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Minor Leaguers get some much-needed good news

After this, there should be no more stories of six guys sleeping in a single bedroom...right?

Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals swings during an at bat against the Seattle Mariners in the third inning of the MLB spring training baseball game at Peoria Sports Complex on March 09, 2021 in Peoria, Arizona. Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

In this week’s Hok Talk, we discuss how much it means for MLB teams to start providing housing to minor league players and then delve into the latest MLB controversy that could easily have been avoided.

Earlier this week, MLB announced some news about the minor leagues, which might be the least controversial* of my lifetime. Going forward, MLB teams will be required to provide housing for certain minor leaguers. This is, unequivocally, good news. Minor league wages are famously low, and in recent years minor league players have become more and more vocal about just how little their wages afford them in terms of living conditions and food. MLB is taking a step here to correct the housing problem, which should have a domino effect of relieving multiple other problems minor leaguers face.

It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy items that at least alleviate unhappiness. In this case, money saved on rent should allow players to spend more to maintain their health in terms of food, medical care, and personal training equipment. Maybe they’ll even be able to afford some entertainment; baseball players aren’t machines any more than the rest of us. They should also enjoy having less stress without having to pay for their rent or that caused by sharing a single room with five other players or being forced to sleep in a tub, on chairs, or in their car.

This should benefit major league clubs, as well. Minor leaguers with less stress, more sleep, and better nutrition should be more capable of facing the challenges those attempting to become the very best in the world must overcome. That could easily translate into fewer busts and more surprise success stories in the vein of fiftieth-round draft selection Jarrod Dyson.

There are many questions to be answered, of course. Primary among them is how much work the word “certain” is doing. If MLB teams are only allowed to exclude players with large signing bonuses, that probably wouldn’t be of great concern. If it excludes all players below AAA or AA level, it becomes less of a feel-good story. I also wonder if the housing will be provided year-round or if it will only be provided during the season. Minor league players are only paid by their teams six months out of the year, so it wouldn’t be out of the question. It’s also possible that the teams will ultimately be required (or volunteer) to house every single minor league player.

Regardless, while this is far from a complete victory for minor league players, it is a significant win. Hopefully, it will not be completely undone in the near future by private equity firms buying up teams and bankrupting them with unrelated debt.

* If any of you are tempted to complain about spoiled athletes, please recall that while they may play games only half of the year, they are contractually obligated to work out during the off-season, they do not get paid for spring training, and will usually make less for all of this work than a full-time employee at minimum wage.

Two MLB teams find a way to make a (bad) statement during meaningless exercise

Thursday was the eleventh annual Spirit Day. If you hadn’t heard of it before, Spirit Day is a day created by a teenager named Brittany McMillan to honor LGBTQIA+ victims of suicide and bullying. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of it before this week, despite counting myself among those in the acronym. MLB decided to participate this year and had every team’s Twitter account switch to a purple logo (one of the ways in which Spirit Day is observed is by wearing a purple shirt) and making a post signifying their allyship and directing people to the GLAAD website for more information.

As far as it goes, it’s a relatively meaningless gesture. The Royals, for example, did not convince me by virtue of their post that they were any more allies to queer people than I had believed them to be before they made it. The Kansas City Royals baseball team is a business. It seeks to earn a profit. They made a post about Spirit Day A.) Because their parent company (MLB) required it and B.) Because someone, somewhere, believed it would help earn MLB and the Royals more money than not doing it. The fact that highlighting how at-risk LGBTQIA+ kids are to bullying and suicide compared to their cis- and heterosexual peers is “the right thing to do” doesn’t really enter into the equation. Since it was the right thing to do, however, it was an easy, simple choice for all 30 teams to make.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that the baseball clubs in Atlanta and Texas refused to follow the script presented to them by MLB. Almost every team tweeted out the same or similar images about Spirit Day along with text asking people to take a stand against bullying of LGBTQIA+ (or some variation of the acronym) people, plus a link to the GLAAD website. Both teams’ tweets only ask people to oppose bullying in general, not LGBTQIA+ bullying in specific. The Rangers’ tweet additionally omits the GLAAD link.

Now, it’s no bad thing to be opposed to bullying in general. On any other day, I wouldn’t criticize any team that wanted to make a social media post about stamping out generic bullying. But Spirit Day was conceived with a specific purpose, and MLB gave a clear directive to the teams.

Some will argue that these two teams are simply remaining silent on the matter. In a vacuum, that might be true. But this isn’t a vacuum, and there is context to consider. The context of what Spirit Day was created to combat. The context of what MLB clearly told all of the teams to do. By omitting that key acronym, the teams in Arlington and Atlanta have both told the entire world, loudly and clearly, that they are so opposed to supporting LGBTQIA+ youth that they will even set themselves apart from the other 28 teams and disobey a mandate passed down from leadership.

This is what we call an “unforced error.” MLB could have chosen to simply stay out of the Spirit Day conversation entirely, and I’m certain only a very small number of people would even have noticed. As I remarked earlier, the teams that did this “right” didn’t even gain much so far as I am concerned. But MLB did decide to participate, and now Texas and Atlanta have made it clear that they would rather see LGBTQIA+ kids continue to suffer and die at a higher rate than their peers than include an acronym in what would have otherwise been a largely meaningless social media post.