Minor league pay hasn’t changed much in 60 years

Minor league players get paid relative peanuts, which is even more evident thanks to trip down memory lane by a former major league MVP.

Dick Allen played 15 years in the majors, was a seven-time All-Star, won rookie of the year and the 1972 AL Most Valuable Player. On Friday he tweeted his first professional baseball paystub, from 1960.

It’s unclear if this paycheck was for an entire month or half of one, but either way the numbers are staggering. Not because $362.50 is a low amount to be paid, but rather that it has barely changed in 60 years.

Let’s assume for a moment that the $362.50 was for an entire month. Elmira was in the New York Penn League, now a short-season Class-A league that still exists but has nine of its 14 teams on MLB’s proposed cut list in an effort to trim a quarter of all minor league teams. Minimum salary in the minors for a player on their first major league contract is $1,100 per month. That’s three times Allen’s first salary, or 1½ times his salary if the paystub above only covers half a month.

Either way, that’s absurdly low.

Consider that major league players — part of the players union, unlike minor leaguers not on 40-man rosters — will be paid a minimum of $563,500 in 2020 for their time in the big leagues. I’m not sure what exactly was the minimum salary in MLB in 1960, but in 1967 it was $6,000, so this year’s rate is at least 94 times what it was six decades ago.

If we go by median family income in the United States, that rose from $5,600 in 1960 to $89,931 in 2019. That’s a 16-fold increase in 59 years, far more than the minuscule 1½- to 3-time rise in minor league salaries. Major League Baseball grossed a reported $10.7 billion in revenue in 2019, per Forbes.

It’s not just fresh-faced new draftees — or in Allen’s case, before the draft existed, an 18-year-old signed out of high school — who get paid very little. This has happened for decades.

As a larger part of a spending bill signed into law in March 2018, the Save America’s Pastime Act exempted baseball from paying its players overtime even in weeks they work over 40 hours, which during the season is essentially every week.

A lawsuit spearheaded by former minor league pitcher turned attorney Garrett Broshuis scored a win of sorts in January, when a federal appeals court denied MLB’s attempt to prevent the suit from class action status. That lawsuit has yet to go to trial, but it’s a step toward that direction in an effort to increase minor league pay.

As we’ve seen in the dismal gains over the last 60 years relative to both the industry and the country as a whole, that increase is sorely needed.

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