Saturday May 21st, 2022 9:19AM

Minor league housing plan freezing out players with families

By The Associated Press
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Minor leaguers with wives and children are finding out days before the start of their seasons that some teams are not taking their families into account as part of a new policy guaranteeing housing for players.

The Associated Press spoke with two married players who were only informed at the tail-end of spring training that team housing would require them to share apartments — and in one case, a bedroom — with teammates. The leader of a prominent advocacy group said those experiences are reflective of what players are facing in several other organizations.

“At this point, we are a few days away from players going to their minor league affiliates,” said Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers. “And yet, as we sit here, some players still don’t know how they’re going to be housed this season.”

Major League Baseball announced last fall that for the first time, around 90% of minor league players would be guaranteed furnished housing during the season in their home city — an expense of tens of millions of dollars for the 30 major league teams combined.

The pledge was celebrated by players, who have long struggled to find short-term housing on short notice with incomes that routinely fall below the federal poverty line at $12,880 for individuals, even after MLB raised minimum salaries the previous year.

The end of spring training has always been a stressful time. Generally, players are only given a few days’ notice regarding their opening day assignment, leading to a mad scramble to sign a lease even though they haven’t been paid since the end of the prior season. The hope was that MLB’s new housing policy would ease that. In many organizations, it has.

“Teams who have told players, ‘You will have your own furnished apartment and you have your own bedroom, no matter what level you’re at,’ have done a tremendous amount to alleviate a lot of instability and anxiety,” Marino said.

But in some places, that hasn’t been the case for married players, including two who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from their parent clubs for commenting publicly.

One player with a pregnant wife was told Tuesday that he’d been assigned to his team’s High-A club, and that he would have to report to his new city by Sunday. That’s also when he learned his team would only provide arrangements that slept two players per room — the minimum standard outlined in MLB's policy.

“We don’t know if we’re being forced either to find housing on our own with no help, or if we’re going to have to go months without seeing wives and children,” he said Thursday night.

The minimum salary at High-A is $2,000 per month, and the player says renting at the team’s apartment complex costs $1,700 per month. His wife, expecting the couple’s first child, works part-time online but has forgone a full-time job so she can be with the player during the season.

“We can’t imagine being apart for six months, seven months,” he said. “I feel bad for her because she shouldn’t have to go through so much uncertainty when she’s already going through so much as it is, with changes she’s going through and all these appointments.

“Wanting to develop a relationship with a doctor, but not knowing where the heck you’re going to be on a given day, week or month? Like, there’s just no consistency.”

The player said he and his teammates have repeatedly approached management about the situation but haven’t been able to get clarity on whether the policy will adjust.

“Every single time I ask questions, it’s always just, 'I need to talk to someone to figure out hotels,’ or ‘I need to figure out if this is possible,’” he said. “They’re acting as if they’re caught off guard by the situation, even though they’ve had so much time.”

The other player who spoke to the AP echoed that experience.

“That’s kind of the running joke,” he said. “‘Oh, the season must have snuck up on them.’”

That player is married and has a 5-month-old child. He learned at 2:30 p.m. Thursday that he’d been assigned to Triple-A. He was told to report Friday.

Some Triple-A players are on major league contracts — with a minimum salary of $57,200 — and those players are not covered by MLB’s new policy. The player that spoke to the AP is not on a major league deal, and he was stunned to learn that his club had only arranged for five two-bedroom apartments to accommodate all eligible players.

Triple-A players are generally older, and the player who spoke with AP estimated half the team has a significant other, and many of those have children and/or pets.

The player also said he’s been puzzled by the response from management when pressed on the policy with less than 24 hours until Triple-A players are due to leave spring training.

“They have told us it’s a very fluid situation, that they may or may not help us out,” he said. “It just kind of depends on how much it’s going to cost and what they can get approved.”

Players are promised three nights in a hotel at the start of each minor league assignment, so the player and his family will have lodging through Sunday. After that, he still isn’t sure about his options.

One thing he’s certain of: leaving his family behind for six months isn’t one of them.

“It’s hard to even think about, to not see my child grow up the first year of their life,” he said. “That’s obviously devastating for a parent. You’ll never get that time back.”

MLB assumed operating control of the minor leagues after the 2020 season and has taken several steps to improve conditions since, including boosting salaries and reducing travel.

“The owners went into our first season after overhauling the system focused on addressing longstanding working condition issues that have impacted minor league players for decades," an MLB spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. "In the second season, we took another significant step forward with a new housing policy that provides a free housing option to minor league players during spring training and the regular season for the first time ever. Players who have more substantial housing needs can opt-out of the system.

"Meanwhile, clubs may provide housing that exceeds the standards set forth in the policy if they desire, as many have chosen to do. The owners are confident this investment will help ensure that minor league players have every opportunity to achieve their dreams of becoming major leaguers.”

Players are frequently hesitant to speak publicly, even on condition of anonymity, about the difficulties of minor league life because of how it contrasts with the apparent privilege of being a professional athlete. The High-A player said that even his own family doesn’t acknowledge the desperation of his situation.

Other pro athletes don’t share baseball’s experience. In the ECHL, hockey’s Double-A equivalent, all players are guaranteed a furnished bedroom, and married players are entitled to their own furnished apartments.

Marino said that all players, not just the married ones, are entitled to some sort of private living space over the course of the six-month season. It's something players might be able to afford themselves if MLB lobbying hadn't prompted Congress to exempt minor leaguers from federal minimum wage protection in 2018.

“We’re talking multibillion dollar teams and players who are making such an insufficient income that they cannot pay for their own housing," Marino said. "The reality is these are players who are being paid an artificially depressed salary based on collusion of 30 major league teams, and as a result can’t afford their housing.”


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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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