The “Save America’s Pastime Act” had no cosponsors and was never heard or voted on; however, it is now law.
Thanks to the Federal Spending Bill being passed, minor league baseball (especially independent baseball) may be completely changed.
The provision in the bill states that:
[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.
This is a win for Major League baseball since they will not have to pay overtime to any of their players, including minor league players on their affiliated teams. It essentially kills the lawsuit that some former minor league players filed claiming that they should be paid overtime under minimum wage laws.
This law will only require a slight raise (with no overtime) to the lowest affiliated levels and will not affect the majority of teams or players.
But… this isn’t the case for independent baseball. These leagues are ran without financial help from a major league organization. They are small businesses ran on small salaries aided by the hopes and dreams of baseball players who just want a chance to keep playing and be seen by a “higher” level.
For most players, the money really doesn’t matter. It’s that chance to chase their dreams, and they are okay with the small pay they receive. It’s not always right and conditions are often rough, but it’s what they willingly choose to do.
People will look at some of the lower levels of professional baseball (including the Pecos and Empire leagues) and see their demise as a good thing, but it will still have a huge impact on so many people.
Every summer, these players join leagues that play in small towns all across America where families can enjoy a night at the ballpark without breaking the bank or traveling all the way to a major league park. Seasonal workers get a little extra money during those summer months, and college kids can get valuable experience through internships.
Sadly, those nights in most towns may be about to end.
If teams have to pay all players 40 hours a week at minimum wage, there may be BIG problems in independent baseball. Federal minimum wage at 40 hours would result in players being paid at least $290 a week or $1,160 a month.
Last season, the longest running independent league, the Frontier League, paid players a minimum of $600 a month (and a maximum of $1,600) with a total team salary for the season set at $75,000.
The higher leagues: the Can-Am, the American Association, and the Atlantic League, all have yearly salaries of $102,000, $115,000 and $225,000-$275,000 (based on the team) respectively.
This won’t really affect the Atlantic League, but will cause an impact on the American Association and the Can-Am.
And as it currently stands, it could cripple the Frontier League and all lower indy leagues: the Pacific Association, United Shore League, Pecos League, and the Empire League.
If teams are forced to pay all players a weekly salary of at least $1,160 a month, the whole landscape of indy ball will be disrupted.
Mike Shapiro, the president of the San Rafael Pacifics in the Pacific Association, was quoted as saying: “If that is the case, it puts us out of business. It would be the ruination of at least lower level independent leagues like ours. We’re struggling enough with worker’s comp . . . It’s the end of independent ball, certainly at the lower levels.”
He definitely isn’t the only one worried about the upcoming season. Many managers and owners that I talked to off the record are also concerned.
This could very well be the end of independent baseball as we know it.
“I tell you who gets hurt the worst, it’s not only the players, where we are the last stop,” Shapiro said. “They lose out because they don’t have the opportunity. The other who loses out is these communities with 1,000 seat ballparks. It’s a cheap night out for local families.”
There is hope that indy ball can continue operating as a seasonal business with the players being seasonal employees and exempt from all minimum wage laws, hopefully including this new one.
Only time will tell if indy stadiums are going to be forced to go dark.