A few hours before the Phillies faced the Mets last Saturday night in New York, Dave Dombrowski’s phone rang with news that several players with the team’s high-A Jersey Shore club decided to wear wristbands during a game to call attention to a longstanding problem in the minor leagues: low pay and poor living arrangements.
What happened next is not entirely clear. But a nonprofit group that is fighting to improve conditions for minor leaguers is alleging that the players were rebuked for their actions.
Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, told USA Today that the players received “some backlash” from Phillies officials in an attempt to “suppress that speech.” Dombrowski disputed that the club responded in such a way.
“I’ve done some checking, and we don’t feel that it happened at all, to my knowledge,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “I’ve asked. First of all, we wouldn’t reprimand people for doing that. We really had no objection that people wore them.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Marino said players reported that they weren’t overtly scolded by Phillies officials but rather were warned that there may be “adverse consequences” for organizing future demonstrations.
“I don’t think we suggested that anybody was disciplined or got in trouble,” Marino said. “But that does not mean that there were not attempts made to dissuade players from participating in this going forward, even in the context of, ‘I, X coach, am fine with it, but others in the front office might not be.’ Those things are not acceptable. They suppress speech. I think the Phillies need to be really, really careful here.”
Marino declined to provide an exact number of players with Jersey Shore or the Mets’ high-A Brooklyn affiliate who wore the teal #FairBall wristbands but estimated “double digits, more than a dozen.” Out of concern for retribution, he also didn’t reveal the names of the players or how many claimed to feel pressure from the Phillies to not do it again.
The minimum pay at high-A is $500 per week before taxes and only during the season, a raise from $290 per week last year. Minimum salaries rise to $600 per week in double A and $700 per week in triple A. But players don’t get paid in the offseason, forcing most to get side jobs while they continue training on their own for the coming season.
With minor leaguers feeling more empowered to protest low wages and other substandard working conditions, Marino said his advocacy group received complaints this season about the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, and other organizations trying to stifle them from speaking out about poor housing accommodations.
Dombrowski said the Phillies “do a lot beyond what’s asked” to provide minor leaguers with assistance for housing during the season. Marino agreed that the Phillies are “better than average” in that area.
“This is uncharted territory, having minor leaguers speak up,” Marino said. “When they do, the teams are often very surprised and taken aback by that and don’t necessarily know how to respond, and the reaction in that moment can be a little bit frantic and to act [ticked] off or say other people are [ticked] off. I think that’s what we’re seeing.”
Dombrowski said Phillies officials were “surprised” by the players’ plan to wear the wristbands last Saturday because they weren’t made aware of it before the game. He acknowledged that the situation “may have come up” during players’ year-end meetings with minor league staff before the season finale last Sunday.
“We were inquisitive about the situation because nobody knew with the club,” Dombrowski said. “But nobody reprimanded anybody to my knowledge. I don’t know where that came from.”
Phillies left fielder Andrew McCutchen stood with the minor leaguers by wearing a wristband last Sunday night in a nationally televised game against the Mets. McCutchen, a five-time All-Star and former National League MVP, didn’t tell the Phillies that he planned to do it, and Dombrowski didn’t expect him to. Mets manager Luis Rojas also acknowledged the wristbands and spoke out in support of better pay for minor leaguers.
“When Andrew McCutchen or Luis Rojas said, ‘I support these guys, I have their backs,’ it gives [minor leaguers] a lot more cover to speak out themselves,” Marino said. “The problem is that speaking out about it still creates a real risk of retaliation.”
Said Dombrowski: “I think a lot of people, they all want to see people treated well in the minor league system. I’m glad there’s advocates for what they’re doing.”
Reliever Connor Brogdon (right groin strain) will throw live batting practice this week in an attempt to come back before the end of the season. ... The Phillies haven’t named a starter for Sunday’s bullpen game, although Adonis Medina is a consideration. ... Aaron Nola will make his final regular-season home start Thursday night against Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Connor Overton.