Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

“Bupkis” for Baseball Retirees? Where’s the Moral Outrage?

July 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Book Review, Business of Baseball

The number of multi-millionaires within the sport of baseball is well chronicled.   I naively imagined that all this wealth would trickle down to take care of the retired players who paved the way for today’s current players–a rising tide lifts all boats.   I was mistaken.   Fortunately, there is a book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve by Douglas Gladstone, that lays open the entire embarrassing situation. 

Similar to baseball’s benign neglect of Curt Flood’s and Marvin Miller’s contributions, today’s well-paid players are ignoring a group of retirees caught in a technical pension no-man’s land.

Over time, baseball has revised its pension eligibility requirements several times.  The pension fund first came into existence in 1947, when you needed five years to qualify for an annuity. Twenty-two years later, in 1969, that requirement was lowered to four years. And finally, in 1980, as a result of the threatened strike that was averted over the Memorial Day weekend, the requirements were lowered to what they currently are: one game for medical benefits and 43 days of service credit for an annuity. What remains is a “doughnut hole” for players who had at least 43 days of service but not 4 years– nada, zilch, bupkis, nyet, nothing–a “bitter” cup of coffee indeed!

While “Father Time” has predictably dwindled the number of players caught in this predicament, over 800 still exist.  That number may not seem high, but consider it is greater than the number of active players on all 30 major league teams today. Many of them are beset with the same economic woes that folks on Mainstreet USA are currently feeling.  Moreover, because of the labor relations rules, there is no current advocate for these players within the players union infrastructure. 

Some retired executives and players, such as David Clyde, former Texas Rangers’ bonus baby, have taken up the casue.

Luckily, David Clyde’s ex-wife’s family ran a lumber business, and he worked at that job for almost two decades, retiring in 2003. But old slights linger; even now, Clyde is not able to mask his disappointment that MLB hasn’t been able to offer him or any of his comrades a helping hand.

“I think the owners are prepared to drag their feet on this issue for a long time,” he says. “After all, the longer it takes for this to be resolved, the less people they have to pay. Maybe that’s been their strategy all along.” As for Clyde’s feelings regarding the union, he credits Don Fehr for exerting an almost Svengali-like influence over the players during his run as executive director of the players association.

“I don’t believe today’s players have a clue as to what’s going on and what’s happening to the guys who played before them,” he said. “I don’t think they know anything about our situation. In fact, I think if Fehr had told all the players to walk off a cliff that was 700 feet high up in the air, and told them that, if they did, they’d all get a share of $10 million, I think they’d all walk off that cliff together,” he added.

Source: http://www.abittercupofcoffee.com

In interviews, Gladstone points out that MLB can address this inequity in one of two ways. 

  • It can amend the pension eligibility requirments during the next round of baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks.  These talks are scheduled to begin early in 2011 to replace the current players’ union agreement which expires in December 2011, or
  • At any time, MLB can create a “lump-sum” mechanism for these retirees without being part of the CBA negotiations.  This payment sturcture was previously used to compensate Negro League players.

While no one really can pinpoint why this inequity hasn’t been addressed, it is clear that today’s players, and their representatives, are largely unaware of the 874 players’ plight. I am hoping that keeping a harsh spotlight on this issue will “embarrass” MLB into doing the right thing.

Check out Gladstone’s website for additional information about his book and this issue.

Also, check out former player Bob Locker’s paean to Marvin Miller — ThanksMarvin.com

Comments

6 Responses to ““Bupkis” for Baseball Retirees? Where’s the Moral Outrage?”
  1. Jimmy Driscoll says:

    YES I AM ONE OF THOSE 800+ PLAYERS TO BE LEFT OUT IN THE COLD.
    COME ON MLB,WAKE UP.
    COME ON PLAYERS ASSOCIATION.
    WE WENT ON STRIKE BACK IN THE DAY SO THE UNION
    WOULD GROW INTO WHAT IT HAS BECOME TODAY.
    DON’T FORGET US ANY LONGER.
    I PLAYED A TOTAL OF 14yrs PRO BALL{minor & major}
    I HAD A BLAST

  2. Mark Ahrens says:

    Hi Jimmy,

    I am honored that you saw the article and commented on it. I am hoping to collaborate with Doug Gladstone in a way to use the internet and the many folks like myself who publish content to help put pressure on the situation.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

    If you would like to contact directly, I can be reached at mahrens@optonline.net

    Best Regards,

    Mark Ahrens

  3. Dave Baldwin says:

    This is an old problem. In the 1970s players who qualified for the pension (I was one of the lucky ones to qualify) were working to get at least some small pension for those who played before 1947. Many players from the ’30s and ’40s had long careers but no insurance and no pension. We had no luck in helping them. The problem then was the same as the problem now – as the article says, “…because of the labor relations rules, there is no current advocate for these players within the players union infrastructure.” I’m not sure that “…it is clear that today’s players, and their representatives, are largely unaware of the 874 players’ plight.” I know that active players have been informed of these situations in the past, but we saw no sign that they trying to change things. It’s sad that baseball forgets its history so quickly.

  4. Dave, thanks for your comments. However, to be fair, in October 1997, MLB unilaterally did finally award life annuities to the pre-1947 players of $10,000…The problem, of course, is that these payments were not true pensions, they died when the players did….so while oldtimers such as Harry the Horse Danning or Dolph Camill did get something, it really wasn’t a pension….that’s why the late Pete Coscarart, the fomer second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, kept turning it down, because it didn’t provide for his designated beneficiaries after he passed.

    With respect to today’s situation, the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association is supposed to be working behind the scenes to get these 874 guys monies….men like David Clyde, Gary Neibauyer, Craig Skok aand Eddie Robinson are diligently doing whatever they can, but the Alumni Association still remains strangely silent on this issue. Why, for instance, hasn’t Brooks Robinson, the president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, ever commented on this issue? Shouldn’t he be a poster boy for his group’s members? Especially when four ballplayers from his native Little Rock, Arkansas are some of those affected?

    It’s just a shameful part of this great game’s labor history.

  5. tom bruno says:

    I was released near the end of spring training in 1980.Played in the major leagues 1976 thru 1979 for Kansas City, Toronto and St Louis.One day of major league service in 1980 would have made a huge difference in my life,Mlb and the players union have made me feel like i was part of an annulment. That i never existed! I bet all of us left out in the ( INACTIVE NON VESTED CATAGORY] feel the same way! DO THE RIGHT THING! BRING US BACK INTO THE BASEBALL FAMILY!

  6. Richard L Baney says:

    MLB., cares about the fans and the fans are outraged about the predictament of the non vested players.Sportswriters are commenting in a positive way and people are interested. THANK YOU,MR.DOUG GLADSTONE and your revealing book a. “BITTER CUP OF COFFEE.”And also thank you MLB for addressing our concerns in the winter meetings for the upcoming 2011 season.

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