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Elephant Rumblings: Minor leaguers ruled year-round MLB employees in court victory

MLB news roundup

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Syndication: Arizona Republic
Dave McKay practices with minor league players during spring training at Salt River Fields on March 13, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Megan Mendoza/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Happy Wednesday, Athletics Nation!

Most of you should know that baseball is, economically speaking, very much a winner-take-all affair. A handful of stars like our own dearly departed Matt Olson get nine-figure contracts while a far greater number of aspirants in the minor leagues work for sub-poverty wages under grueling conditions. But yesterday, Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported that MiLB players notched a significant court victory that may set a positive precedent going forward.

Federal Judge Joseph Spiro of the Northern District of California ruled that minor league players are year-round employees and that MLB is a joint employer with the franchises. As such, the league was essentially held liable for unpaid wages in the offseason and during spring training. Spiro awarded over $1.8 million in damages to the minor league players who filed suit against MLB in 2014.

This ruling could further expose both the league and franchises to future judgements: Spiro also found that minor-leaguers perform “work” during spring training in Arizona and Florida. The damages awarded yesterday were specific only to a California claim, and the matter is going to trial in Arizona this June, where further monetary penalties could be assessed in the players’ favor.

The non-profit Steering Committee of Advocates for Minor Leaguers praised the decision:

“For decades, minor league players have worked long hours year-round in exchange for poverty-level wages. Working as a professional baseball player requires far more than just playing baseball games. It also requires hours of year-round training, practice, and preparation, for which we have never been properly compensated. We are thrilled with today’s ruling, which is an enormous step toward holding MLB accountable for its longstanding mistreatment of Minor League players.”

Most serendipitously, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the same day that hope for improved fortunes among minor-leaguers emerged in the California legislature yesterday. State Senator Josh Becker introduced the “Minor League Baseball Players’ Bill of Rights.” If enacted, the legislation would limit minor league contracts to four years instead of up to seven, enabling players to enter free agency sooner. The bill also contains provisions that would allow players to sell rights to their names, likenesses, and images; Becker cited a 2019 law that affords NCAA athletes in California similar rights as a precedent that should extend to MiLB players.

I’m happy that Matt Olson got his due, while sad he had to leave Oakland for it. But let’s not forget those striving just to get a shot in the big leagues. Players, coaches, fans, and anyone else who cares about baseball or the value and dignity of every worker—which ought to include every single person—should give full support to the dreamers grinding away in the minors.

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