Rowley: Minor leaguers’ inherent empathy problem

From SABR member Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus on July 15, 2016:

There are people in the world who don’t seem particularly to care whether minor leaguers make a living wage. They are unmoved by the idea that Major League Baseball, so cloying in its assertions of hard work and grit and the right way, isn’t particularly interested in paying for those things.

It’s an odd thing to not care about. After all, you’re a union person, and I’m a union gal; we are all union folks. And even if “we” aren’t universally, “we” generally recognize that businesses, even ones that steep themselves in the mystical properties of Americana, are self-interested and profit driven. That orientation isn’t always malicious or harmful, although it can be. Sometimes it’s calculating and Machiavellian, but sometimes it’s fine, or at least something we can live with. Sometimes it is neglectful or indifferent when we wish it were feeling or upstanding. The organizing principle is not typically one of altruism or even going that far out of one’s way. Business will forever seek to pay less for the process of producing whatever it is they produce, and aim to return profit to those who paid to make it. Along the way, we get widgets and cars and baseball players, and even if we aren’t union folks, we get unions mustering to ensure workers can buy milk and cars, and not be generally miserable or unsafe. It’s part of our economic and political vocabulary.

If it were widget makers being grossly underpaid, I suspect the collective ire would be more universally stirred. A few more of us would cry out, “How dare you exploit the humble widget maker, Widget King?” But somewhere in the shuffling between short-season ball and Triple-A, that crank that operates our empathy and activates our sense of justice has malfunctioned. Otherwise sympathetic observers with dreaming 19-year-olds of their own have taken to Twitter and talk radio to express their indifference to minor-leaguers’ plight. They are eager to ascribe economic value to half-empty stadiums in mid-sized cities and cold-cut spreads in the clubhouse, and christen these boys compensated. It seems an odd breakdown of empathy, given how relatable the experience of feeling underpaid and underappreciated is. And I think it stems from two things: what we understand to be work, and who we really see when minor leaguers take the field.

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Originally published: July 15, 2016. Last Updated: July 15, 2016.