Labor

Endless Spring Training Screws Minor Leaguers

Ryan Braun's spring training takes have truth to them, but he's a poor messenger

Labor
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Mar 20, 2017 at 11:56 AM ET

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun really hates spring training. He prefers the seven-week saga pass as quickly as possible, believing it has little value because it doesn’t contribute to his bottom line.

At least Braun is consistent. Five years ago in March 2012, after a slow start hitting in spring training, he said:

“There is never a quantity of at bats in spring training that would concern me ever. Spring training has never been result-oriented. It’s always process-oriented. . . . I could go 0-for-50 in spring training and I’m 100% confident I’ll have success in the season. I’m serious. It’s a different intensity. It’s a different focus, different energy, enthusiasm when you play regular season games.”

(One good thing about Braun, evidenced in his quotes five years apart: He’ll tell you if he’s serious.)

There is a point to be made here, but Braun didn’t quite make it. Plus, he’s a bad labor messenger. Let’s not forget that the former NL MVP is making $20 million this season, drawing little sympathy for the hours he logs to earn it. Broadly, however, Braun is right: Spring training is too long, but major league clubs need to satisfy agreements to help draw tourism dollars for the heaps of public money they’ve received for their facilities.

And big league players don’t draw their salary during spring training, only receiving a pittance of a stipend. According to the previous collective bargaining agreement (the new one is not yet publicly available), players received a weekly allowance of $291.50, while anyone living away from the team complex (as presumably all big leaguers do) get an extra $51.50 per week toward their rooms and $82.50 for meals. That’s $425.50 per week in 2012, plus cost of living adjustments for each subsequent year. At an hourly rate, that’s sub-minimum wage.

The real issue remains with the pay scale for minor league players, who don’t receive the same weekly allowances, although their spring training is typically a couple weeks shorter. Exact figures were not readily available, but one anecdotal account pegged the number around $140 per week.

This is an issue because MLB continues to view minor league players as artisanal apprentices, rather than normal employees, in order to keep costs low. For those players, not getting paid by the hour is a source of legal contention, as lawsuits such as Senne v. MLB allege that very point—that minor leaguers are paid less than minimum wage.

Somewhere near Braun’s tone-deaf words were a valid point. He just didn’t quite elucidate well, nor did he apply it to the right group of offended players: the minor leaguers.