June 21, 2016
The Perils Of MLB's Sorting System
Part 2: The True Cost of Interning
This is the second in a four part series on the challenges of working in baseball. Part 1 looked at where front office workers come from.
Do you love baseball and have a good understanding of analytics? More importantly, are you independently wealthy? Congratulations, you can afford to be an intern with a baseball team and not rack up debt!
Before we get any further, let’s make some things clear. This is not a condemnation of the internship process as a whole. Teams shouldn’t hire underqualified people, and we are not asking them to. This is simply an explanation for the hurdles that people must jump over to even get the chance to work in a major-league front office, hurdles that go a long way toward explaining the lack of diversity and homogeneity in the makeup of baseball’s current front offices.
This isn’t to say that (a) all internships are bad or (b) this is something isolated to the field of baseball. However, baseball’s reliance on front-office internships does merit further study.
The numbers presented in Part 1 of this series show that 33 percent of today’s front office employees entered baseball through an internship program, and that among those who graduated college in 2006 or later that number is higher than 70 percent. A good number of that group entered their internships without being previously employed by a baseball team. At face value, this simply says that the baseball establishment feels there is an additional level of preparation needed to be a valuable contributor to a front office, and that only baseball itself can provide that education. Here’s the question, though: Is it education, or simply cheap labor?
Hundreds and hundreds of job applicants travel to the Winter Meetings each year to try to find a job in baseball, though only a handful of Baseball Ops jobs are ever available. In order to even be at Winter Meetings, there are incredible hurdles. First, you have to travel to the site of the convention (it’s just outside Washington, DC this year) and pay for accommodations, all on your own dime. Before you can get in the room, you have to pay a $200 admission fee. Assuming you’re not currently unemployed, you have to find vacation days between (this year) December 4th and December 7th—and activities are on those days, so you'll be traveling on the 3rd and the 8th. Even with all this you are far from guaranteed from finding kind of job, or really even being able to network your way into higher prominence.
If you’re one of the lucky ones to get an internship, money comes roaring right back into the equation immediately. If you’re really lucky, you’ll land a spot that not only pays, but pays $15/hr, the highest wage we heard from various “friends.” If you’re unlucky, you’ll be paid either minimum wage (nationally, $7.25/hr) or in “experience.” If you’re still in college, you might get paid in college credit. Most baseball interns, though, are not still in college. They’ve either just graduated college or are attempting to change careers (and some of the change-of-career people are still young enough to fall into the college graduate zone).
Sure, no one’s expecting to make $50,000 annually as an intern, or in any first job, whether they’re still in college or not. Being able to make rent, though, isn’t unreasonable.
Cost of Living
Using those estimates, we can look at the cost of living in an average sample of MLB cities—cities that interns will be asked to (a) already live in (limiting their potential new employers) or (b) move to for a short amount of time with no guarantee of a long-term position. The below chart breaks down these expenses over 10 months in four cities chosen as the average for cheap, mid-sized, expensive, and outrageous.
(Rent and utility numbers are from here)
Of course, rent can be lowered by living with a roommate, or three, which would also lower utilities. If you want to pay higher rent in someplace like Chicago (or New York, or San Francisco), you could live in a public-transportation accessible area, and pay less in gas and car costs. We’ve left health insurance costs off, but if you’re just getting your feet wet in baseball and you’re over 25, you’ll need to purchase your own insurance, as it’s possible that a 10-month internship won’t provide that. If you’re lucky enough to intern in a city where you have family or friends who will let you crash rent-free or for low rent, then you can cut costs, and suddenly things are looking a little bit better, but how many people just happen to have an aunt who lives in Phoenix? Even you are lucky enough to catch a break like that, the reality is still that if you want an internship with a major-league team, you’ll be paying several thousand dollars out of your pocket in travel and living expenses for the privilege.
Of course, all these numbers simply point to one thing: It is much easier to get the requisite experience necessary to break into a front office if you come from a position of financial privilege—whether this is family money, or individual savings, or being able to come out of college debt free. You will almost certainly be dipping into either savings or credit card land while interning, especially if you end up taking more than one internship, as some of the people we saw who now have full-time position with a team did. Not everyone has that sort of money, but given that many front office positions seem to require an internship, it results in a system where those who have access to wealth are the ones able to try out for the front office.
Statistically, we know that there is a sad connection between race and wealth in the United States, pervasive for reasons way beyond the scope of BP. On the whole, Caucasians are more likely to be financially well-off -—the kind of financially well-off that you need to be to take an internship— than people of color. A front office internship is the fantasy alternative to safer, more realistic career paths—the internship with a large company that offers a better chance of a full-time job to follow; the ability to live where housing is cheaper or family-based; maybe even a full-time job out of college. Having the choice between the two is a luxury of privilege. It's therefore no wonder that current front offices look the way they do. The “qualified candidate” pool has been limited from the beginning.
 If you’re being paid in “experience,” make sure to check the Department of Labor’s regulations regarding unpaid internships, as they are many, and sometimes not followed.
 I know, but you go ask MLB teams how much they pay their interns.
 Many thanks to Robert Pike for his tax professional advice.
 “Utilities” include both physical utilities like electricity and water, and internet.
 Furniture rental, emergency medical, and extranea.
 Unless you’re married, and can use your spouse’s insurance.
 Women, and particularly women of color, may also be affected by the gender pay gap, along with the general discouragement of women in these kind of positions in the front office.
Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @unlikelyfanatic