June 26, 2017

Another One Bites The Dust

November 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

I didn’t know the late William Lee “Bill” Jennings. Never met him, never had a chat with him, never even knew of him until recently, in fact. What little I do know about Mr. Jennings, who died at the age of 85 on October 20, 2010, is attributable to his passing being prominently mentioned on Gary Bedingfield’s “Baseball in Wartime” website.

The author of Baseball’s Dead of World War II: A Roster of Professional Players Who Died in Service (McFarland), as well as two other books, Mr. Bedingfield’s website is dedicated to the more than 500 major league players who, as he says on his home page, “swapped flannels for khakis during World War II.”  And, while it’s fairly well known that players such as Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams served their nation off the diamond, Jennings did too.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Jennings was a 6-foot-2, 175-pound shortstop when he signed with the New York Giants organization in 1946, according to Bedingfield. Jennings, who attended Southwest High School and Washington University, had served in the Merchant Marines during World War II. After baseball, he reportedly worked as a milk man for Bailey Farms Dairy. He was buried October 25, 2010 in National Cemetery in St. Louis.

According to Baseball-Almanac.com, Jennings made his debut in The Show when he broke into the big leagues on July 19, 1951 with the St. Louis Browns. All told, in 64 games that year, he came up to the plate 195 times, collected 35 hits, including 10 doubles and two triples, and had 13 runs batted in to his credit. His career batting average was only .179, but he more than compensated for his lack of hitting with a great glove — his fielding percentage in his lone year in the big leagues was .953.

The former player’s passing hardly registered with any writer other than Bedingfield, whose excellent website just celebrated its tenth year online. The reason I sat up and took notice of Jennings’ death was because he was one of the inactive, non-vested retired ballplayers who played between 1947-1979 and who find themselves without pensions and health insurance, all because neither Major League Baseball (MLB) nor the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) want to retroactively amend the vesting requirement that conferred instant pension eligibility on every ballplayer who’s had even a day’s worth of service credit in the big leagues since 1980.

Since the publication of my book on April 14, 2010, three men impacted by this situation have died — Jay D. Schlueter, Nellie King and Jennings. You can just hear the lyrics to the classic Queen song in your head, can’t you?

And another one gone

And another one gone

Another one bites the dust.

So imagine my surprise upon recently learning that Dan Foster, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA), called Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins to actually tell him NOT to write an open letter to MLB supporting efforts to get the pre-1980 guys monies. No, that’s not a typo, you read that right. Fergie Jenkins wants to go out on a limb and have the courage of his convictions to speak out against this injustice, and the guy who is ostensibly supposed to be advocating on behalf of these men tries to kill the letter?

Confused? So am I. That’s why I encourage you to contact Mr. Foster and ask him what possibly was his motivation for trying to put the on kibosh on Mr. Jenkins’ good intentions. His email is dan@mlbpaa.com; alternatively, his direct number is  719-477-1870, x112.   If you’d rather write, here’s the alumni association’s address:

Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association
1631 Mesa Avenue
Copper Building, Suite D
Colorado Springs, CO 80906

postoffice@mlbpaa.com

Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you could also ask whether the MLBPAA intends to attend the owner meetings that are scheduled to be held next week, on Thursday, November 18th, in Orlando, Florida, and advising each of the 30 club owners about this disgraceful situation. Or whether the alumni group plans on going to bat for these men two weeks later at the winter meetings that are slated to be held December 6th thru December 9th at Disney’s Dolphin & Swan Resort in Lake Buena Vista.

Would I be surprised if the alumni actually fielded a contingent of representatives and did some serious lobbying?  Yes. That’s because, as one member of the group’s own major league alumni services committee recently acknowledged to me in an email, the association’s efforts regarding this matter have been “timid” to date.

I suppose it’s only fitting, then, that the winter meetings are being held where they will be. After all, if this injustice isn’t rectified soon, more men like Jennings will take the penultimate swan song and go to their graves believing that the league, the union and alumni association didn’t care one iota about them.

And then you can cue that music again:

And another one gone

And another one gone

Another one bites the dust.

(Gladstone’s book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve, was published by Word Association Publishers in April. To order it, please contact the publisher directly at 1-800-827-7903)

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