Minor League Baseball Salaries; An Interview with Brewers Prospect Jonathan Perrin

Some minor league baseball players are paid less than $7,000 per year playing baseball.  Over the weekend, WSUM Sports Director Jacob Swanson spoke to Brewers Double-A prospect Jonathan Perrin about the topic.

JS: Just describe what the minor league life is like when it comes to travel and conditions.

JP: “A lot of people are pretty familiar with the general schedule.  The big league and minor league schedule is pretty similar… In the big leagues you’re going to play 162 games… In the minor leagues, you play a 140-game schedule and that’s from April to the first week of September.  You’re playing 140 games in basically five and a quarter months, so it’s 140 games in 160-165 days. If you think about that, a normal person goes, works their Monday through Friday, you get the weekend off, 40-hour-per-week type deal, so in baseball, you’re going 10 to 15 to 20 days between off days and then you get one off day and usually that off day is more often than not a day where you’d be on the bus traveling and going to your next site, so a lot of times, it’s not even a true off day and then you take into account that we’re at the field for a 7 o’clock game– most guys are going to show up at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m. or 2 o’clock at the latest and you’re not going to get out of there once you’re showered up until 10:30 or 11 o’clock at night.  You’re looking at 10 hours a day, six to seven days a week, so it’s a very grueling travel schedule. It’s a very grueling day-to-day schedule with not a lot of off days during the season.”

JS: Brandon Lawson of the Rays’ minor league season tweeted that he’s making $1,180 a month.  Is that just during the season. That’s just March through September?

JP: “Right.  It kind of scaled depending on what level you’re at.  I think, just being in the Brewers organization, we start at $1,100 a month and now with the new act that got passed, the Save America’s Pastime Act, it’s like a $60 raise, so the minimum salary in baseball is like $1,160 or $1,180.  It equates to $7.25 an hour at 40 hours a week per month, the absolute minimum you can pay according to the 40 hour times $7.25 rule. That’s basically the starting salary for a minor league player would be right around $1,100 a month.”

JS: Do you think that most people don’t  realize the schedule that you’re playing in or the pay you’re playing at, or do you think they’re OK with it because they think you’re getting paid to play a game?

JP: “I think it’s both of those things.  My biggest thing, and why I’ve kind of tried to present some facts, is I just don’t think a lot of fans realize that your average minor league baseball player did not sign for a million dollars and is making less than you do sitting in the stands as a fan.  I think there’s a big misconception that we are just like the big leaguers and we’re getting paid a lot of money to play this game, when the reality is we’re not. There’s very few players on the field that sign large bonuses, especially at the lower levels.  A majority of guys didn’t sign for seven figures and a lot of them didn’t even sign for six figures, so there’s just a misconception there that everyone on the field is a millionaire and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your average fan at a minor league game is making more than the players on the field.  I think that’s kind of one thing that’s very important to realize. That’s a thing I don’t think a lot of fans realize yet. Yes, we do get paid to play a game, but at the same time, the reason we are getting paid to play a game is because we are extremely good at it. We’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point and even in the minor leagues, we are still the top one percent of baseball players in the world.  We’re just better at this than most people. Whether or not you agree with baseball players getting paid more, I think you can look at the situation and say that they should be at least be making a living wage doing any sort of job or at least minimum wage. That would be my plea to the fans. We work extremely hard at what we do, just like they work extremely hard at what they do to make ends meet and we’re just looking for that same treatment in the minor leagues.  The fans can help us. The fans drive the MLB and they drive professional sports. When the fans speak, organizations listen because this is all about the fans in the end. I think if we can educate the fan base and show them what’s going on, I think that can be the quickest route for change, in my personal opinion.”

JS: You see a lot of people saying ‘Oh, I’d do that for free.  They’re doing what everyone wanted to do’ and I think that’s kind of the sentiment that I see a lot of the time.

JP: “I understand where that’s coming from, but what I would say to those people is ‘How long could you do that for free before you actually had to look around and start paying your bills?’  We’re working men. A lot of guys have wives and families, or want to start families at the same time that we’re chasing a dream. We’re normal people too. We have an extraordinary job, but we’re still human beings and people that work hard and deserve a fair shot.”

JS: One argument that would push back against yours that I think a lot of people would give is about signing bonuses.  Who gets those big signing bonuses? That doesn’t trickle down to guys in the lower rounds of the draft, does it?

JP: “I was a senior signing.  There’s a few different ways you can get drafted in baseball.  You can get drafted out of high school, if you go to junior college you’re eligible to go in the draft both your first and second year of college and if you go to a four-year college, then you’re eligible after your junior year or the year that you turn 21 if that’s earlier and you’re obviously eligible if you’re a senior.  I got drafted as junior in 2014 by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round and they offered me a bonus that I didn’t think was good enough to forgo my senior year of school, so I decided to back to my senior year of school and get my degree. What happens when you’re a senior in college is that you have no leverage. You are either going to take whatever they give you for a contract or you’re essentially done playing baseball.  My bonus was $5,000 in the 27th round and that was actually a lot more. Most teams, for seniors in college with no leverage, it’s $1,000 and a plane ticket, so the things that factor into bonuses is if you’re in the first three rounds, you’re going to get a significant amount of money near a million dollars or more than a million if you go in the first round or two. There are guys that get million dollar bonuses, but there’s 40 rounds in the draft and the vast majority of guys are not getting bonuses like that.  Even if you sign for a bonus of let’s just say $200,000, you’re going to pay over 30 percent in taxes, five percent to your agent and then you have to live off the rest, so after all those fees are said and done, you’re looking at $120,000 and that’s got to last you for three, four, five or six years until you get to the big leagues when your next payday is.”

JS: You mentioned your degree.  You went to Oklahoma State. You’ve actually taken the LSAT and gotten into law school, so obviously you’ve got plans after your playing days are over.  Do you feel like a lot of guys don’t have that backup plan and that comes back to haunt them after they fizzle out in the league and don’t have money to fall back on or have their degree?

JP: “That’s definitely one risk that you take, especially coming out of high school.  Most teams do write college into the contract so if you’re a junior and you get drafted, you’ll get your signing bonus and the team will pay for you to finish your last year of school, or if you’re out of high school, you’ll sign and get your bonus, and whatever school that you’re committed to, they’ll usually give you an equivalent of the cost of attendance to that university for four years.  Major League Baseball does do a good job about getting guys an opportunity to attend school after playing, I think, because they are willing to spread the end of those contracts and pay for the back end. It’s definitely something that I’m very thankful for. For me, personally, it was the best decision I’ve ever made to go back and finish my degree.”

JS: If you’ve got a backup plan of being a lawyer that obviously pays you more than a grand a month, it has to be worth it still to keep pursuing the dream of playing in the MLB.

JP: “100 percent. Like you said, it’s the dream.  I’ve wanted this since I was eight years old throwing baseballs into my fence as a kid in the backyard.  For me personally, at this point, I’ve come so far and gotten so close to fulfilling such a difficult dream to accomplish that I don’t want to turn back now and pack it in right on the cusp.  I’m still 100 percent fully committed to baseball and want to achieve my dream, but at the same time, I’m educated, I understand how the world works, I believe, and I’m looking at the situation that’s going on and I disagree with how it’s going on.  That’s why I’m here voicing that opinion. I disagree with the way things are being done and I think that it’s actually in the team’s benefit and interest, because I think it would be better from a player development standpoint.”

JS: There’s the stick-to-sports people and there’s the people that think they’re more than an athlete.  It seems like your take is that you’re more than athletes, and sports are just part of who you are.

JP: “Yes.  I will argue until I’m blue in the face with any and every one of those stick-to-sports people because whatever your occupation is, that doesn’t make you not a human being.  Just because someone is a lawyer or a teacher or a businessman, no one says ‘Stick to your business, you don’t know anything about the world,’ right? But when you’re an elite-level athlete who is one of the best at their profession in the world, why should I just stick to that?  I’m clearly very good at one thing. I’ve dedicated my life to be extremely good at it. That doesn’t mean that’s my entire life. I’m still a human being. That’s my job, that’s what I love, but I’m also passionate about other things, so for me, I think there’s a lot of room for athletes.  No one is going to bat an eye when an athlete has a charity. No one is complaining when they’re out there trying to do good public service, but when an athlete comes out and speaks out about an issue that they may or may not be educated about, but I think most times they are educated and do their research, they know what’s going on and they voice their opinion, they get shut down, like ‘You’re just a dumb jock.’  I think that’s a terrible stereotype and I just think that’s wrong.”

JS: What would be your closing argument?

JP: “My argument for either paying players more or paying them the same salary but making it a 12-month salary structure… it’s more of a player development standpoint.  Let’s just say I play my minor league season, do well, and then I go home and I have to find an apartment, and continue to pay my expenses like my phone bill and my car insurance.  Those expenses don’t stop. When I go home for the offseason, I have to do those things. I have to find another job or another two jobs in order to make ends meet during the season, and what that does is take away my focus from being a professional baseball player, and I don’t just stop being a professional baseball player when I go home for the offseason.  I still have to workout and stay in shape. If I do something stupid and get arrested, what’s the headline going to say? It’s going to say ‘Milwaukee Brewers Prospect Jon Perrin did so and so.’ I’m never not a member of the Milwaukee Brewers when I go home for the offseason. I’m still subject to drug testing and things like that. I’m still responsible for my actions as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason and by having to go and get extra jobs and do these things to make ends meet, it takes away from my ability to focus solely on getting better as a baseball player.  If the organizations would be willing to make a change and either pay us more and help us so we can save more and cover the expenses during the offseason or pay us year-round, then it gives us, the players, an opportunity to focus on our craft more during the offseason, which is a significant amount of time. If I can take four or five months and dedicate it still solely to baseball and not worry so much about the outside factors, especially the financial constraints, that’s going to create a better product for whatever MLB organization I’m a part of and my fellow minor leaguers are a part of.  Better competition is only good for the parent club. It’s going to create better development for the minor league players, more competition, those players are going to get to the big leagues faster and help your big league club win and I think from a player development standpoint it makes sense. Pay us more or pay us year-round, because then you’re going to actually end up helping the big league product at a fraction of the cost by paying just a little bit more for a lot of guys at the lower league levels. It makes sense.”

JS: Is that something that most players do, getting a job in the offseason?

JP: “It’s very common.  You have to survive.  Like I said, the expenses don’t go.  A lot of guys do things like pitching lessons, and I actually substitute taught one year.  I got my teaching license and substitute taught. I worked in a restaurant, just doing whatever you’ve got to do to make ends meet, and while you’re doing that, you’re working a part-time job or two, you’ve also got to find time to get your workout in, continue to eat right, get your sleep so that your body is still ready to perform at a high level when you get out for spring training.”

JS: You talked about the Save America’s Pastime Act.  I don’t think that most fans, even the fans that consider themselves to know a lot about the game, really know exists.  Do you want to just explain that a little bit more?

JP: “It was put into the U.S. spending bill that got passed by congress a couple of weeks ago, so it’s codified in the law.  What happened was that the MLB, had been lobbying the past couple of years to get this passed through congress and all it does is that it allows the MLB to be exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.  Essentially, what it does is exempt Major League Baseball from minimum wage laws, which allows them to keep this salary structure that they have in place, essentially permanently. They are no longer having to jump through hoops to make this work.   I know at one point, we were classified as part-time seasonal workers. That was the classification for justifying our salary structure. Like I just said, you can call the work part-time, because yeah, the season is five months, but you also have a month and a half of spring training and we’re still professional baseball players in the offseason, so I don’t know how ‘part-time’ you can consider that.”