Fight Against Low, Low Pay In Minor League Baseball Continues Despite New Obstacles Minor league baseball players make very little money. Congress has locked in those low wages by exempting Major League Baseball from federal wage and overtime rules. Some players are fighting back.
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Fight Against Low, Low Pay In Minor League Baseball Continues Despite New Obstacles

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Fight Against Low, Low Pay In Minor League Baseball Continues Despite New Obstacles

Fight Against Low, Low Pay In Minor League Baseball Continues Despite New Obstacles

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You may have heard in recent years that minor league baseball players don't exactly share in the riches of the game. Most minor leaguers make an estimated $7,500 per year. Major League players average more than four million. A law passed by Congress a few months ago essentially locked in low minor league pay. But that hasn't stopped a small group of people fighting to help those players. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: In an era of growing sports activism, creating a new website isn't exactly a kneeling-during-the-national-anthem moment.

JEREMY WOLF: And then we click preview, and then we click publish.

GOLDMAN: Still, when former minor league player Jeremy Wolf launched morethanbaseball.org in April, it was an opening salvo in a fight to help minor leaguers.

WOLF: There's no one out there supporting us. And so that's what I want this to be, is just that kind of backbone, that support.

GOLDMAN: 24-year-old Wolf lived and loved the minor league life before he was released by his team last year after a back injury. He made a below minimum-wage salary, ate cheap, bad food. The ceiling leaked in his hotel. Wolf was a good-hitting outfielder, as long as there were enough bats. At his first stop in the minors in Tennessee, the team didn't supply them. So Wolf had to barter with teammates.

WOLF: I'll trade you batting gloves for a bat, or I'll trade you some shorts for a bat because I needed a bat to hit.

GOLDMAN: Stories of doing without are common in the minors. Traditionally, players accept it as a price for chasing Major League dreams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The House has passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill ahead of...

GOLDMAN: But then, along came Congress in March and made doing without law. Buried on page 1,967 of the spending bill, the Save America's Pastime Act exempted Major League Baseball from federal wage and overtime rules. MLB reportedly paid millions lobbying for the act, which formalized what has been status quo in the minors - no overtime, no pay during spring training and the off-season.

Baseball's rationale is that minor leaguers are seasonal workers. Minor leaguers insist they're professional athletes who work year-round on their craft and many hours of overtime during the season. So Jeremy Wolf said enough. And he's getting help from others, including longtime union activist Bill Fletcher.

BILL FLETCHER: The situation facing minor leaguers will not be resolved through litigation, and it won't be resolved through legislation. It's going to be solved through organization.

GOLDMAN: Organizing minor league players - they don't have a union - is much easier said than done. They may grumble among themselves, but they know speaking out publicly about the system could cost them jobs.

JONATHAN PERRIN: So this is kind of it. This is, you know, the living room, with the only furniture being a twin mattress. So...

GOLDMAN: Jonathan Perrin knew it was, in his words, a little bit of a risk when he agreed to let me interview him in May. He was a relief pitcher for a Triple-A minor league team in Colorado, where he shared an apartment with three teammates. Currently he's pitching in Double-A. He's one of the few active players to speak about the pay issue.

PERRIN: I'm not sitting here saying everybody should get 50 grand or whatever.

GOLDMAN: You're OK with minimum wage for an entire year?

PERRIN: Right. Yeah. I mean, we know what we signed up for. But just help give us a chance to continue to develop and not have to be, you know, drawn in so many different directions, trying to pay our bills during the times when we're not actually playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The O2 - swing and a miss. Strike three - 14 strikeouts for Jon Perrin.

GOLDMAN: In his three years playing minor league baseball, Perrin has spent his off-seasons working in restaurants, substitute teaching, even - ironically - doing some financial advising. According to Forbes, Major League Baseball revenues last season topped $10 billion for the first time. Perrin understands that Major League owners who pay minor league salaries don't want to spend more than they have to. But, he says, by paying minor leaguers for the off-season and for housing, those players can get better quicker and make baseball better.

PERRIN: That's how I would look at it. It's an investment in your prospects, in your lower-level guys to eventually create a better big-league product.

GARRETT BROSHUIS: Any time you see some players standing up, that's encouraging for me.

GOLDMAN: Attorney Garret Broshuis largely has been alone in the minor league fight since 2014. That's when he filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball. The suit still is active. It's why MLB wouldn't comment for this story. Neither would the players association. The union and Major League players, most of whom started in the minors, have not offered public support for minor leaguers. It's frustrating for Broshuis and Jeremy Wolf and the few others speaking out.

But Wolf says several labor unions have shown interest in his efforts. And then there's the website, which Wolf says isn't about anger. It's about speaking out to make things better and perhaps starting a movement. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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