A cartel and its impoverished workers

No, I will not be talking about some Latin American or Middle Eastern operation. Rather, I’ll be briefly discussing major league baseball, specifically its minor league affiliates.

But first a brief story about my almost-career in our “favorite pastime,” the sport of heroes and, more recently, multimillionaires.

Let’s go back to 1965, the first baseball draft ever. I was a headlines-grabbing pitcher for Mt. Diablo High School, located in Concord, Calif., about 30 miles or so east of San Francisco. The New York Mets took a chance on me, though not too big of one. My name was not called until days after Rick Monday became the first player ever drafted. My number was 660. The scout who recommended I be drafted, Mr. Partee, met with my parents and me in our cozy living room. While I had visions in my head of great fortune, the Mets thought otherwise, offering me a signing bonus of $5,000 and a salary of $500 a month to play baseball in some small West Virginia town I had never heard of. In the end, I opted to accept a scholarship to Cal, figuring that if I did any good in college, the scouts would take another look. A string of injuries and mostly less-than-stellar performances later, I found myself with a degree in history and no prospects for playing professional ball, though I continued to play semi-pro for several years thereafter.

One occasionally looks back at life’s forks in the road. Pace Yogi Berra, you have to choose one; you can’t take both. What if I had signed with the Mets? How would things be different?

Well, disturbing statistics suggest that I’d have lived in poverty for as many seasons as I might have survived in professional ball. Indeed, according to this article in the Washington Post:

More than 80 percent of draft picks will never reach the big leagues, and most live on salaries of less than $10,000 per season; the starting salary for a first-year player, paid only during the regular season, is $1,100 a month.

Some current and ex-minor leaguers are pushing back in a lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Here’s a summary from NBC News:

The class action suit, brought on behalf of minor leaguers for all 30 Major League teams, alleges violations of federal law requiring fair wages and overtime. Filed in February, and twice expanded ahead of a September hearing, Senne vs. MLB portrays minor league baseball players as the game’s exploited underclass. They toil year-round with no overtime, unpaid extra assignments, and no right to switch teams or renegotiate, the lawsuit alleges. In exchange, they get a maximum starting salary of $5,500—a sum far below minimum wage.

“No one is saying that minor leaguers should be getting rich,” says Garrett Broshuis, a minor league baseball player turned attorney who helped build the case. “But if McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can pay a minimum wage, then Major League Baseball can too.”

Remember: Liberty and justice for all.