Specific Major League Baseball retirees are getting the shaft, according to the author of the controversial A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.
The crux of Douglas Gladstone's book concerns ex-big leaguers who were denied pensions "as a result of the failure of both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to retroactively amend the vesting requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980," says Gladstone.
While players of the past few decades in each of the four major sports enjoy potent retirement benefits (though disparities still remain), there had been a huge gap between pre- and post-1980 MLB players. The former were required to play for four years in order to score an annuity and health insurance. All the latter needed was to play ball for one day for health insurance and 43 days for a pension.
"Let me put things in context for you," Gladstone tells Hair Balls. "For starters, Major League Baseball gave 39 veterans of the Negro Leagues and their spouses health insurance in 1993. And while that's a nice gesture, for me, this story has always been about equity, about fairness. You just cannot give benefits to groups who, strictly speaking, didn't have a contractual employment history with the league and then turn around and hose guys who did have legitimate working relationships with this employer."
On April 21, a year after A Bitter Cup of Coffee was published, MLB and the MLBPA announced that at least 904 folks who participated in the bigs between 1947 and 1979 for fewer than four years would each receive payments of up to $10,000.
One of those folks is David Clyde, a graduate of Westchester High School (now Westchester Academy for International Studies) and number one overall pick of the 1973 MLB Draft. Clyde, who Gladstone calls the consummate "straight shooter," spent five seasons with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. Due to minor-league demotions and injuries (which some say were the fault of then-Rangers owner Bob Short, who was desperate to showcase the young phenom in order to sell tickets), Clyde was 37 days short of the four-year requirement.
Gladstone was elated that ex-ballplayers like Clyde were finally getting some dough. However, he called the agreement a "partial victory" because they're still not getting medical benefits on par with post-1980 players.
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Says Gladstone, "Until these men are afforded health insurance, and until the monies are allowed to be passed to loved ones and other designated beneficiaries, I'll always have concerns about these payments. And while I'm the first one to acknowledge that neither the league nor the union have to legally do anything for these men, Major League Baseball is merely throwing these guys a bone.
"Ask any employment benefits attorney in this country if it's possible to retroactively restore or, at the very least, grandfather these guys back into pension coverage and they'll answer 'yes.' Besides, MLB is a $7.9 billion industry, the average salary is $3.29 million and the last guy on the bench makes $425,000. So the fact that the league and the union are appeasing them with payments of up to $10K a year for the next two years doesn't impress me."