(Blogathon ’16) Jessica Quiroli- The Minor League Baseball Lawsuit: Wealth vs. the Working Class

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Few things personify living the American Dream better than professional sports.

From poverty to fame and fortune, we’ve learned their remarkable stories, and drawn inspiration from them. Willie Mays was the son of a steel mill worker, and the grandson of a sharecropper. Joe Namath’s grandfather came to Ellis Island from Hungary, and he too, and later his son, worked in the steel and coal mills. LeBron James was raised by a single mother, who became pregnant when she was sixteen, then worked tirelessly to make ends meet. James credits her for his success and wealth. It was their specialness, their rare physical talents and physicality that led them there. Many make it, but many, many more fall through the cracks.

In baseball, the trick is not falling through the cracks. The minor leagues are made up of a few thousand players and player cuts are common. Reaching the majors isn’t. The minor leagues are the workshop, where players must condition their bodies and minds to play every day, and not burn out, or fall behind, because the next guy is trailing you and ready to replace you. The odds aren’t great they’ll see major league time for more than a few days or weeks, if at all. A Mother Jones study found that just 10% of minor league players make it to the major leagues. That stacked-with-odds challenge is one player’s commit themselves to. They room together, live with host-families; they take their meal-money per diem, $25 a day, compared to major leaguers who receive $100 a day. Minor league players start out making $1,100 a month in the salary pyramid.

Being major league-ready and transitioning to the highest level of the game is one part of the developmental experience. Add to that the challenge of remaining healthy and strong, well-fed, rested and able to care of themselves and anyone depending on them.

In December of 2014, at the annual Baseball Winter Meetings, Stan Brand, the VP of Minor League Baseball, delivered a speech addressing a lawsuit filed against MLB regarding wage and labor issues, Senne vs. the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. The meetings, a mix of social and professional engagement, are conducted with a drink in hand if you choose, as major trades are made and breaking news emerges from a high-end hotel full of players, ex-players, executives, reporters and those hoping to get in the business. Some attendees are just fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the action.

But as the usual business dealings transpired at the 2014 gathering, another story rose to the surface. Brand came forward to explain MiLB’s stance on the lawsuit. Baseball America’s Josh Leventhal reported Brand’s comments.

“In the coming year, we will be seeking legislation to clarify that professional baseball players are not covered by these federal wage and hour laws. Just as we did in the 1990s to save the antitrust exemption, we will need your help to explain to our legislators the importance of minor league baseball and their communities’ investments…I do not want to overstate the threat this suit presents, but I think my honest assessment is that it is equally perilous for our future…I will ask you to heed the clarion call, man the battle stations and carry the message to Congress loudly and clearly.”

Of Note: Major league players make a minimum of $84,000 a year. Minor league players make a maximum $2,150. Major League Baseball makes more than $8 million dollars annually, with the major league salary rising 2,500 percent in the last forty years. Minor league salaries have increased 75 percent.

The lawsuit was filed by three former minor league players, with the intention of applying the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act to minor leaguers. But to this point, MLB has an antitrust exemption. The lawsuit later expanded to include 34 former minor league players.

Brand could prove to be a tough opponent. A lawyer with a wealth of experience dealing with lobbyists and politicians is well-known in Washington, DC where he’s litigated cases for forty years, including Supreme Court cases. He clarified that, in major league baseball, minor leaguers must know their place. They weren’t expected to rise up and disrupt the framework of the minor league business model, but to continue working as contributors to the wealth that eludes them. Brand’s speech presented minor leaguers as an enemy among them in baseball. His determination to protect the financial interests of Major League Baseball, in effect, established an us-against-them class war.

Leventhal filed a second report for Baseball America in April of 2015, in which Brand “contends that playing minor league baseball was never meant to be a career.” Leventhal wrote that Brand likened playing in the minors to an internship.

The corporate system of Major League Baseball seems impenetrable, but Garrett Broshuis emerged as a willing fighter. The former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer, a pitcher and 5th round pick in 2004 retired from professional baseball and began practicing law. He’s not just one of the players that took part in the original filing; he’s also representing them collectively.

Broshuis responded to Brand’s winter meetings comments, laughing at first, amused or baffled, maybe both, then, after some thought, sought to describe Brand’s stance.

“It’s fear-mongering,” Broshuis said by telephone in mid-January. “It’s inconceivable that a $10 billion dollar a year business is lobbying congress for an exemption.”

They’re men without a union. The powerful MLBPA, with all its protections can wield power in any number of situations, making sure major leaguers are treated fairly and reap the financial benefits of their work.

Brand first portrayed the minor leaguers suing as some kind of outlaws wreaking havoc on a quiet town. He later tried to sell an idea that minor leaguers are comparable to college interns. For the numerous players who went to college and proudly don the cap of the major league team that’s drafted them for the cameras, that’s often news to them. The minor leagues are for developmental time, acting as a unique step ladder to the majors. But they are no amateur hours. And the interns are in the office.

With the annual earnings MLB pulls, working class baseball fans aren’t likely to deeply sympathize with MLB and view it as a sacred institution being threatened by big bad minor leaguers making meal money. Sure, some fans scoff at minor league players asking for more, viewing them as spoiled. But if they regard them within the context of major league greed, maybe they’d see the fight differently. They might see themselves in those guys, working for a giant, money-making company where thousands of employees make a miniscule percentage of those at the top.

All of this doesn’t rest on Brand’s shoulders, however. He’s the voice of the cause, not the leader. Fans know that MLB is full of corporate greed. They knew when they learned that MLB was a willing participant in the use of steroids in the game, by doing little to nothing to stop the problem. Had they done anything, they would’ve risked losing a cash windfall from fans high with baseball fever in the late 1980’s, and throughout the 90’s.

Brand’s speech simply served as a reminder of what’s been proven. But this time, there were no gods of baseball being torn down. Players with little money and an uncertain future were being belittled, ridiculed and shamed. Brand’s word choice made the face of this fight the Grinch, or, perhaps, that fictional hero of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko. Brand could’ve easily bellowed, ‘Greed is good, now let’s play ball!’

Gleaning the meaning behind his words isn’t so tough: minor league players are worthless.

Minor league teams are worth everything. The players are the component, the trusty cog, which allows MLB to continue to adding increasing its considerable wealth. We’re given to understand that minor league baseball players, by asking for a living wage, would hurt the community, the employees in the stadium they play in, and the entire way baseball’s run. Minor League Baseball is a community-driven enterprise. Hurt the system as it is, hurt the community. Essentially, they’d ruin everything.

One player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reached out privately the same January weekend that Broshuis spoke about the lawsuit.

“I need to make sure that if I do sign up that it would not affect my opportunity to play in the big leagues, or have me being released because of it,” he said.

MLB’s powerful hand has to be a driving factor for any players considering, then re-considering, joining the lawsuit. Why risk it? They might ask themselves. The players fighting for a fairer wage aren’t making millions and have no sense of job security. Those high-ranked players can clearly see the payday. They aren’t treated as disposable.

“I’ve considered it. The amount we get paid is deplorable,” the player said.

But he points out that that’s not enough for him to join. He indicated uncertainty about how the outcome would impact teams and players. Knowing the truth might not be enough to motivate players to put themselves on the front lines.

“I’ve felt mistreated. But I think that’s the reason so many guys push themselves to get better [and] get out of the minors. It almost acts as motivation for us to move up as quickly as we can,” he said, then continued, “even though that’s not up to us. It’s survival of the investments teams make, and who can help them now. It’s cutthroat. But it’s a business.”

And business is good.

As reported in a 2015 report by Lindsay Kramer, minor league baseball drew the third-highest attendance in its history, also marking the 11th consecutive year MiLB drew over 41 million fans.

The driving force of the community-driven entertainment of minor league baseball is based on the tested theory that if you build a stadium, employment will come. When a stadium’s built, or a team affiliate is established or moved, the hope is that fans will show up for an affordable summer activity. For families, particularly those with multiple kids, seeing a sporting event for less than twenty dollars is a very big deal. It relieves parents of the school’s-out dilemma, and allows them to see a baseball game with their kids. If all goes well, a major league player’s injury could lead to his rehab at the stadium they’re attending. Oddly put, but a rehab appearance by a top player in the majors draws crowds. Maybe a young kid’s never seen his favorite player in a big league game outside of on TV. In the minor leagues, he or she not only gets a glimpse, but an intimate one.

A minor league team as a business works for many, including interns gaining experience working in professional sports and executives looking for a foot in the door. The players, for their part, suit up and play the game. They fit in the business model that serves families and communities. They work for everyone else’s families, but struggle to support their own or even themselves.

“For the long term, we should all be able to come to the table and strike an agreement,” Broshuis said.

The business is clicking along, a well-oiled machine in no danger of losing fuel. The rich definitely get richer. The poor, well, they stay the same, get poorer, or try to figure out a new way. Soon, retirement is unavoidable; maybe before the age of thirty. Few can become those icons of sports history, Mays, Namath or James. Few can make it to even elite status. But minor league baseball players know what they’re up against. At a certain point, just surviving and getting a uniform must be preferable to giving up the dream altogether.

Many play out their professional careers, notable, known, and with a considerable amount to retire with. Many, many, many more scrap, scrape, hope, and work to get the hell out of the minors, with even the possibility of a cup of coffee in the majors often a glimmer. Those are the players Broshuis is fighting for; brandished as trouble-makers.

A scout once said something about the minor leagues while standing in the press box of then Waterfront Stadium, home of the Trenton Thunder. Watching the game, with a distant look in his eyes, without arrogance or joy, he said. “The top prospects need guys to play with.” It was a clarifying moment, impossible to forget. That’s the reality.

Broshuis described the process as now in the “discovery phase”, the longest portion of building a case.

A few weeks after initially speaking, in response to follow-up questions, the player who’d requested anonymity said he was still on the fence about joining the lawsuit, explaining that he had to be “careful.”

“I haven’t decided,” he said. “I’m an outsider in professional baseball.”

Broshuis said that they’re now in the “discovery phase”, the longest portion of building a case. The trial is set for February 2017. The outsiders, those rabble-rousers looking for a living wage, will have their day in court.

Jessica Quiroli is a Minor League Baseball writer/reporter and the creator of ‘Heels on the Field: A Minor League Blog‘. Her work has appeared on MiLB.com and FanGraphs and in Junior Baseball Magazine. She is also the screenwriter of the so-far-unfilmed screenplay, “Minor League Guys.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Four reasons why the WBC (probably) isn’t going anywhere

If you were to believe the internet, whether it be one of those good professional articles that sort of hint at it or an ignorant person in the comments section of some other blog, then you’d think the WBC is doomed, and that the current World Baseball Classic will be the last, especially if Team USA doesn’t advance far- a true possibility, given that it’s a win or go home game against Canada today.

To which I say: WRONG! Here are four reasons why the World Baseball Classic isn’t going anywhere. Why four reasons? Because the next World Baseball Classic will be the fourth WBC!

1. They’ve already scheduled, made certain plans, and made business deals regarding the 2017 Classic.

When it was announced that MLB Network would broadcast the World Baseball Classic, it was also mentioned that they had the rights to the 2017 tournament. Now, the cynic would say that doing that would allow MLB to easily kill the tournament if they wanted to, since MLB Network is part of Major League Baseball and thus wouldn’t be suing for breach of contract or anything. And while that is true for MLB Network, it is not true for ESPN Deportes acquisition of the WBC rights through the 2017 tournament or for the radio rights, acquired by ESPN and ESPN Deportes, again through the 2017 tournament, not to mention any deals that have been made with other sponsors or international broadcasters.

In addition, you’ll notice how they have mentioned the 2017 WBC in coverage as well. When China beat Brazil, for example, it was mentioned that it was important for China because it meant they would qualify for the 2017 WBC, while Brazil was now going to have to go through qualifying. While it has not been announced yet how the qualifiers will work, with some cynically- but probably rightly- noting that it’s unlikely Team USA would have to qualify even if they do finish last in the pool, it’s obvious that there will be some sort of qualifying.

So it is probably safe to say that at the very least there will be a WBC in 2017.

2. It is doing well overseas.

Although some focused on the small crowds for the games that didn’t involve the home teams in the Asian pools, the fact is that the WBC is a big hit overseas. One in three televisions in Japan, for example, were tuned into the first round games featuring Samurai Japan. In Italy, baseball was in the sports pages for the first time in recent memory- still merely a footnote compared to soccer, but far more prominent than it otherwise would have been. The going-ons of the national team were front page news in Taiwan, where baseball had been battered by scandals the last decade. Canada’s fight with Mexico was something of a matter of pride to some Canadians, with flamboyant hockey commentator Don Cherry taking some time out of his Hockey Night in Canada gig to talk about it.

This, by the way, ties with reason number four… but I’ll get there.

3. It’s Bud Selig’s baby.

It has been said that Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame fate was sealed when A. Bartlett Giamatti passed away not long after Rose agreed to be permanently ineligible from baseball. Had Giamatti lived, perhaps he would have eventually negated- or at least lessened- the penalty, or at the very least had his opinion asked about it. But Giamatti passed away, and so it is said that nobody has decided to do anything about Rose, as it is thought it would, in a way, go against his memory.

The WBC is much the same way- it’s Bud Selig’s baby. Having (amazingly) made MLB the toughest drug-tester of the big four leagues, he’s set his legacy on making baseball a more international game, perhaps, one day in the more distant future, even having a “true” World Series.

And, just as poor Pete Rose probably won’t be getting into the Hall of Fame until those who knew Commissioner Giamatti are long dead, it’s unlikely anybody is going to go after the WBC until Selig is long gone, by which point, it should be noted, it could be an unassailable part of a baseball that is truly international.

4. Baseball is ultimately a business, and business side of the WBC is good and getting better.

In the Sports Business Journal, an article before the start of this WBC’s games included this sentence, which basically shows the disconnect between the perception of the WBC and how it really is:

Two successful tournaments already in the books and a third on the cusp, and the World Baseball Classic is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, even within the game itself.

Wait, did they say that there were two successful tournaments, and that a third was “on the cusp”, as if it was an inevitability?

Well, that’s because the WBC is a good business venture. It has 60 or more sponsors- which is nearly twice as many as the original tournament. Merchandise sales, if they are anything like in previous tournaments, are probably great. Attendance could be better, but is still pretty good, especially in games where the home team or a team of local interest (such as Mexico in Arizona) is playing.

And, ultimately, baseball is a business, and has been for a long time. It’s meant to make money, and for all the complaining by some team partisans, they certainly aren’t complaining when the checks arrive in the mail. And as long as the WBC continues to create that extra money and open up new markets such as Europe, Brazil and perhaps even China, it will stay. It’s just good business.

There are, of course, plenty of flaws to the WBC. The timing isn’t right (and probably never will be, as the only other times that would be possible, such as during the All-Star break or in November, both also have plenty of issues with them), the tickets are too expensive (especially for games that have little interest to local fans, which led to the small crowds in Asia for games where the home team wasn’t playing), the front offices have found plenty loopholes and ways around rules that are meant to keep them from blocking players, and the TV and online coverage could be much better…. but none of these, whether together or separately, are enough to negate the four points I made… especially the fourth one.

For Sale: The Boston Red Sox?

Earlier this season, a rumor came out the the Yankees might for sale. So I decided to come up with a sales pitch for the team. Now, the Red Sox have been rumored to be on sale. They probably aren’t, but, what the heck:
Are you in the market for one of Major League Baseball’s flagship franchises, playing in it’s oldest stadium? Are you ready to take on a fixer-upper job that will require you to banish memories of chicken wings, beer and one of the biggest collapses in sports history from the mind of fans? Do you like hanging out with celebrities like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Stephen King and Doug Flutie? Do you have a few billion dollars on hand?

Then you may be the ideal candidate to own the Boston Red Sox, founded in 1901. Current owner John Henry has been having problems of late juggling his ownership of the team with ventures in the European market and in the South, forcing him to place the club on the market. Included in the deal is Fenway Park (a beautiful example of early-20th century stadium design), large shares of the NESN network, access to Wally the Green Monster, and the contracts to all current Red Sox players and personnel. Yes, even Bobby Valentine. 

To apply, please call Fenway Park. Ask for Papi.

Google Maps: The Official Measuring Stick of Major League Baseball

The latest MLB CBA was released today. It is primarily boring legal mumbo-jumbo. But one thing caught my eye, in this section about money and such that a player gets when they are on a injury rehab:

Yes, MLB determines it’s driving distances using Google Maps. No doubt this means that there will be a commercial during the World Series where we see literally how far each team traveled.

For Sale: The Yankees?

According to the Daily News, the Yankees may be put up for sale by the family Steinbrenner. The most valuable team in American sports- if not all of sports (I’m not really up on the price of Europe’s soccer teams these days) could, possibly, maybe, be put up for sale. Allow me to do the sales pitch for them:

Are you a wealthy member of the 1%? Do you want to be seen, talked about and generally known? Do you like hanging out with celebrities like Billy Crystal, Jay-Z, Spike Lee and Alec Baldwin? Do you have an insatiable desire for victory and an irrational hatred of facial hair?

Then we have the sports franchise for you! The New York Yankees, winners of 27 World Series and 40 AL pennants, and the team of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra and Jeter, are for sale. The current owner, the Steinbrenner Family, bought the team from CBS in 1973 for just over 8 million dollars, and has since greatly increased the team’s valuation. Sale includes new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES), and all current player contracts. Yes, even Alex Rodriguez’s. But don’t worry, despite the revenue-sharing placed upon you by the other 29 MLB teams, you still will hold a vast advantage over most other teams due to your market size, prestige, and creative accounting.

Beginning asking price is 3 billion US dollars and includes a vigorous vetting process by Major League Baseball, the New York City press, big-name Yankee fans and politicians from the City, County and State of New York.

All questions and requests can be sent to One East 161st Street, Bronx, New York. Sorry, due to demand, we cannot take Jeter autograph requests.

The Blight of the TV Blackout

The greatest bane of the Major League Baseball fan in existence is not high ticket prices, competitive imbalance or rainy days. It is the dreadfully antiquated blackout policies of Major League Baseball on television. Drawn up long before the internet, national cable networks and Extra Innings packages, they, as they are currently drawn up, do little to benefit the teams they are meant to and do everything to annoy, enrage and inconvenience fans. It’s so bad, in fact, that some people are suing MLB over it.

(More after the break)

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