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