After 120 years, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is coming to an end. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but there are going to be sweeping changes after the US Supreme Court refused to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought against MLB by former and current MiLB players.
The result allows the suit to continue and, regardless of that outcome, MLB is going to have to redefine how it deals with minor league players going forward.
MLB On The Hook For Millions
The lawsuit was first entered in 2014 by former MiLB players Aaron Stone. The complaint was that MLB was taking advantage of baseball players it sent to the minors by offering them a salary that was well below the legal federal limit and even much further below the poverty line. Since the lawsuit was initiated, it has grown to include thousands of minor league players, both former and current.
The attorney behind the lawsuit, Garrett Broshuis, asserts, “The ultimate goal is pretty simple: to get MLB to comply with the same laws that Walmart and McDonald’s comply with. Whenever they ask players to go to spring training, they should be paying their employees for it. During a season, there’s no reason for players to be making $7,500 or $8,000 a year.” The lawsuit wants all former players to receive back pay and current players to be compensated for hours worked in accordance with federal regulations.
Save America’s Pastime Did Little To Save Minors
Two years ago, Congressional lawmakers sneaked in a bill concerning MiLB pay as part of a larger omnibus bill. The Save America’s Pastime Act allows teams to play minor league players for a maximum of 40 hours a week, even if they work 60 or more hours, which is often the case. The disruption this has caused is now forcing both MiLB and MLB to re-evaluate its operational commitments.
Despite the introduction of the act, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed to allow the lawsuit to proceed last August with class-action status. This brought in players from across the country, including some major league players, and the lack of any union for minor league players has made it more difficult for MiLB players to find relief outside the implementation of the lawsuit.
The MLB and MiLB Could Part Ways
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the chances of MLB and MiLB maintaining an amicable relationship are slim. A standing agreement between the two, the Professional Baseball Agreement, expired at the end of September, and there are no plans to introduce a similar alternative. As a result, MLB wants to eliminate the 42 MiLB teams and reorganize leagues, as well as classifications.
MLB Changes Its Pitch
MLB has already started working to fulfill that goal, establishing the independent Atlantic League (AL) as its first official “partner league.” The AL and MLB have an agreement that will remain in effect until at least 2023, and which allows for MLB to use the league as a kind of testing ground for changes. The AL began testing an automated ball-strike system for calling pitches last year, and has also trialed other initiatives, such as defensive shift and mound visit limitations.
Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball economics and operations, explains, “The Atlantic League clubs and players have been great partners to us as we jointly test ways to make our game even more interesting and engaging to fans.”
The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, of which MLB was a part, is no more. The association has as its first objective, “To perpetuate baseball as the national game of America, and to surround it with such safeguards as to warrant absolute public confidence in its integrity and methods.” However, it would now appear that MLB is more interested in replacing the word “game” with “money-making business at the expense of baseball players.”