A few weeks ago, we looked at a legislative proposal from the Saint Paul Saints, asking Minnesota’s government to exempt the team from citywide minimum-wage laws. (For baseball players, not concessions workers and such.) It didn’t go anywhere.
Last week, the US Congress passed a spending bill to keep the national government running, and it was signed into law by our 45th president. In that bill was a curious little provision, dealing specifically with minor-league baseball. It says that minor-league players are not eligible for overtime pay as defined by the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. This effectively keeps the players below minimum wage, as teams are only required to pay players for 40 hours in a week. (Players work much more than 40 hours in a week.)
For further details, you can read Maury Brown at Forbes here, Emma Baccellieri at Deadspin here, or Whitney McIntosh @ SBNation here. They all basically cover the same ground, each in their own entertaining fashion.
Highlight of the new law was its name, the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” This is inaccurate because 1) MLB teams pay minor-league salaries, not the minor-league owners, and MLB teams are doing fine; also 2) since when is baseball back to being “America’s Pastime”? I would think that’s Internet rudeness, NFL football, and celebrity news, in no specific order.
What none of the authors mention is that federal laws such as this do not supersede local laws, as this post concisely explains. The Save America’s Pastime Act only says what the federal minimum is for worker pay (in wages and overtime); nothing in it stops states or cities from passing laws mandating better pay.
For example: nothing in federal law mandates that employees be paid double-time to sit through interminable company-required “team building exercises.” However, if Minnesota were to pass a law saying workers get paid double for that dreary nonsense, Minnesota companies would have to pay those workers that 2x bill. Federal labor law is a floor, not a ceiling.
(If Minnesota passed a law saying anyone who enjoys “team building exercises” should be pelted with rotten vegetables, it might not pass constitutional muster; I’d still be on board.)
So, minor-league players are essentially in the same situation they were two weeks ago (as are independently-financed teams like the Saints). It’s now on the books that teams can’t be sued under federal law for violating labor rules, but players never won a lawsuit in federal court anyways.
On the state level, several teams are definitely breaking local labor law, yet it’s up to the states (or cities) to enforce this. Which, as of now, does not seem likely. Most localities have some investment in their minor-league teams, either financial (stadium construction) or town pride, or both.
Greed Or Tradition?
The linked writers above all blame MLB greed for refusing to pay minor-leaguers more, and it’s certainly hard not to. Every team could easily afford this. And having a full quota of minor-league competition is essential to player development today; long-gone are the scouts who traveled Farm World in an old jalopy and saw some kid with a killer curve playing behind the grain silo.
While greed can never be discounted as a human motivation, I suspect there’s another factor in play: baseball doesn’t like to change.
Consider how long it takes baseball to change even the most insignificant detail, like allowing managers to signal an intentional walk instead of making the catcher squat down, point out, stand up, get the ball, squat down, ZZZZZZ.
When it comes to something that actually matters, like eliminating stupid home plate collisions or extending virtually invisible netting to protect little kids, baseball collectively reverts into masochistic nostalgia. Listen to Bert Blylevn complain about pitch counts and five-man rotations (e.g., listen to Bert Blylevn for a week). “In my day, you pitched until your arm shriveled up and fell off your body, and then you pitched with the other arm, and when that fell off you farted on the batter.”
Minor-leaguers have always been terribly paid. That’s how today’s players lived when they were moving up the system, that’s how teams have always weeded out the players with “guts” from the ones who, you know, were maybe really good at baseball but sick of that crap so they went back to college. It’s probably viewed by most baseball veterans, both players and management, as a necessary initiation rite.
The same thing exists in military-school training, med students doing residencies in hospitals, internships at corporations. These are all theoretically intended to test an individual’s ability to perform under pressure. Whether they accomplish this is doubtful, but the individuals in question do learn one very important lesson; I never want to go back to that. They then, supposedly, become more grateful for whatever future privileges they receive.
Well, sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There are a lot of people that “paid their dues” in various fields who regard the whole ordeal as pointless, and the conventional wisdom of its instructional value as dingdoody. Perhaps more now in baseball than was usually the case; with free-agency taking a huge blow this offseason, the old formula of Do Your Time Then Earn Big Dime may not seem like all that it once was.
Links, Hot Take On Hot Dogs, and Dozier’s Hair
Along those lines, here’s a bit on how veterans aren’t making the money they used to. It’s written by Grant Brisbee, whom I disagree with on certain matters, but he sure can type sentences like a pro. It has a treasure from SB Nation’s graphics department, imagining what “MLB Trade Rumors” would have looked like in 1961 if it existed. CHECK OUT THE SIDEBAR.
The happiest story currently in baseball is actually about a horrid miscarriage of justice. In 1994, a young member of the White Sox grounds crew was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he discovered and called the cops about. He was released last year when DNA evidence pointed to a serial criminal instead.
Guess what? The White Sox gave him his old job back. That sure doesn’t make up for what he suffered, but it’s a classy move, all the same.
One reason, perhaps, is that the South Side Sox have the same head groundskeeper they did in 1994; a fellow known as the “Sodfather,” he’s been at the job so long. Here’s an interview with him about groundskeeping from 2000.
Poking around this Chicago stuff, I accidentally found that the team is selling T-shirts reading “No Ketchup” over an image of the classic Chicago-style hot dog. (They used to sell these at the Dome; it’s a dog, bun, pickle, tomatoes, hot peppers, and oddly bright-green relish. I always bought one, always loved it, and always needed Tums later.)
No ketchup? This is absolutely correct.
Mustard? I consider this essential, but if you just want to taste your beef, go with the gods. Chopped onions and sauerkraut are nice, not mandatory. Ketchup on a hot dog is insane. Would you put peanut butter on a hamburger? Mayonnaise on french fries? (We don’t count continental Europeans, they came to fast-food later than us.)
Call a hot dog a sandwich if you want; but please, please, don’t put ketchup on it. Or at least do so in the privacy of your own home.
Finally, here’s a little nugget of joy in this year’s MLB: The Show. You know how, in these sports games, they have announcers record bits of dialogue for the game to play in appropriate situations? Voice guy Mark DeRosa recorded a little thing about Brian Dozier, praising his offense and defense, then ending with: “all the while, his hair never moves.” If you made it this far through the post, I know you’ll like that one.
Enjoy your Passover/Easter/baseball! Or all three!