My friend Douglas J. Gladstone—the author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee, chronicling the battle to obtain pension payments for what are now 634 still-living, short-career former major league players, frozen out of a 1980 re-alignment that changed MLB pension eligibility but excluded those players—submits a guest commentary. I’m glad to publish it here:
United States Representative Linda Sanchez, who represents California’s 38th Congressional District, once remarked, “I’m often reminded that, in baseball, as in diplomacy, you have to know when to hit, when to run and when to show grace.”
The only grace in baseball that I know of is former Chicago Cubs player Mark Grace.
If I sound jaded, I apologize. Fact is, I love the game of baseball. But the business of baseball, well, that is another matter entirely.
That is because, for the past decade, I have attempted to help the 634 men who are without Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions get the monies I and a lot of others feel they deserve.
These men are in this position because, in order to avert a threatened 1980 walkout by the players, MLB made the following offer to the union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA): going forward, all a post-1980 player would need to be eligible to buy into the league’s premium health insurance plan was one game day of service; all a post-1980 player would need for a benefit allowance was 43 game days of service. At the time, the threshold was four years to be vested in the pension plan.
The problem was, the union failed to insist on retroactivity for all those players who played prior to 1980 who had more than 43 game days of service but less than four years.
So I wrote an April 2010 book that many credit with shedding a light on this topic. I recently updated the book to tell readers what has been happening since then.
One blogger for CBS.com asked me straight up, “Why do you care about these guys so much?” That’s when you start wondering whether you’re like Cervantes’ mad knight errant, Don Quixote, and you’re tilting at windmills.
These were the boyhood heroes of my youth. Whether it be listening on the radio, watching on television or attending a game in person, they gave me countless hours of entertainment growing up.
In April 2011, the league and union partially remedied this problem. Men like Tacoma’s Aaron Pointer, Ocean Shores’ Bob Reynolds, Everett’s Jim Ollom, Centralia native Bob Coluccio and Darcy Fast, the former pastor at the Centralia Community Church of God, all began receiving $625 for every 43 game days they were on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000.
Considering that, in an $11.5 billion industry, even a post-1980 player who only has 43 game days of service credit currently receives a minimum pension of $3,589 at the age of 62, many folks including myself likened the gesture to throwing the guys a bone.
Coluccio summed it up quite nicely: “To me it’s like saying we would like to invite some of our family members to dinner, but unfortunately, you will need to eat in the kitchen.”
But that message isn’t resonating at 12 East 49th Street in midtown Manhattan, where the union’s headquarters are located.
To date, the MLBPA has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though the players’ welfare and benefits fund is worth more than $3.5 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark has never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.
Why do I keep at it? This might sound a bit hokey, but I was a huge fan of the television series, The Fugitive, growing up. All Dr. Richard Kimble wanted was to prove that he was the victim of a terrible error of our judicial system. As the narrator reminded us week after week, the protagonist was a victim of blind justice.
All I have ever wanted to do was tip the scales of justice back into a level playing field so that these men could get the compensation I and a lot of other folks believe they are deserving of. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, because you never know how soon it will be too late.”