Lookouts

Lookouts
A GREAT view of the field at AT&T Park in Chattanooga during their pre-season open house!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Douglas J. Gladstone

I know it has been some time since I posted to this blog (I still update my travel blog though, check it out!).  Anyway, I recently corresponded again with Douglas J. Gladstone, author of "A Bitter Cup of Coffee."  I did a Q&A with him several years ago- check that out here.

So, Douglas is still fighting to help out some former Major Leaguers who played briefly before 1980.  Mr. Gladstone makes a very interesting argument about a big flaw in the pension system for players.  In addition to his book, he recently wrote a very interesting article, which he said I could mention here.

Here is his complete article-


To hear officials from both sides tell it, Major League Baseball(MLB) and the union representing its players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), are positively giddy about the new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was ratified 29-1 by the baseball owners earlier this month.
 
But that doesn’t mean everyone’s singing Kumbayah at a campfire.
 
There are approximately 800 former players not vested in the pension plan who will tell you that things aren’t alright and that today’s players are unappreciative, greedy mercenaries with short memories who are getting rich off the sacrifices that were made on their behalf more than four decades ago.
 
"When do we get our reward?" wonders Carmen Fanzone, the former utility player for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. "Why aren’t the pre-1980 ballplayers included in the pension plan that they rightfully deserve?"
 
Fanzone and others, including former Senator pitcher Carl Bouldin, of Germantown, Kentucky, played between 1947 and 1979, and aren’t receiving pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers needed in 1980 to be eligible for the pension plan.

The players pension fund was established on April 1, 1947. You had to be on an active major league roster on that date to qualify for a pension. At that time, the rules stipulated that you only needed five years to retire. Effective 1969, all you needed was four years to qualify for a pension.
 
During the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend, a threatened players’ walkout was averted when the league and the union agreed that players would be eligible for health benefits after only one day of service and a pension after 43 days -- roughly one-quarter of a season.  

The problem? The proposal was never made retroactive.

So David Clyde, the former Ranger and Indian who was his generation’s Stephen Strasburg, came up 37 days shy of a pension. Don Dillard, the former Cleveland Indian pinch hitter supreme, was just 17 days short.

If they had attained enough service credit, the current IRS pension limitation is $210,000. But that’s certainly not what these men are getting for having played the game they love.

Nope, they’re getting the seasonal equivalent of a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings.

That’s because, in April 2011, MLB and the union announced that the pre-1980, non-vested ballplayers would each receive up to $10,000 in nonqualified, life annuity payments for their time in "The Show," based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounted to the maximum, $10,000. And that payment was before taxes were taken out.

Former Tigers reliever Steve Grilli, of Baldwinsville, New York, who is credited with 2 1/4 years of service, has been receiving gross checks of $5,625 for the past five years. After taxes, his take home is approximately $3,800.

Just how Scrooge like are MLB and the union? These payments stop when the player dies. Their spouses or other designated beneficiaries don’t continue to get them.
 
And they’re still not permitted to be part of the league’s health insurance plan either.

So while MLB and the union are singing the praises of their new CBA, and letting it be known that the minimum salary will rise to $555,000 by 2019, and that the owners are kicking in $200 million to fund the pension and welfare benefits of the players, or that ballplayers who participate in special events in London, Asia and the Dominican Republic will each get $15,000 to $100,000, or that the minimum salary rose to $4.4 million, remember that men like Fanzone and Clyde and Bouldin endured work stoppages so that free agency could happen for today’s players.

Meanwhile, a guy like Grilli, who used to drive a UPS truck to make ends meet, never made more than $25,500 a season, according to Baseball Almanac.

You think we’ll see Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper ever behind the wheel of a UPS truck?
 
No. Because in a more than $9 billion industry largely fueled by the $12.4 billion in licensing fees that Fox, TBS and ESPN are paying MLB, today’s players don’t have to worry about having to work second jobs in the off-season. MLB and the union would be wise to remember that this holiday season.
 
By the way, "Come By Here," which is what Kumbayah actually means, was originally a simple appeal to God to come and help those in need.

MLB and the union would be well served to remember that too.
 
Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB& The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve (Word Association Publishers, 2010).

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