Baseball Players Can't Live on a "Cup of Coffee"Roundup
tags: baseball, sports, Marvin Miller, labor history, Major League Baseball
Kelly Candaele, a union organizer for 15 years, produced the documentary film A League of Their Own about his mother’s years in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Peter Dreier teaches politics at Occidental College and is author of several books including the forthcoming Baseball Rebels: The Players, People, and Social Movements That Shook Up the Game and Changed America.
You’ve probably never heard of DaRond Stovall, Doug Simons, Bill Bathe, or Dave Stegman. Stovall currently is a Starbucks trainer in Creve Coeur, Missouri. Simons coaches baseball at a small college in Georgia. Bathe is a retired firefighter and paramedic in Tucson, Arizona. Stegman just retired as an actuary with an insurance company in Ohio. All four are former Major League Baseball (MLB) players. Yet, with the 2022 major league baseball season currently in limbo because of the club owners’ locking out the players, it is players like Stovall, Simons, Bathe, and Stegman that fans should be thinking about rather than the multimillion-dollar stars.
Stovall, Simons, Bathe, and Stegman all had what pro baseball players call a “cup of coffee” in the big leagues. As ballplayers, they were not well-known and they didn’t stay long. Stovall spent one year in the majors, Simons spent parts of two seasons playing at that level, and Bathe was a catcher for the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics for parts of three seasons. Stegman was on the rosters of the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees, and the Chicago White Sox for parts of six seasons from 1978 to 1982. Their stories are similar to those of thousands of other ballplayers who reach the pinnacle of success—playing in the big leagues—but don’t stay long enough to obtain economic security.
The owners locked out the players on December 2 after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). Negotiations between the two sides have recently stalled, after owners refused to respond to the union’s latest proposal. That makes it unlikely that the owners and union will reach a settlement before spring training is scheduled to begin on February 15.
The battle between the owners and players has been characterized by the media as a fight between “billionaires and millionaires.” That’s only partly true. All 30 major league teams are valued at more than a billion dollars. Most of the team owners are billionaires. Many inherited their wealth or made it in other sectors, such as real estate, banking and finance, and communications. The wealthiest among them, Mets owner Steve Cohen, is worth $11 billion dollars and built his fortune in the hedge fund industry.
Many players make substantial annual incomes, and the superstars earn additional income from endorsements. But few major leaguers accumulate enough savings or pensions to retire and live comfortably. They have to work like the rest of us—and only a handful make anything close to what they earned during the few months or years they wore a major league uniform.
In fact, the “billionaires vs. millionaires” view is a distorting cliché, ignoring the reality that the vast majority of players who reach the big leagues are closer to Stovall, Simons, Bathe, and Stegman than they are to Corey Seager, who, before the lockout halted all transactions, signed a 10-year $325 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
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