Following a unanimous decision in September by Major League Baseball (MLB) owners, MLB will cover the housing costs of minor league players beginning in 2022. For nearly 5,000 affiliated minor league baseball players, this is an incredible development. It has been an ongoing difficulty for minor league players to secure affordable in-season housing. This difficulty is due to the frequency players move through the different levels of the minor leagues, subsequently living in different areas. Players are forced to engage in informal subletting, which leads to declining credit scores for failing to pay rent even though the player had no choice but to relocate.
While there is no concrete plan in place yet, team officials expressed to ESPN they are starting to prepare to help house players across each of their four minor league affiliates. A detail that is yet to be decided is if the league will offer stipends to cover housing costs, or provide the housing itself. Regardless of the details, this is a big win for minor league players and everyone who has advocated for them leading up to this point.
Working conditions for minor leaguers have been a topic of criticism within Major League Baseball for quite some time. This has led to the emergence of advocacy groups such as Advocates for Minor Leaguers and More than Baseball. These groups have used social media platforms to highlight lackluster living conditions of minor league players, and get players on the record talking about the issues they face under the current structure. Former minor leaguer and executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, Harry Marino, said to ESPN “this is a historic victory for minor league baseball players,” and “When talking to players this season about the difficulties they face, finding and paying for in-season housing was at the top of almost every player’s list.” After surveying players, obtaining housing became a top priority for these advocacy groups.
The league released a statement following this unanimous decision on what it means moving forward. The league stated “MLB is engaged in a multi-year effort to modernize the minor league system and better assist players as they pursue their dreams of playing in the major leagues.” The league also mentioned how they raised minor league salaries by 38-72%, depending on the level, significantly reduced in-season travel requirements, and put forth hundreds of millions of dollars of improvements to minor league ballparks and facilities.
The alternative to providing housing for MiLB players would be to raise all minor league salaries. Although signing bonuses between domestic and international players topped $450 million in 2021, a majority of players wages after taxes is miniscule. An earlier projection by teams who entertained the idea of paying for minor league housing predicted it would cost a little less than $1 million to house all minor league players at home for one season. This projection helps clarify why the league went in the direction it did.
The housing mandate is the latest change in an evolving minor league system. In the last year, MLB has cut 42 affiliates which has restructured the development pipeline to 120 teams. The rationale behind this was players would be paid higher salaries, travel less, and work in better conditions. Minor league baseball players are not represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). Although minor leaguers are fighting for fair conditions on their own, rank-and-file members of the MLBPA have publicly supported the causes adopted by these advocacy groups. The housing mandate is a major success for minor league players, but might just be the beginning of a collective effort for the working conditions minor leaguers have sought for years.