“Helping Those Who Have A Greater Need Than Our Own”
What’s the measure of a person?Â How do you gauge his or her character?
It’s the sort of question that people have been debating for years. Indeed, no less than the founder of the American Newspaper Guild, the late Heywood Campbell Broun, once weighed in on the topic. “Sports do not build character,” he remarked. “They reveal it.”
If that’s the case, then there are a lot of people in the game of baseball today who have little or no character.Â I know what you’re probably saying to yourselves. That’s a pretty strong statement, Doug. Well, it was meant to be. How else does one explain the fact that neither Major League Baseball (MLB) nor the Major League Baseball Players Assocation (MLBPA) want to retroactively amend the vesting requirement that conferred instant pension eligibilty on every ballplayer who’s had even a day’s worth of service credit in the big leagues since 1980?Â For, as my recently released book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve, points out, doing so would help the 874 inactive, non-vested retired ballplayers who find themselves without pensions and health insurance.
Of course, you shouldn’t construe my statement as a blanket indictment of everyone connected to the game. Take Harmon Killebrew, for instance. A Hall of Famer who, on June 3, 1967, hit a home run that was measured at 520 feet, Mr. Killebrew’s well documented generosity and integrity is as big as some of those tape measure drives he used to hit.
“Life is precious and time is a key element,” said Killebrew, whose foundation is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Let’s make every moment count and help those who have a greater need than our own.”
Good stuff. Then there’s Ferguson Jenkins, the Hall of Famer whose own foundation runs golf outings to support such groups as Habitat for Humanity and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, among others, including a camp in Northern Illinois for developmentally delayed people.
So when the pitcher’s publicist, Darl DeVault, contacted me this past May to let me know that his client was prospectively interested in helping the men I wrote about, and cleared the way for me to actually speak to Mr. Jenkins, in connection with him possibly appearing alongside me at a book signing I was doing at The Book Cellar, an independent bookstore located in the Lincoln Square area of Chicago, imagine my surprise when the same man who won 284 games, a Cy Young Award and compiled six straight seasons with 20 or more wins told me he didn’t envision making a statement unilaterally on behalf of these men.
“I’d be more comfortable doing something among a group of Hall of Famers,” he explained. Who did he have in mind?Â Specifically, Mr. Jenkins said he would seek the buy-in of men such as Al Kaline and Reggie Jackson.
I was more than taken aback. Here’s a guy who was a teammate of at least three of the men affected — Carmen Fanzone, Jimmy Qualls and Don Young — and he didn’t want to go out on a limb for them?
“You know sometimes one is not the loneliest number,” I remember telling Mr. Jenkins at the time. “Sometimes taking a stance as the lone wolf means more than when it does coming from the wolfpack.”
“I hear you,” he said. “And I’ll really think about doing it.”
Though both Messrs. Jenkins and DeVault have repeatedly failed to return my numerous emails and phone calls over the last few months, it’s my understanding that Mr. Jenkins did, in fact, subsequently decide to spearhead the circulation of a petition among a number of Hall of Famers requesting that they support awarding the inactive, pre-1980, non-vested men some monies.
To be sure, there’s strength in numbers. I get that. But I can’t stop wondering why someone wouldn’t want to fly solo on this issue. You know — have the courage of their own convictions to speak up and let people know how unfair and unjust this situation really is.
“I didn’t have evil intentions, but I guess I did have power,” Killebrew once replied when asked about all the home runs he hit and how far they traveled.Â As Hall of Famers, power is what Killebrew, Jenkins and a lot of distinguished former greats of the game have. Their clout could be the difference between these men getting something or not receiving one plug nickel. If they choose to exercise that power, it could do wonders for men like Fanzone, Qualls and Young.
(Gladstone‘s book was published by Word Association Publishers in April. To order it, please contact the publisher directly at 1-800-827-7903)