Minor-league baseball players are in a battle with the game they love.
The players are seeking more money, enough to rise above the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25, and some 2,300 former and current players have joined a lawsuit that is being led by St. Louis-based attorney Garrett Broshuis, a former University of Missouri pitcher who insists that the salaries of minor-leaguers — between $1,150 and $2,150 per month, with a $25 per diem, and paid only during the season — aren’t enough.
“To be clear, we’re not talking about huge sums of money,” Broshuis said. “This is about the same laws that McDonald’s and Walmart have to comply with.”
Baseball, at all levels, wants to maintain the current salary system and Major League Baseball on Thursday voiced its support of legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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Save America’s Pastime Act, introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), was crafted as a response to a federal lawsuit filed by three former minor-league players against MLB two years ago. The suit was certified as a collective action in October 2015 as the group increased.
“As a former player, that warmed my heart,” said Broshuis, who pitched for Mizzou until 2004 before embarking on a six-year career in the Giants organization.
Also heart-warming to Broshuis: Bustos withdrew her support of the bill on Thursday.
“I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players that draw us to stadiums …” Bustos said. “I believe Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor-league players a fair wage for the work they do.”
The players allege the minor-league pay scale violates the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Baseball, a $9 billion industry, said in a release Thursday that its minor-league players should be exempt from federal wage laws:
“Being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.
“Minor League baseball players always have been salaried employees similar to artists, musicians and other creative professionals who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Like those professionals, it is simply impractical to treat professional athletes as hourly employees whose pay may be determined by such things as how long their games last, when they choose to arrive at the ballpark, how much they practice or condition to stay in shape, and how many charitable promotions they make.”
Most minor-league teams are owned independently, so how would the lawsuit impact MLB? Major League Baseball pays the salaries of some 7,500 minor-league players, more than $500 million each year, in addition to paying their major-league rosters.
Since 1976, major-league salaries have increased 2,500 percent. The minimum salary this season is $507,500. In the same span, minor-league salaries have increased 70 percent.
Minor-league baseball would be threatened by a successful lawsuit, according to Guthrie, the congressman from Kentucky.
The cost increase to players would “jeopardize the skills-enhancement role of the minor leagues and the existence of Minor League Baseball itself,” according to the Guthrie and Bustos statement released Wednesday. “As a result of the lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of current and former players, many cities would be in jeopardy of losing their Minor League Baseball teams, resulting in the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs nationwide, shuttering tax-payer funded ballparks and creating a void in affordable family-friendly entertainment.”
Broshuis, who finished his minor-league career in 2009, called that claim “absurd.”
“The idea that suddenly paying more minor-league players to reach a minimum wage is going to lead to the implosion of minor-league baseball is absurd,” Broshuis said. “Certainly there is enough money at the top for a slight increase in wages that should have been done years ago.
“Baseball has ignored this for so long that wages have fallen below minimum.”