Tag Archives: Independent baseball news

The End of Indy Ball?

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.

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The Desert League and CWL Reach An Agreement

On December 8th, the Desert League officially announced an agreement with the California Winter League (CWL).  The post, which was put on Facebook, stated:

Important! After reaching an agreement with the California Winter League the Desert League has cancelled the 2018 season.  We have negotiated an agreement with the California Winter League for all of our players to attend the CWL at a discounted rate. The number for the CWL is 760 778 4487. We are also refunding money that has been paid for the 5 day tryout camp and the Developmental League. For more details and instructions on getting your refund processed please visit us at http://www.desertleague.com

I reached out to both Luke Powell, owner of the Desert League, and Andrew Starke, president of the CWL, to find out just what the agreement means for players.

Luke Powell:

*Luke stated that he could not go into detail about how the agreement came about, but answered all my other questions.*

  1. Why did you think it was in your best interest to make a deal?

 

The Desert League is played in Arizona but I live in North Dakota. John Guy is my right-hand man in Arizona and takes care of all the leg work for the Desert League. This year John has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and battled several other health problems. It’s been very hard for him to get done with a lot of things that we needed to get done. He is the only person I trust to do the job and without him we can’t operate this year.  I made the deal with the CWL because I didn’t want the players to have a bad experience like they have had in so many other indy leagues. I wanted to do it the right way or no way.

 

  1. The Desert League always made a big deal about the fact that it paid their players and wasn’t a pay to play league, why are you now encouraging players to go that route?

 

There are no other indy leagues that pay baseball players in January. If a player wants to play that time of the year, then they have to do a pay to play league, and if they’re going to pay to play baseball… I’m going to recommend the best pay-for-play league there is, and that’s hands down the CWL.

 

  1. What do you think the benefits will be for these players who take the chance at the CWL?

 

The players that attend the CWL will have a chance to play daily in front of tons of scouts from both MLB and multiple Indy organizations. And unlike the AWL (Arizona Winter League), the CWL has an official affiliation with the Frontier League. A player will get more expose in the CWL than any other winter league.

Andrew Starke:

1. How did the idea for the deal come about, and what was the final deal that was made?

Back in October, Luke Powell was driving through Palm Springs from LA to Phoenix. We sat down with him in our office to clear the air and talk about the industry in general. We had some questions about what made Luke so upset with the CWL and he had some questions about where we got some of the information that we had about housing and payment for players in the Desert League. The conversation was pretty straightforward and relaxed and after both parties had the answers to their questions, we discussed the industry in general and agreed that there was a misinformation on certain aspects of one another’s businesses. Close to Thanksgiving, we learned that Luke was frustrated about the way that his 2018 season was coming together and he was not happy with the options he had at that time in order to field a 4 team league in 2018. During these conversations, we learned that Luke also operates his own, successful business in the oil industry and he simply could not devote the time necessary to the Desert League in order to operate it in the manner which he envisioned it being operated.

We discussed several options with Luke about what to do before ultimately coming to an agreement that would see any Desert League player who was under contract, or was to attend their tryout camp or development league, have the opportunity to attend the 2018 California Winter League at a discounted rate. Luke wanted to make sure that his players had somewhere to go in January, and while the CWL is a more expensive options than the Desert League for players, we agreed on a price that was close to the same daily rate that players would have paid for training camp (which did not include housing) or the developmental league. Our price is higher because we include housing, food, etc. in Palm Springs, CA for 28 days during peak tourist season.

While I am sure some players will not be willing or able to come up with the difference in price between now and the start of the CWL on January 22nd, Luke wanted to make sure that they had a realistic option at a price point that could be justified. We wanted to make sure that we did not miss an opportunity to discuss the CWL with the dozens of players who were committed to the Desert League. So the agreement made sense for both parties.

2. In what ways do you think this is going to benefit players (ones from the Desert League and ones who were already attending the CWL)?

For players who were set to participate in the Desert League, this deal will give them a chance to continue pursuing professional baseball. There are not many options for baseball players to play in front of managers and scouts who are looking to sign players in January and February. This agreement, and the timing of the announcement of the cancellation of the Desert League season, gives players a realistic alternative to play in front of representatives from MLB, the Frontier League, the American Association, the Atlantic League, the Baseball Challenge League in Japan (who we just announced an agreement with), the United Shores League, and the Pacific Association. It’s more exposure than they would have received in the Desert League. We want to offer exposure to many different types of professional leagues in 2018 so players can still find contract offers regardless of age or experience level.

Playing in front of managers and scouts from all of these different leagues for a month will, in my opinion, offer Desert League players much more exposure than they may have received otherwise. As far as the benefit to players already attending the CWL, a late surge in player registrations would allow us to add more teams to the CWL schedule and hire more managers or scouts to coach those teams. More managers and scouts on staff at the CWL means more organizations represented who are looking to sign players.

That really is the main benefit, at this point. We will still ensure that the level of play is respectable and require that all players, including those from the Desert League, have previous college or professional experience.

3. How is this going to affect your league and the competition for contracts/roster spots for regular summer leagues?

Well hopefully we can add more teams and bring out managers from more independent league teams who want to sign players. That would be a real positive at this late stage. We’re not sure at this point what type of response we will see after the news about the Desert League and how it will affect the number of players we have this year. If we only receive a small influx of players, than it will not affect things much at all competition wise.

If we receive a great deal of interest and many players register, then we will look at bringing out more coaches who have the ability to sign players for their organizations. We will not, under any circumstances, have rosters that are larger than 22 or so players per team and we will make sure that we have as many teams and leagues represented out here as possible in January. Our goal is to get as many players signed as possible and historically, teams will sign maybe 2-5 players from the CWL. So the more players who register, the more teams we have, the more coaches we need to manage those teams, which hopefully leads to more contracts signed. That’s our goal.