Bush league

"This was going to be a deciding year for me..." Also, 7 other things worth your time.

There’s a minor league relief pitcher under contract in the Oakland Athletics farm system named Pete Bayer. Last year he pitched 50 relief innings, wearing jersey number 17 for the Stockton Ports, the team’s affiliate in the Class A California League. It’s pro ball, but near the bottom of the minor league ladder.

It’s unlikely that there will be a minor league season for 2020, so Bayer probably won’t be playing anywhere. On top of that, Oakland is about to become the only franchise in baseball that says it won’t continue paying its minor leaguers their $400-per-week stipend as of June 1, despite holding them to their contracts.

The move saves the parent club about $1 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Each team is making its own policy after the end of May.)

Ironically, despite the lost season, Bayer has now suddenly become one of the most visible minor league players in the country. He was quoted in that Journal article about the savings and elsewhere, and he’s emerged as the face of players who think they’re being treated unfairly.

That’s interesting, I thought after I read the Journal story. I wonder if Bayer thinks he’s tanking his chance of ultimately being a major leaguer by going off on major league management.

So, I looked up his cell phone number, and caught him driving Thursday. He’s back staying with his parents in Colorado, and will start driving for DoorDash this weekend.

“This was going to be a deciding year for me,” Bayer told me. He’s 26, making him a bit older than his peers last year in Class A. “Kicking around the minor leagues … you want to get a jumpstart on the career, whether it’s realizing you’re not meant for it, or you have a real chance.”

Bayer is adamant that he hasn’t given up on his dream of playing in the majors, although even just moving up the minor league ranks would be a big accomplishment. But, we talked about his fairly harsh words against his employer, as quoted in the WSJ:

“It would be hard to go back to that team and hear them talk about how they care about their minor-league players. It’s all they ever feed us, but in a time of need they can’t even take care of us. I’ve completely lost respect for everyone involved in that decision.”

Frankly, I told him I was envisioning him becoming a sort of modern day, minor league version of Curis Flood—a Major League All-Star in the 1960s who was basically blacklisted and retired after he went to court to stop a trade and to challenge the league’s “reserve clause,” which at the time banned players from being free agents.

Like, maybe the A’s will give in on the stipend, but being known as the guy who fought this battle won’t exactly help Bayer, if he’s someday trying to get that Big League shot.

Bayer said he knew Flood’s story, but he also said he’s heard from quite a few Oakland fans who say they support him, and who think the decision to cut off minor leaguers is kind of bush league.

Moreover, nobody from the A’s has even contacted him, he said—except for the email he and other players got cutting off their stipend, and a single communication from a minor league pitching coordinator.

“He basically told us try to hang in there, we know this sucks,” Bayer said.

So now, Bayer has been talking instead with a lawyer who used to be a minor league player himself, and who looked over an email Bayer drafted to Oakland’s general manager.

“I sent it last night, explaining how I feel, but more so how other players in the organization feel, and how they need to think about reconsidering this decision,” Bayer said. “Basically everything I told you on the phone is what I emailed to him.”

I realized after speaking with Bayer that this is actually the second time in a week that I’ve interviewed someone in his mid-20s making absurdly small amounts of money, but sticking with it through an established system in order to pursue a career dream.

  • Bayer, who was selected in the ninth round of the 2016 draft by Tampa, signed for $7,500, pulls in less than $10,000 a year playing minor league ball, but sticks around hoping for a shot at the big leagues.

  • Deion Broxton, featured here on Tuesday, was making $11 an hour reporting for a TV station in Montana, and will now be getting a small raise (“not exactly life-changing,” he told me) as he’s been promoted to a station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

This experience isn’t unique to their generation, of course. Minor league baseball and low-paying entry level TV jobs have been around forever.

Heck, I took a ridiculously low paying job right out of college because I got it in my head I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I’ll bet a lot of readers can look back with a laugh at what they took home early in their careers — especially if they’re doing better now.

It’s just what you do when you’re young, and you want something badly, and you’re willing to sacrifice to try to make it work.

“Plenty of people all over the world are in way harder situations than we are as minor league baseball players,” Bayer said as we finished talking Thursday. “If I put it in perspetive, it’s nothing. But at the same time, this is my life goal. This is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

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7 other things worth your time

  • “Condemnation rained down on the four Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd this week,” while hundreds protested and the governor called out the National Guard. Late last night, protesters took over a Minneapolis police precinct and set it on fire. (The Washington Post, $; Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

  • The Boston Marathon has now been canceled for the first time in its 124-year history. It’s especially notable because the race had already been postponed from April to September. (AFP)

  • My latest for Inc.com. I interviewed a neuroscientist to hear how he suggests talking to employees who are stressed beyond recognition by Covid-19 and the events of the past few months. (Inc.com)

  • Elon Musk hit his first big milestone at Tesla, and the company’s board “certified a financial milestone that unlocks the first tranche — worth more than $700 million — of an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar pay package.” (TechCrunch)

  • OK… meet a couple that went on a first date in March, and then decided to quarantine together. It’s now been 71 days. (I realize this could go in many directions, but the story is PG-rated at worst.) (NPR)

  • Uber has decided to scrap and recycle “truckloads” of the JUMP-branded bikes it was renting out pre-Covid-19, rather than sell or donate them. Some people are really not happy about it. (Vice)

  • Good job New Zealand: No new Covid-19 cases for a week, and only currently confirmed case in the entire country. (Axios)

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