’t start earning those spectacular salaries until next this time next month. In case you missed it, “spectacular” should be read as sarcasm. According to MLB’s own figures, the average player at the lowest A level gets $1,300 a month. (Hint: that’s about what I make working part time.) And that’s the average. Unless they’re all getting the same amount–they’re not–that means some players are making less than $250 a week for a more-than-full-time job. It’s a decent rate for a side gig. It’s not enough to live on, much less support a family, in most of the US.

Pay is somewhat better as players move up in the ranks. MLB says the average AAA player makes $10,000 a month. That’s about $60,000 a year (remember, they only get paid for six months). By way of comparison, according to Glassdoor, the average school teacher makes about $48,000 a year. So, yeah, the hypothetical average AAA player is doing slightly better than the person who taught him how to do math.

You can live on 60K, even get married and have a kid. In most of the country, anyway. Again, that’s the average. I’d love to see the distribution–how many players are making more than ten grand, and by how much, and how many are making less.

And, don’t forget, players move up and down the minor league ranks during the course of the season. It’s great to say you’re getting ten thousand a month in AAA, but if you were in AA from March to August, you’re not going to see a heck of a lot of benefit from that princely wage.

I’m not saying that minor league players should be earning six figure salaries. I’m not even suggesting every player should get as much as an elementary school teacher. But MLB’s protests of poverty and the collapse of the game if they paid enough to live on at all levels of the minors rings a bit hollow. After all, the minimum salary for a major league player is about $550,000 a year. That’s a pretty spectacular pay disparity.

If memory serves, the typical major league team has about 250 minor league players on their payroll. A little simple math suggests that putting in a set salary scale starting at, say, thirty thousand a year–five thousand a month during the season–and going up to that sixty thousand dollar level they’re currently paying in AAA wouldn’t cost a team even as much as a single decent free agent.

And with one less thing to worry about, the quality of play in the minors would go up. Better minor league players, better major league players. Simple math.

(This post was edited 3/11/19: Glassdoor asked that I add I link to their salary data.)

Batter Up

We’re about a month away from the beginning of Spring Training–pitchers and catchers report around February 15, depending on their team, and position players come in the following week–so it’s probably time for me to toss out a few thoughts on the upcoming season. Consider it my way of getting into shape before uncredentialed bloggers report.

I’ve seen several reports lately that MLB is planning to unilaterally institute a pitch clock in the majors this year.

Mark me down as neutral on that idea. I’ve seen several minor league games using it, and it really doesn’t get in the way. I’m not sure it speeds games up enough to matter, but I don’t think it hurts the quality of play enough to matter either.

There are already rules in place to limit how long the batter can delay between pitches. They were enforced when they were first introduced–2015, if memory serves–and they did make a noticeable, if minor, difference.

As long as those rules are enforced along with the pitcher’s clock, so defense and offense are subject to the same strictures, I’m willing to take the clock as a given and see how it works out on the field.

Moving on.

Another issue I’ve seen raised multiple times lately is the imbalance between what players are paid and what owners make. For example, Nathaniel Grow, points out that player payroll fell from 56% of league revenue in 2002 to 38% in 2015.

Naturally the players would like more. Hell, I’d like publishers to pay authors more. You probably want a raise too.

But let’s keep a couple of things in mind here. First, Nathan himself notes that 2002 was a record high for salaries as a percent of league revenue. That means the decline puts the current level in line with historic levels. And second, 38% just isn’t that low a number. Over at bizfluent, Elaine Severs states that “Most businesses should shoot for salaries in the 30 percent to 38 percent range…”.

Put another way, how many corporations are there where the CEO doesn’t make several hundred times as much as the average employee?

I’m not suggesting that income inequity is fair, nor do I think the owners couldn’t afford to give players more. It just strikes me as odd that there are so many complaints about the inequity in baseball, when the numbers are right in line with the rest of American business.

Granted, MLB is an unusual case–its anti-monopoly exemption guarantees it–but still.

The usual counter to ravings like mine is something along the lines of “Baseball could exist without the players, so they should get the bulk of the money.”

A doesn’t necessarily imply B here, but okay, let’s run with that.

Popular music couldn’t exist without the performers, so they should get the bulk of the money. Books couldn’t exist without the authors, so they should get the bulk of the money. Schools couldn’t exist without the studentsteachers, so they should get the bulk of the money. Food couldn’t exist without the farmers, so they should get the bulk of the money.

Need I go on?

Let’s face it, underpaying* the producers is a key tenet of American business. (And under the current regime, it’s only going to get more pronounced–but that’s beside the point.)

* As seen by those producers, of course.

That’s what leads to businesses closing when the minimum wage increases, even if the increase still leaves recipients with too little to cover the necessities of life. (Note: As the New York Times points out, that effect may be more perception than reality.)

It’s a systemic problem, and IMNSHO, one we should all be working to solve. But is baseball really where we should be starting?