By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Recently the Toronto Blue Jays upped the pay of their minor league players by 50 per cent, and to me that’s great.
I remember in high school and university reading about Dirk Hayhurst – a former pitcher for the Jays – and his time in the minors, and his time in the majors.
One thing that stood out to me was how undervalued these players were.
The dichotomy between the majors and the minors was overwhelming, as the minor league players would travel around on buses which, quite frankly, sounded disgusting.
Compare this to the major league players in his later book who would travel on luxury airlines and the like.
The comparative privilege is astounding.
The decision to raise the pay has been praised by the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) and its president, Tony Clarke.
However, coming back closer to home, this makes me think about previous talks surrounding paying players in the Canadian Hockey League.
When I was younger and, dare I say it, mildly jealous of the London Knights players who went to my high school, I would have said no.
But today, I admit I think I was wrong.
If it were just regular kids who play a lot of hockey, I’d say no to paying them, but for these kids it’s not just a hobby, it’s their future.
They don’t have time to go and get a part-time job like a lot of other teens do, so many of these players have no income of their own.
These kids come from the towns where they grew up, to live with a strange family who isn’t their own, and all to play hockey.
They leave everything they have ever known behind for the game they love – and yes that is exactly what it is, a game. But even if it’s just minimum wage, these kids deserve some kind of compensation for everything they’ve given up to play that game.
I remember in high school – I won’t name names – I was in American History class with a member of my local Ontario Hockey League team.
He was a nice enough guy, a bit arrogant, but that’s to be expected. I caught him practicing his autograph instead of paying attention to the teacher.
He admitted to me how much pressure he felt being in the spotlight like he was, and that’s why he wasn’t paying attention.
We were 17-years-old at the time, and this kid was feeling pressure only adults should have to feel.
They are also subject to media speculation and scrutiny just like their adult counterparts. Their lives are often public in their respective cities at a time in their lives when they likely don’t have the maturity to handle that.
I still remember the media circus outside the John Labatt Centre (now Budweiser Gardens) in London when they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2005 all because Sidney Crosby was playing.
I was 13 at the time and this is still clear in my mind.
He hadn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, but he was still getting more attention than 99 per cent of the players in the pros.
Players like Crosby often have the phrase “the next Gretzky” attached to them before even playing a single pro game.
This happened again in 2015 when Conor McDavid was drafted first overall.
The media kept calling him “the next Gretzky” and he had yet to play a game in the NHL.
Now, both of these players have had quite a bit of success since joining the league, but for them to essentially be hero-worshipped before they even turned 18 has always been ridiculous to me.
These kids are subjected to more than they should be, and receive no compensation.
So even if it’s minimum wage, I do believe the players in the CHL should receive something in return for their efforts.
However, the players like Crosby and McDavid often get sponsorship deals before they even make it to the NHL.
But, what about the average player? The back up goalies? The fifth and sixth defenceman? The fourth line players?
Those are the players who go out every night and play hard simply because they love the game, but they don’t have those sponsorship deals like the top players.
According to an article from TSN in 2016, the Calgary Hitmen were the most valuable franchise in the CHL at $68.95 million. I can only imagine what they’re worth now.
Simply put, these teams are worth millions, and can at least afford to pay their players minimum wage.