Last fall, amid growing pressure from player-advocacy groups, Major League Baseball directed teams to find and pay for minor-leaguers’ in-season housing, preferably corporate apartments or condos, effective this season. It was viewed then as a significant gain for thousands of players who previously had to provide their own accommodations in home cities.
But seven months later, players at every level of the Phillies’ farm system are still living out of hotels.
The Phillies aren’t violating MLB’s policy, which permits clubs to arrange hotel rooms “to the extent apartments, rental homes, or host families are not feasible.” Yet despite that loophole, they are believed to be the only organization that struck out on procuring apartment-style lodging across each of their four affiliate markets, a swing and miss that has sparked frustration and anger among some players and left them questioning how much the Phillies actually tried.
“This is typical Phillies [crap],” said one player who requested anonymity to speak freely without fear of repercussions. “Even the [Oakland] Athletics are giving their players apartments, and that’s one of the cheapest owners in baseball. If you’re going to be a $2 billion company, at least treat your employees better.”
Lee McDaniel, the Phillies’ longtime director of minor league operations, said the team did “exhaustive research” with help from its affiliate partners in Allentown (triple A), Reading (double A), Lakewood, N.J. (high A), and Clearwater, Fla. (low A and extended spring training), but was unable to find rental units for 150 or so players from April through September. McDaniel cited an “upside-down” housing market in which more people are renting and fewer options were available to suit the Phillies’ needs.
» READ MORE: Do the Phillies have a Ranger Suárez problem?
So, after an offseason of thinking they may finally get to enjoy homey living conditions when their team is at home, many players felt like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled away the football. A few days before the start of the season, they learned of the “Phillies Hotel Plan” in an email sent by McDaniel. Among the highlights from the April 3 memo, obtained by The Inquirer:
Two players must share a standard room with two queen beds at a designated team hotel. Only the Allentown hotel has suites with a kitchenette.
In Reading, players must check out of the hotel after a homestand, check back in upon returning from a road trip, and therefore take all their belongings with them on the road.
Visiting spouses or significant others, children, and other guests aren’t permitted to stay overnight.
Players may opt out of the plan and secure alternative housing, but at their own expense and only if they were drafted before 2020 and have spent at least two full seasons in the minors.
Not exactly what most players had in mind when they first heard about MLB’s new policy.
“All else being equal, we recognize that players would prefer to stay in a more comfortable, home-like environment,” Phillies general manager Sam Fuld said. “I know that Lee McDaniel really exhausted all options and looked far and wide for options that didn’t include hotels. Unfortunately, as a product of our affiliate locations, just wasn’t able to find anything that wasn’t a hotel. It’s less than ideal.”
If you’re going to be a $2 billion company, at least treat your employees better.
Three players who spoke to The Inquirer disputed Fuld’s and McDaniel’s characterizations of the housing market.
At one affiliate, players said they found an apartment complex around the corner from the stadium that could house half the team and another nearby that could house the other half. In Reading, some players found apartment-style accommodations a few minutes away in Wyomissing, where the team hotels are located.
“We found apartments, no problem,” one player said. “It’s just the fact that [the Phillies] didn’t look and didn’t try. They couldn’t open their tablet or the computer and just go to apartments.com.”
At least Phillies minor-leaguers, like those in other organizations, are now reaping the benefits of having the team subsidize their housing. According to an ESPN report last year, the estimated total cost for a team to house all minor-leaguers at home for one season is less than $1 million. The Phillies are valued at $2.3 billion, according to Forbes.
But before MLB instituted the new policy, players mostly paid out of pocket, a considerable expense given the paltry seasonal wages in the minors. Even after raises last year, the weekly minimum pay was $500 in A-ball, $600 in double A, and $700 in triple A. The Phillies did pay for hotels last season in extended spring training and also in Lakewood because of the cost of living in central New Jersey.
One player noted that he still pays for a hotel room when his girlfriend visits because the alternative would be not seeing her for six months. Even if the Phillies allowed her to stay in his room, he shares the space with a teammate.
There are other inconveniences. One player said he and his roommate had to strike a compromise over opening or closing the blinds overnight because they have different sleeping preferences. Another described having to practically climb over his roommate’s bed to get to the bathroom. A third player bemoaned the lack of privacy.
“To not be able to have a place to decompress, to not be able to have a place to feel like I’m home, there’s a bunch of guys, man, that are just mentally exhausted,” the player said. “Because they can’t get a second to themselves.”
Said another player: “We don’t have a home. We pack up our [stuff], go on the road, come back, unpack our stuff, and sit in another hotel room for a week. It’s just a constant bounce from hotel to hotel.”
Some players said they have shared their frustration with front-office personnel from their respective teams. But most are worried about making a fuss because minor-leaguers are not represented by the MLB Players Association. As one player put it, “I don’t want to say it’s a bad look to ask questions, but it’s definitely frowned upon. Everyone around here is terrified of being released.”
Fuld maintained the Phillies are “receptive to feedback” and encouraged players to offer input and express opinions to coaches and other staff members, including first-year farm director Preston Mattingly. Fuld also realizes that players may be unhappy with the living arrangements, particularly if they have friends in other organizations who are staying in apartments or even extended-stay hotels.
“By and large, I think their feedback has been that they recognize and appreciate the challenges in finding solutions outside the hotel,” Fuld said. “It doesn’t mean that they like it, and we appreciate those opinions. We aren’t satisfied with where we are.”
Fuld said the Phillies hope the hotel arrangement is “just a short-term solution” this season. McDaniel, who works out of the team’s facility in Clearwater, suggested the Phillies may have more success securing apartments as they get more familiar with the corporate housing market in their affiliate cities, though he also described certain “advantages to being in a hotel,” including housekeeping.
To not be able to have a place to decompress, to not be able to have a place to feel like I’m home, there’s a bunch of guys, man, that are just mentally exhausted.
“Time is what we need to really continue to develop these plans and understand how the market’s going to evolve,” McDaniel said. “We would be open to anything and everything going forward. It’s going to come down to research and development and developing relationships in each location.”
But as long as MLB’s policy allows for the hotel option, some teams will fall back on that. According to a report card released this week by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, 14 teams are providing all players at every affiliate with their own bedroom at home. But only the Phillies aren’t doing it at any affiliate.
“There’s no reason why the minor-league housing policy should apply to the other 29 MLB clubs but not the Phillies,” said Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers. “The Phillies should be required to find apartments for their minor league players, effective immediately.”
In creating the housing policy within nine months of gaining operational control over the minor leagues, MLB wanted to provide flexibility for teams to make decisions based on market conditions. There’s likely more availability for New York Mets’ farmhands at high-A Brooklyn than players in smaller towns, but those housing options are also almost certainly more expensive.
It’s unclear how much MLB’s policy will evolve away from hotels. MLB seems pleased overall with the improvements to minor-league housing but also is open to making it better. Marino has a few proposals, including stipulating that each player gets his own bedroom and accommodating spouses and families.
One player expressed optimism that things will get better for Phillies minor-leaguers. Just maybe not as quickly as they hoped.
“If the Phillies leave us in hotels for another year and every other team has apartments, everyone will find out eventually and they’re going to look terrible,” the player said. “I feel like, if no one bugs them, they’ll put us in apartments in a year or two. But that’s kind of not good enough.”