TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Minor league baseball players are a hearty bunch. They’re used to long bus rides, low pay, low job security and have traditionally thought of those drawbacks as the cost of chasing a Major League Baseball dream.
Some of those things might be starting to change.
Players on the Single-A Tampa Tarpons — which is an affiliate of the New York Yankees — have been talking individually about efforts to unionize minor league players and the idea is gaining momentum. The Major League Baseball Players Association took the step of sending out union authorization cards earlier this week, paving the way for thousands more players to potentially join the organization.
“It’s something that a lot of people are definitely interested in,” said Tarpons centerfielder Spencer Jones, a former Vanderbilt star taken 25th overall in this year’s draft.
“As we get more information I’m sure guys will get more into it. It’s definitely something that interests me, and I’m excited to see what it looks like moving forward.”
Signed cards from 30% of minor leaguers in the bargaining unit would allow the union to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a union authorization election, which would be decided by majority vote. Minor league players would have a separate bargaining unit from their big league counterparts.
“It seems like 30% will be pretty attainable, so we’ll see.” said Tampa reliever Ryan Anderson, a 12th-round selection in 2019. “I did get the text and stuff like that, so I’m thinking about sending it in. There’s definitely some benefits.”
While the average major league salary is above $4 million, players with minor league contracts earn as little as $400 a week during the six-month season. Though a handful of minor league players will eventually get the big payday, the vast majority won’t.
“We’ve found that 74% of guys believe they’re going to make the majors and that number is really about 10%. The average career is three to five years,” said Simon Rosenblum-Larson, the cofounder and program director for More Than Baseball, which has advocated for improved working conditions for minor league players. He also pitched for four years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization before getting released in June.
Rosenblum-Larson believes a union could help those three to five years be slightly more lucrative. He said the idea of joining MLBPA is attractive to many players because they’ve seen what the big-league union has done for salaries over the years.
“I’ve looked at it, kind of just what they’re trying to do with the unionization,” Anderson said. “It makes a lot of sense on our side because we have no union, so anything that we can have in our favor that will give us, maybe, some better benefits down the line, I think is a good thing.”
MLB estimates there are 5,000 to 6,500 U.S.-based minor leaguers at any given time, with the number increasing when new players sign each summer. It’s a diverse group of players that includes teenagers and others in their 30s at the higher levels.
MLB raised weekly minimum salaries for minor leaguers in 2021 to $400 at rookie and short-season levels, $500 at Class A, $600 at Double-A and $700 at Triple-A. For players on option, the minimum is $57,200 per season for a first big league contract and $114,100 for later big league contracts.
If the minor leaguers decide to unionize, dues are expected to be minimal, acknowledging their current low compensation.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.