by Holly Horning

MLB has had its share of scandals and misdeeds.  But what do they all have in common?

Trying to keep a lid on them.  Even ignoring them.  All in an attempt to keep the public and fan base from seeing anything that could tarnish MLB’s reputation.

In recent history, it started with the steroid scandal.  Many people knew what was going on by simply watching players literally grow to become unrecognizable.  But Commissioner Bud Selig did nothing about it.  In fact, he ignored it because the increase in home runs and offense were bringing more fans into the parks.

In 2005, Selig did his best impersonation of Sergeant Schultz in front of Congress by stating he knew nothing about steroids until 1999.  However, the inquiry was spurred, in part, by the revelations in Jose Canseco’s book Juiced

One year later, Bud testified that he was one of the first people to recognize what was going on in the game.  It’s called covering your you-know-what.

However, Canseco’s book and extensive coverage of the BALCO scandal finally forced Selig into taking action.

Fast forward to 2019 when the Astros cheating scandal finally came to light.

Before Houston won the World Series in 2017, many teams believed that the Astros were cheating in ways that weren’t approved by MLB.  These teams all complained to the Commissioner’s Office but to no avail.  Not even a single inquiry was made by the powers that be.

Even individual players filed complaints which were never addressed.  One of them was Mike Fiers who had filed 2 reports with Rob Manfred about his time with the Astros and what they were doing.  He even offered to give back his WS winnings and ring.

Crickets.  And, of course, nothing was done.

That is, until Fiers did an interview with Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich in The Athletic that outlined what the Astros were doing.  It was that interview that finally got Rob’s attention because the media made it a huge story.

MLB would have preferred to have kept it quiet.  But now they were forced to address it.  And they took as few prisoners as possible.  And on purpose.

They certainly weren’t going to reveal the most damning information and take away any championships.  That would be messy.

Next up?  The parade of serial misogynists, sexual harassers and pushers of drugs and equipment doctoring.  Some organizations rife with multiple offenders.

And what did they all have in common?  Lots of individuals, if not entire organizations, knew what was going on.  Even many players who weren’t a part of that organization knew.  And all of these issues that either preyed upon women or catered to drug or sticky stuff needs were open secrets within each organization.  We’re talking about teams including the Angels, Mets, Astros and White Sox who are now described as having one of these toxic cultures in which illegal acts were permitted, blind eyes ruled and no one was never reprimanded. 

Nevermind that MLB had a series of official guidelines that each team had to agree to follow.  Including a sexual harassment policy.

Yet owners, upper management and MLB did absolutely nothing to stem this behavior until the media once again made them into headline-grabbing issues that detailed repeat offenders and problems that went back decades.

Do you see the pattern here?  MLB does nothing to identify, investigation or curb illegal, controversial or repulsive actions until they are forced to address them by the media. 

And increasingly, players and employees are avoiding the Commissioner’s Office and going straight to a heavyweight journalist and publication.

Late this past season, the latest scandal hit the pages.  Concern over the abysmal living conditions of minor league players.

There have been issues about minor leaguers in the past concerning pay.  MLB finally addressed it by raising pay but also eliminating dozens of teams to help defray the new costs.

Some players have spoken out about their horrible living conditions in the minor leagues.  And many of them end up being either demoted or cut from their teams.

First, the background.

Minor leaguers are now earning $500 – $700 a week (from a previous $200 – $500) but those salaries are just for 5 months and they don’t include payroll deductions. (Players are also expected to continue to train on their own in the off-season with no reimbursement from their teams for doing such.) 

Nor do those salaries include housing or food.  The latter is sometimes provided by teams but it is often clubhouse managers scrounging for leftovers from executive events in order to feed to the players.

These athletes are making $10-$15 K/year, excluding deductions, and bringing home even less.  The poverty level in the US sits at $13,000.

Some organizations offer discount hotel rates but most players can’t afford to use them.  One team offers furnished apartments but deducts $420/month from paychecks.  This is the equivalent of one week’s worth of wages.

Conditions like this have been going on for years now but we are only now just learning the specifics about horrid living conditions because some minor leaguers have learned that the media can help them by giving them an anonymous public voice that makes MLB look very bad.

Once again, The Athletic was made aware of how hard it is for players to find a bed and feed themselves while in the minor leagues.  Many players will say the hardest thing about the minor leagues is not developing their talent.  It’s finding solutions for everyday living that is the most challenging. 

The Athletic interviewed dozens of players and learned these facts:

  • Some sleep in their clubhouses.
  • A number of them can’t afford housing so they live out of and sleep in their cars.
  • Others pool their money and rent unfurnished apartments where they often fit 6 teammates per bedroom on wall-to-wall single mattresses on the floor. 
  • It’s not unusual for a 2-bedroom apartment to have 12 or more players sharing it.
  • There are more than a few players who sleep on pool floats, air mattresses or lawn chairs.
  • Needless to say, inexpensive housing often has issues such as rat and roach problems.
  • Married players are unable to have their spouses or children stay with them for entire seasons and go without seeing them at all for half a year, including the birth of their children for which they are absent.

But now that the media exposed MLB’s dehumanizing and exploitive conditions, MLB finally decided to act.  The pattern continues.

Starting next year, they will be requiring that teams offer housing for their minor leaguers.  But the deal is very short on details.  All we know right now is that only “certain” players, not everyone, will receive this benefit.

Make no mistake about it.  MLB finally didn’t develop a heart all of a sudden.  They were pushed.

And if you believe that organizations will absorb the extra cost without passing it on to fans, well, we need to talk…..

It’s a pattern of behavior that comes from a big business trying to squeeze the most profit out of its industry while paying out the least amount of money.

And it’s only motivation to address problems and concerns comes when the media gets involved.

What did you miss on our Twitter feed yesterday? (And why aren’t you following TT yet?)

  • The Tigers continue their brooming of entrenched employees.
  • TT responds to a national column about the viability of bringing back JV and Mad Max.

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16 thoughts on “MEDIA MOTIVATION

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  2. Holly, your disclosure of the poor pay and living conditions of today’s minor league players was a real eye opener. Sadly, it’s not much different for many other young people chasing their dreams – like the stereotypical starving artists. But MLB merely reflects our society and acts like major corporations (Nike and Apple come to mind) who exploit workers to improve the balance sheet. They shortsightedly fail to value integrity and their reputation.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I have some, not as much as Holly, experience with business management and MLB fits with so many other businesses who have no regard for the two most important elements in their success. Consumers and staff are crucial to a healthy life. Those who ignore or minimize their importance are dysfunctional and fractured.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. The local Class A minor league team used to have a program where local residents would house (and feed?) minor league players for the season while playing home games. Is that program no longer in effect or encouraged? Also, what kind of accommodations do the teams provide the players when traveling to away games?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Tigerway2 – Re your question about hosts, because of Covid, that program has been discontinued for the time being. However, do note that the host program is done under the auspices of MLB and it is not free to the players. They are charged rent in most cases by the host family. As for travel, it is all by bus. Schedules attempt to keep games within a reasonable distance but w/longer drives, the players sleep on the bus. They don’t stay at hotels. – Holly

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am 99% sure that there are rules in place for MILB teams as far as how far they are allowed to bus players. If it is over a certain distance the teams are required to fly them to their destination.


      • Hi, Tom – Yes, there are distance rules but MLB does keep the distances short to avoid long travel. Now, the Pacific Coast League has different rules. They do use planes while the other leagues do not. – Holly


  5. I have played organized hardball and softball most of my life. In all those years, I never learned as much about ML baseball until I began reading TT a few years ago, for which I am very grateful. Thank you Holly. As for the grim living conditions for minor leaguers… I cannot help but think of the many millions of dollars that big league players are demanding to play this game, along with the greedy profits that owners are making. The major leagues are a shameful debacle for what they have created.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. I wonder where the Tigers rate on the deplorable ratings of the 30 MLB franchises? If the MLB was to lose their antitrust freedom, would conditions worsen even more in order to maintain their profit lines? Perhaps, MLB, in their warped thinking, see the minors as a survivor testing ground for the low percentage of winners who will make it to the show. You would think they would want to nuture and protect their investments so they don’t have top picks cutting their hand opening a can.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I agree that non-bonus money minor leaguers don’t make enough to live on. On the other hand, the kids their age working summer jobs on Mackinac Island or Cedar Point aren’t either. I like the idea of teams providing apartments/dorms, and maybe feeding them after practice and games, but ultimately it is the choice of each player whether or not to play Milb. Like a summer job up north, it is great to do for a little while, until you move on to better things.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sadly, MLB is not the only offender/abuser of their minor league players, as the NHL has a similar record. A couple that lived across the street from us in Toledo hosted players from the Toledo Goaldiggers for years because of the extremely low pay. In fairness to the Mud Hens Parent Company, the players do get some meal money when on the road. (It varies with level of the minor league and length of trip).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Like John Bunn, I’ve had some experience with a big (not for profit) organization which did moderately well for its full-time employees but not very well for its part-time workers. So, I have no doubt that MLB is profiting at the expense of its most vulnerable employees who have little to spend on pizzas, season tickets for hockey games, or big nights at the local casino.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, the uneven treatment of full-time and part-time employees will always breed contempt from one side and resentment from the other. A salary disparity might be the norm based on skill level but resistance to providing adequate accommodation and commensurate diets will foster friction between employees which will manifest itself on the job (field).


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