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Money & Ethics

Should Minor-League Ballplayers Get a Big Pay Raise?

Pro athletes must keep their bodies and skills in shape 12 months a year, and all should be paid accordingly.

Courtesy Tom Hagerty via Flickr

Q. I've been reading that professional baseball players on minor-league teams are paid, on average, less than $8,000 a year—not even half what a minimum-wage worker earns in a year. What do you think about this?

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A. In a free-market economy, businesses may legally pay their employees as little as they wish, as long as they obey federal wage and hour laws. The contention of the minor-leaguers’ class-action lawsuit, with which I agree, is that Major League Baseball is not abiding by those laws and should be held accountable.

Legality aside, Major League Baseball—a $10 billion-a-year industry in which the lowest-paid big-leaguer earns a minimum of $535,000 a year and the average player makes $4.4 million a year—should be ashamed of exploiting the more than 6,000 players in its “farm system,” who are paid directly by the 30 major-league teams.

And the major-league players’ union—which should be showing solidarity with its poorly paid colleagues in the minors—is complicit by its silence. Its weak-kneed position on the lawsuit is that it supports the right of all workers to organize.

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What it should do, as the professional hockey players’ association has done, is welcome the minor-leaguers and bargain collectively on behalf of all its members at every level of the pro game. Top-level minor-league hockey players are paid a minimum of $45,000 a year plus $72 a day for expenses on road trips—not a princely sum, but several times the average pay in the baseball minors, where more games are played. And the minor-league ballplayers aren’t even paid for spring training, just a six-month regular season.

Major League Baseball says the minimum-wage law doesn’t apply because its minor-league players are not real employees, just “short-term, seasonal apprentices.” But whoever heard of apprentices signing seven-year exclusive contracts, as minor-leaguers typically do? Seasonal work? Pro ballplayers must keep their bodies and skills in shape 12 months a year, and all should be paid accordingly.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.