By Douglas J. Gladstone
If you grew up rooting for the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies—and even if you didn’t, you’ve probably heard or read about the team because, by now, the story of that squad’s heartbreaking collapse over the last week of the season is etched in history—you probably remember Costen Shockley.
To countless Delawareans, Shockley was a legend. Not because he was one of the “Whiz Kids,” and not because he was all that great a player, but because he valued family first: he quit the game after being traded to the West Coast* so he wouldn’t have to abandon his wife and small child. He found jobs in construction and, by all accounts, never looked back or regretted his decision to place his family ahead of his career.
In a Society of American Baseball Research publication entitled The Year of Blue Show: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, the love Shockley had for his family was clearly in evidence. Authorr Mel Marmer quotes Shockley as having said the following:
In June (1965), when I approached (manager) Bill Rigney and asked if I was going to stay with the Angels, he said yes. So I moved my wife and baby out to California (from Delaware). Then (on June 12) they asked me to go to the minors instead, to Seattle. I wasn’t going to have my wife drive to Seattle. She didn’t know anything about the city. I never really adjusted to the big-league atmosphere. I wasn’t making any money then, only $1,000 a month. It cost me $600 to rent an apartment; I was using up my bonus money ($50,000); the major league minimum was only $6,000. . . So, I quit. I took my family over baseball. Do I think I could have played in the big leagues? Sure, I think I would have done well.
A resident of Georgetown, Shockley, who died on May 30, had his priorities straight. Too bad neither Major League Baseball nor the union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, do.
See, Shockley was one of the ever dwindling group of retired men not receiving an MLB pension. As of this writing, there are only 511 left.
All these retirees don’t receive a traditional pension for having played the game they loved because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed over the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend. None of these men accrued four years of service credit, which was what ballplayers who played between 1947–1979 needed to be eligible for a pension.
Instead, effective this past March, for every 43 game days of service a pre-1980 player accrued on an active MLB roster, all he receives is a yearly payment of up to $11,500. That’s $718.75 for every 43 game days. By the way, that payment went up a whopping 15 percent. It used to be $625 for every 43 games on an active roster.
But now that he’s dead, Shockley’s loved ones won’t even get the $2,872 for his approximately four months of service; and that’s before taxes are taken out. Because if you’re a non-vested, pre-1980 player, the bone the league and union are throwing you cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary.
In rejecting the $300 million deal his former club, the Washington Nationals, offered him before signing with Philadelphia, current National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper famously rationalized that he didn’t want $100 million deferred on the back end of his contract. “What does that do for me?,” he asked. “What does that do for my family?”
Family means different things to different people, I suppose. The Pittsburgh Pirates embraced the concept of family when the team won the World Series in 1979. That is why MLB and MLBPA—Costen Shockley’s baseball family—need to do right by the remaining non-vested retirees now. Before it’s too late.
Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.
* On 3 December 1964, Shockley was traded with pitcher Rudy May to the California Angels for notorious pitcher-playboy Bo Belinsky. May went on to enjoy a fine sixteen-season career for four major league teams, including the Yankees’ 1981 pennant winner.
Short-career pre-1980 players to whom I have spoken have attested that one reason for their freeze-out is that they were seen mostly as September call-ups. For the record, Shockley played his first major league game for the Phillies in July 1964; and, he made the Angels out of spring training 1965, playing in forty games before electing to leave baseball rather than go to the minors for his family’s sake.—JK.