Adam Eaton
Adam Eaton Credit: Ian D'Andrea/FLICKR

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Last week, City Paper published an article on the harsh conditions that many minor league baseball players endure while being paid far below the minimum wage. One Potomac Nationals player City Paper spoke to estimates he and his teammates make about $20 a day. Former and current players in the article mostly agreed that something needs to change.

But Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton, who has spent about a third of his professional baseball career in the minors after being drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 MLB draft, doesn’t think baseball should make the minor league system more hospitable, an opinion he admits is “old school.” Although Eaton told City Paper that there is room for salary growth and the system amounts to exploitation of players, he was adamant in his belief that better living conditions could lead to complacency. He credits the rough world of the minors with motivating him to work harder to be an MLB player.

In response, a former minor leaguer City Paper spoke to dismissed the idea that players would be complacent not making it to the big leagues, even if they had more money. Last year, President Donald Trump signed a spending bill that included the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which effectively excluded minor league baseball players from the protection of federal minimum wage laws.In 2014, three minor league players filed a class action lawsuit that accused MLB of violating a federal law requiring it to pay players fair wages and overtime.

Deadspin published an article Sunday criticizing Eaton’s comments and for “conflating luxury and a basic standard of living.” NBC Sports’ Bill Baer calls Eaton’s opinions “garbage thinking.”

On Monday afternoon, Eaton posted an apology on his Instagram account, writing, “It’s not OK to exploit anyone in any profession. The minor leaguers deserve better. They deserve more money. They deserve better conditions. Period. My quotes are simply from my personal experience. I wouldn’t trade my minor league experience for anything. As difficult as it was, it has made me the ball player/person I am today. I’m sorry if I offended anyone in anyway. Wasn’t my intentions.

City Paper‘s full interview with Eaton in the Nats clubhouse last week is below. It has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.

WCP: What is life like in the minor leagues?

Adam Eaton: It’s brutal. It’s not fun. It’s a very dog-eat-dog-world, just trying to scratch and claw and get your way to here. Financially it’s frustrating. You don’t make much money, especially from my end. [There are Nats players] who sign for millions of dollars, two, three, four, five million dollar contracts. It’s a little different for guys who kinda don’t sign for much anything, especially after taxes, and then go right into basic poverty. But the beautiful thing is if you don’t like it, play better. And I think the system itself is unique in the sense that it doesn’t allow you to make a living down there, and that for me is something that’s special. It doesn’t allow people to get comfortable.

People don’t enjoy it down there, because they want you to get to the big leagues and produce for the team, so for me it’s something that’s very special to me because it is difficult, it is hard. Again coming from someone like me that if one season I had one bad season, I would’ve been gone, so, you know, just to work your butt off, don’t let a day go by without trying to be productive and trying to get better, and take every second like it’s the last, and you know, see where the chips fall.

WCP: Do you think baseball and MLB should do more to make it potentially a more livable situation?

AE: No. [laughs] I have this argument all the time. If you do, complacency sets in. I don’t know, I think it’s difficult, yes, and it’s easy for me to say that because of where I am, but I wouldn’t be where I am without that. I think you have an appreciation for the major league life when you get up here. I think you have an appreciation for the minor leagues when you get up here, because it makes you appreciate things. It makes you concentrate on baseball. It makes you make everything important down there so you can get up here and enjoy this life.

Salary wise, I think that maybe they could pick up a little bit. I think there’s a little room, a little wiggle room there, but I don’t think there should be complacency down there. Again, I signed for nothing. A lot of guys signed a lot more than I ever signed for, and guys that will make more money in one signing day than a lot of people will their entire lives … I tell people all the time, my last year in 2012, before I got called up, if I had went into that offseason without being called up, I probably wouldn’t have been able to financially support myself the next year, so there was a lot of pressure to play and make ends meet because rent was expensive and I wouldn’t be able to afford to play. It would’ve been interesting if that had happened.

WCP: Do you feel like a lot of people have your perspective?

AE: I think a lot of people think that we’re kinda spoon fed, and I think a lot of people think we make a lot of money and whatever, whatever. They don’t see the minor league side. They don’t see the guys, especially when you get to the big league level, there’s a lot of guys like me, a lot of guys like Tony Sipp who was a 30th round draft pick [Editor’s note: Sipp was selected in the 45th round in 2004].

I think that is what helps Major League Baseball continue that because they see these guys that aren’t first rounders, aren’t third rounders, aren’t fifth rounders, aren’t ninth rounders, and they’re basically diamonds, and they’re milled by pressure, built by pressure, and those guys seem to have longevity in the big league—guys that are late round draft picks that literally may not be able to play next year financially, and they worked their rear ends off to make sure they could make ends meet, which is again is very unique to minor league baseball. Which again I think is the beauty of it.

I think without that system, I don’t think I’m here. If I financially am supported down there and financially can make a living and not have to get to the big leagues, I think I’m a little more comfortable. I think that I might not work as hard because I know I’m getting a decent paycheck every two weeks, and may not push myself nearly as hard so I kinda thank that system to be able to get me where I am today.

WCP: In terms of how minor leaguers should be compensated, do you feel most major leaguers think that system works the way it is?

AE: People that have voices are usually the top round draft picks. The guys in the 45th round, you’re not going to ask them that because realistically they’re not here, and if they have one bad season they’re gone. They might get two. So those guys are the guys who are trying to speak up and trying to make a voice for themselves. And I get it. I honestly do get it, but again, minor league baseball is not a platform to be sufficient. You’re not gonna have insurance benefits in the minor leagues. You’re not going to get a three bedroom apartment and two parking spaces in the city.

It’s just, I mean, I was living with three guys in rookie ball, and then double-A, I was in Mobile, Alabama. It’s a great place, I actually love that place, but the place I was living was not nice, and it’s just, you walk into these places and you drop your bags, and you tell yourself, I better get my rear end in gear and I better work hard, because this screams go to the big leagues some how, some way and if it doesn’t happen, I know I’ve given everything I have, and financially if I can’t make ends meet, it is what it is.

Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium Credit: Kelyn Soong

WCP: Tripp Keister, the manager of the Potomac Nationals, says when he played minor league ball in the 1990s players would have to fight over concession stand hot dogs after games. Does it help the players if they’re not even getting fed that well?

AE: You’re probably right … When I was in rookie ball, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and if they got us fruit, we freaked out. You only had two loaves of bread and two jars, so when it was gone, it was gone. So you rushed to it, because you wanted to make sure you eat. The first rounders would sometimes buy their own food or have stuff sent, but us guys that didn’t make any money, you’d fight over it.

It’s a grind. I agree there has to be some movement forward, because just inflation period, again, I dunno, I may be speaking out of turn because I don’t know what the salaries are but I know they haven’t changed much if any, but I dunno, I hate to say this but I kinda see it from the owner’s standpoint, you got to harden the guys and get the guys going in the right direction, make them work hard. The first rounders and third rounders, the guys you give a lot of money to, you’re gonna give them more than adequate chances, and the guys that are late rounds, either they figure it out and get tough and do it right away or they don’t.

So that’s the way they look at it. I hope you can see from my point. I know that’s an old school mentality. But it’s just different I guess.

WCP: What do you think would be good to have changed?

AE: Financially I think they do need to get a little bit. I think there definitely needs to be more money where you’re literally not eating crumbs, and I think the crazy thing is though, again I’m talking out of the turn, who owns the ballpark and who owns the team is usually completely different than the actual Major League Baseball, it’s usually a separate contract.

For me anyway, coming to the ball park everyday should be a little easier … [Sometimes in minor league], there’d literally be spiders, and animals, and mildew, and mold all this inside of it, serious health hazards. I think that those need to be better. I’m not going to call out the team. There’s multiple places, but just overall the parks need to be a little more adequate. I mean these guys are playing 140 games, maybe [make ballparks] a little nicer in a sense because of how much you’re paying for labor, but I think if you make the place around nice, and maybe give a little money increase, I think that will go a long way.

WCP: When you type in “minor league baseball” in Google, a lot results are of how minor league players are being exploited. I think I know where you land on that but…

AE: I don’t disagree with that they’re being exploited. I don’t. But I think it’s for the betterment of everybody. I know it sounds crazy … It’s hard for me to explain.

WCP: But there’s some middle ground, would you agree with that?

AE: I agree with that. I agree 100 percent agree with that. There’s middle ground … I put it this way, too: Say your whole life you stay in a low-end motel your whole life, like Motel 6, every Friday night you go Motel 6, Motel 6, Motel 6, then you go to Hampton one night, and you’re, ‘Oh, OK, this is all right, this is all right.’ You have an appreciation for it.

That’s the same thing, when I’m in the big leagues and I go to a big league hotel, and I go to this every single day, I do not want to go down. And if they make those nice, maybe it’s, ‘OK, oh it’s all right, I can still make it down there and I’ll still be comfortable down there, it’s not a bad place, they take care of me down there, and I can still make a living, can still feed my family.’ I think it would create complacency.

There’s some ground to be made up, but I think it still should be rough. I think at the end of the day it should be rough. And I think I’m a good guy to ask because some of these guys are high round draft picks where they’ve always had money, so I think for me anyways I think I’m a good voice for it, because literally every single day it was like, what’s going to happen, am I going to get let go, am I going to be able to go up, am I going to go down, am I going to get released, and I have to do everything I can in order to do it in this circumstance and money situations.

WCP: You say you don’t want to create complacency, but you also wouldn’t want to hinder someone’s development, right?

AE: For sure. For sure. And I agree with that, and that’s why I was saying maybe a little nicer places, that the food needs to be better, but [it’s] a struggle down there. Struggle is good. Struggle makes people tougher.

I think you look at our military and how they form world class warriors, it’s the exact the same thing. They’re not going to spoon feed those guys. You look at the Navy Seals, they’re living in bunks, they’re not nice, they’re not enjoyable. They’re not having a good time. They’re going to make these warriors out of them.

I hate the parallel because we’re not dying, we’re not life or death, but pretty similar and I know it’s a business and whatnot, but you want people to have an appreciation to be the best person they can and be hardened, and not be complacent, just like our military. That’s what they do. Make it crappy.

Photo by Ian D’Andrea on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.

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