You would be hard-pressed to find a Mets fan who has never criticized the Wilpon Family for one thing or another in their tenure as primary owners of the ball club. Just a few weeks ago they attracted a ton of negative publicity for the new MLB clubhouse at Clover Field, which they won’t allow minor leaguers on the St. Lucie Mets to use during the Florida State League season.
But as organizations across every field of the economy set up contingency plans to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony DiComo announced Sunday morning on Twitter how the Mets elected to deal with the situation.
Mets minor league camp has been shut down. (The team will continue to pay regular allowances to its minor leaguers despite the shutdown.)
A number of Major Leaguers remain in Port St. Lucie, working out, though it's a fluid situation for all of them — more could still leave.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 15, 2020
Despite many missteps over the years, you have to give credit where it is due – the Mets handled this situation the right way and are doing right by their players, especially their minor leaguers.
Being a minor league ballplayer is a full-time job if you want to commit yourself enough to the game to make the major leagues, but the pay is laughably small. In Rookie-level and Short Season leagues (the GCL, Kingsport and Brooklyn for the Mets) players make $290 week. By the time they reach Triple-A Syracuse they have the privilege of bringing home $502 per week. These salaries are only paid during the season and minor leaguers are famously not paid during spring training.
That is why during the offseason so many players drive for Uber, or any of the other variety of apps that have popped up in the gig economy. Some guys play in winter leagues overseas and make more in a month or two there than they do for their primary baseball job in the USA. The lack of pay is the reason why an overwhelming majority of baseball players who are born in the US come from advantaged backgrounds – without a supportive family who has some resources, you can’t afford to play.
Many MLB teams have continued this mistreatment in the face of the Coronavirus epidemic and sent their minor leaguers home on and told them that they want them to stay in shape – both on their own dimes. These clubs will continue to not pay their minor leaguers until their seasons start, and at this point we really have no idea when the 2020 baseball season will get under way.
It should be said that the Mets are not promising to pay the minor league players their salaries while baseball is on a hiatus, but unlike some teams they are promising to continue to only pay players their daily per diem allowance of $25. That only makes a minimal dent in things, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the right thing to do. This is a big decision to make during a crisis, and there’s no reason to believe that the Mets may not re-evaluate and pay a full salary once the season would have started.
Sunday afternoon the Yankees learned that one of their minor leaguers tested positive for COVID-19, and the club responded by quarantining all of their minor league players for two weeks. The team is paying for food to be delivered to the players during that time in a move that quasi-piggybacks on what the Mets are doing. As presumably more cases are found throughout baseball – it would be completely shocking if there is just one – more teams will have to take the same measures as the Yankees.
The only particularly troubling part of all of this is that if any other players are in fact effected, then allowing them to leave the complexes while they are still asymptomatic is recklessly irresponsible. Though now that there is potential for any number of players throughout the Grapefruit League to be infected with COVID-19, all teams should be quarantining themselves for two weeks to ensure the safety of the players, staffs, fans, and the general public.
As this epidemic evolves over the next few weeks – and hopefully we have more clarity on when the baseball season will start – how sports teams react to the shifting news will be an important barometer. Sports are an important part of society, and at times like this they can set the standard for how other kinds of businesses react.
By supporting their employees when it is not safe for them to come to work they put societal pressure on other industries to do the same. As Mets fans, we shouldn’t take for granted the Fred and Jeff Wilpon got their initial moves right and put the team in a leading spot in baseball and society.