Somewhere in Major League Baseball, there has to be a smart owner who will quit ignoring the next great, and cheap, competitive advantage. Compared to the price of one free agent, this thing would cost very little and would strengthen the chances that each minor leaguer can contribute more at the MLB level.The thing is Nutrition. Why is this so widely ignored?
At the University of Nebraska, where I went to school, there’s a special dining hall for Husker athletes. Begrudgingly, they allow regular students to eat there too, but only because they’re required to. (Something about how the money for their food comes from the same budget that feeds the huddled masses of non-athletes.) The athletes had quite a spread, and if a team nutritionist thought something was lacking, you could bet that whatever was lacking would be added right away. The student-athletes may not get paid money, but they had everyday access to the foods they needed to fuel their bodies and keep them in top shape.
In Minor League Baseball, by contrast, nobody cares about the players’ day-to-day food intake and they have little choice but to eat a garbagey diet. A couple of factors lead to this:
-Budgets. This is the most obvious thing. Every ballpark has a clubhouse attendant who serves each visiting team as they come in. The clubbie does get some money to feed the teams, but it’s never much. 25 hungry guys + 1 overworked clubbie + a tiny budget = inadequate nutrition for all.
-Schedules. What time does an average night game end? And food establishments are still open at that time of night? Fast food. I can’t even stay in good enough shape to be a debt collector on a fast food-based diet. Ba-da-ba-ba-bahhhhh, I’m lovin’ it.
-Ease. With all the workouts, side appearances, and of course games, ballplayers don’t have a ton of free time, so it’s not like they could play chef for themselves every day. So eating the clubhouse spread is often the easiest route. So if there’s unhealthy food in the clubhouse, that’s what a player is stuck with.
[Side note: In Omaha, this isn't so much of a problem, as we learned earlier this year. Strength and conditioning coach Joey Greany heavily emphasizes good eating habits for the Storm Chasers, and Greany says the players hold each other accountable when one sees another eating junk food.]
Let’s look at the numbers:
You’ve got roughly 25 guys per team, at 8 minor league levels. I know the lowest levels have more players than that, but let’s just roll with 25.
According to this cost calculator, it’s possible to feed 25 twenty-something males 14 healthy meals (7 lunches and 7 dinners) for $405.00 per week. That’s the bare minimum, of course, and I recognize that athletes probably need more of certain things like proteins that would jack up that cost. So let’s give that budget a little bit more breathing room and call it $600 per week, per team.
If I’m looking at all the teams’ schedules correctly, there are a total of 135 weeks’ worth of minor league games. Take that times our $600 budget, and it would cost $81,000 to feed an entire minor league system.
Maybe you’re calling B.S. on that calculator, and you want $700 per team per week. That’s still just $94,500 per season to feed the entire organization. $800 per week? $108k for the season. Still small potatoes compared to even a MLB minimum contract.
So for significantly less than even half a season of Chris Getz, a GM (hey Dayton, are you listening?) could transform his entire minor league system into a healthier group of athletes. Healthier athletes = better performance, and perhaps fewer injuries and longer careers. For that relatively tiny cost, it’s absurd that no GM has bothered with this.
Draft picks turn into prospects, and prospects turn into the future of a team. Whether a prospect makes it big with the club that drafted him or becomes part of a trade, why would you sink so much money into signing a guy and then feed him worse than a blogger’s diet?
I spoke with shortstop-cum-Zone Training expert Buddy Biancalana about this a few weeks ago. I’ll publish that conversation in the next few days. Until then: Which team do YOU see embracing hardcore nutrition as an organizational philosophy?
EDITED TO ADD: A fair question is “but who would make the food?” It’s not like clubhouse attendants, who already work 15+ hours every game day, can magically have enough time to prepare square meals for all their players. So let’s add a chef at every level. (Gosh, spending someone else’s money is so easy.)
Apparently the average salary for a chef who would be appropriate for this job is $35-$40k. So again, if a club has a full 8 levels, that’s 8 chefs for an added cost of up to $320,000. Since they’re not even working a full year it would actually be a lot less than that.
So, all told, you can buy enough food to feed every player in the system, and then pay 8 chefs to prepare that food, and it still costs just one MLB minimum salary. (And actually, the cost for chefs would be less since they would not be working a full year.)