Apparently, Predatory Lenders Found Their Way Into Baseball Too

A few weeks ago, Congress passed a bill embedded in the gigantic spending package making it easier for Major League Baseball owners to pay minor leaguers as little as possible. The new law ensures MLB owners only have to pay players for games played in the regular season. Never mind spring training, off season appearances, or anything else.

In recent years, minor leaguers shared stories often horrific stories about their lives in MiLB. They often face difficult living conditions and struggle just to eat a decent meal. As glamorous as being a pro baseball player seems, it’s really only glamorous for the guys raking in the big bucks in the majors.

A consequence of low wages is more visible this week, after top Cleveland Indians prospect Francisco Mejia filed a lawsuit against the company Big League Advance, which effectively bought a stake in Mejia’s future earnings. Basically, companies like Big League Advance provide minor leaguers with a sum of money in exchange for future earnings. In Mejia’s case, Big League Advance provided him with $360,000 in exchange for 10 percent of Mejia’s future MLB earnings. As a top prospect, Mejia could end up earning big money.

Mejia’s lawsuit claims he didn’t understand the deal, as a result of only having the equivalent of a ninth grade education, and spoke no English (Mejia’s from the Dominican Republic). Big League Advance countered Mejia’s claims, saying he ran the contract through his representatives and it contract was translated into Spanish.

No matter what ultimately happens with the lawsuit, what’s obvious is organizations like Big League Advance are effectively payday loans for struggling minor league players. Even top prospects like Mejia (who also alleges he was under duress due to his mother being ill) struggle with low wages in the minors. It’s tough to put food on the table or make the rent–even when you’re sharing a place with several teammates. It’s no surprise that companies like Big League Advance swoops in, offering a huge cash payment ($360,000 is an awful lot of money when you’re lucky to make $10,000 in a season playing in the minors) in exchange for future earnings.

Mejia’s suit claims he could make up to $100 million playing in Major League Baseball. That means, Big League Advance collects $10 million from Mejia in exchange for the $360,000 advance. Sweet deal for them, right?

Mejia’s not alone in this. Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports pointed out several other players have contracts with Big League Advance, “helping” players along before they make it in MLB.

These predatory tactics will continue until Major League Baseball and its owners stop counting the money in their vaults and start paying minor league players a decent wage. Players aren’t asking for the same millions MLB stars receive, but like any working person, ballplayers shouldn’t have to struggle to make ends meet. They should earn a decent wage for their job.

I haven’t seen anything from the Major League Baseball Players’ Association regarding the issue of cash advances to prospects in exchange for future earnings, but hopefully it’s on their radar. Predatory lending remains an enormous problem across the United States, from our banks and mortgage lenders, to the payday loan services. Turns out, professional athletes are subject to the same challenges, and it could cost them an enormous sum of money.

It’s time Major League Baseball and the MLBPA investigate exactly what’s happening and why players like Mejia feel taken advantage of. Until then, I suspect Big League Advance and other similar companies will “welcome” future players into their portfolios.

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