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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.

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?

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.

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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.

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.

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