It’s a familiar ritual. Minor leaguers cluster around a trainer or strength coach before each road trip. Names are penned on a sheet of paper as $20 bills—meal money for each day—are handed out. The stacks of twenties, fresh from the bank, are quickly stuffed into wallets, and the bus is boarded.
Long at $20, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that minor league per diem would be increasing by $5 this year. A similar increase was first approved by general managers in 2008, but officials delayed a final vote on the matter due to the uncertain economic environment. The issue was reexamined recently, and according to the Wall Street Journal, MLB owners voted to raise the daily road allotment to $25. The increase will be much welcomed by minor leaguers, as most operate on a tight budget.
“The extra five bucks will make a huge difference,” one minor leaguer said. “An eight day road trip will mean an extra $40. That helps more than they will ever know.”
Historically, food prices have risen around 2.5 percent a year in the past 20 years, but 2007 and 2008 saw much higher climbs. Though prices leveled in the 2009 aftermath of the recession, the purchasing power of $20 for food isn’t what it used to be.
As food prices have risen, so have clubhouse dues. In the Double-A Eastern League, where food is provided both before and after games, dues were increased by most clubbies to $11 per day in 2009. Similarly, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League increased dues to $14 per day. With an expected $2 per day tip in these leagues, most of the per diem went to dues, leaving little for breakfast and lunch.
Since minor league per diem is only provided on road trips, the increase will cost teams around $355 per player over the course of a 142 game season. Most minor league teams carry around 27 players (including the injured), amounting to a total cost just short of $10,000 per minor league team.
The new per diem rate places minor league baseball closer to that allotted college athletes. While the rate varies from school to school, many Division I baseball players receive around $35 per day on road trips. Major league players currently receive $89.50 per day.
Of course, as one high ranking team official pointed out, an increase in per diem means nothing if options are still lacking. If unhealthy food is placed on the spread, and if team hotels are in locations without restaurants nearby, minor leaguers will still be eating microwaveable lasagna and pizza each night.
“That’s why we work with clubhouse officials and affiliates on what’s served,” the official said.