November 18, 2017

Museum Artifacts More Important to MLB Than Pensionless Retirees

September 10, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

Major League Baseball (MLB) cares more about supporting museums than real live, flesh and blood retirees without pensions.

What other conclusion can you reach after the announcement on September 8 that the 30 club owners ponied up $10 million to contribute  to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s endowment efforts? According to the Associated Press, the goal is to help preserve the 135,000 baseball cards, 14,000 hours of recorded media, 250,000 photos and 40,000 bats, gloves and balls that are part of the HOF’s collection.

What MLB is saying by this donation is that it cares more about the T-206 Honus Wagner card encased under glass in the museum than, say, Texas Rangers pitching legend David Clyde, who was only 37 games shy of a pension and who suffered a collapsed lung in 2011. Or former Orioles catcher Jimmy Hutto, who once had an aneurysm that his doctors said was attributable to all the collisions he had with runners at home plate. Or Jeff Terpko, who pitched for the Rangers and Expos and who filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Men like Clyde, Hutto and Terpko find themselves in this position because of an agreement brokered between the late Ray Grebey, who was the negotiator for the league, and Don Fehr and the late Marvin Miller, who represented the players during a threatened strike over the 1980 Memorial Day weekend. Essentially, Grebey extended the following carrot to Fehr and Miller: if the players didn’t walk out, the league would make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. And ever since 1980, you only need one game day to be eligible to be covered by the generous league health plan, and 43 game days for a pension.

According to numerous accounts, that translates into a maximum $210,000 for someone who played after 1980, depending on their final average salary and years of service. Even the minimum for just playing 43 game days is a reported $34,000. That’s insane. But to their credit, Fehr and Miller (and free agency) helped usher in these ridiculous salaries. Of course, the only problem was that Miller and Fehr forgot to ask Grebey to make the arrangement retroactive to include the pre-1980 players too. So Clyde is now on the outside looking in. Thanks to the late Michael Weiner, the executive director of the union who succumbed to brain cancer three years ago, and Rob Manfred, who was at the time the MLB Vice-President of Labor Relations, the league and the players’ association in April 2011 decided to throw these retirees a bone.

For each quarter of service they were credited with — a quarter of service is defined as 43 game days — a retiree would get $625, up to a maximum payment of 16 quarters, or $10,000. And that’s before taxes are taken out. But these men aren’t permitted to buy into the league’s umbrella health coverage plan. Nor can the payments be passed on to a spouse, child or designated beneficiary. So Rich Hinton — who had three tours of duty with the Chicago White Sox, as well as stints with the Rangers, Yankees, Reds and Mariners — only nets an annual check of $6,262 from his gross payment of $9,300. And that money won’t be passed on to his wife or any of his six children when he passes.

The irony is, of course, that retirees like Hinton, Clyde and Hutto have more credit than do some guys who played after 1980. Jim Britton’s wife expressed the same sentiment to me. Britton, the former Atlanta Brave and Expos hurler who went on to become a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — he is likely the only former major league ballplayer to trade in his spikes for an FBI badge — gets a pension. But his wife, Carolyn, was aghast when she learned that, in comparison to her hubby’s minuscule pension, the post -1980 players are doing so well for themselves. And she felt sorry for Britton’s former teammate, Braves pitcher Gary Neibauer, who doesn’t get a pension because he didn’t have the necessary four years of service you needed to be eligible to be a vested retiree.

Men like Neibauer had such high hopes when former Tigers All-Star first baseman Tony Clark became the first ex-player to become executive director of the players’ union. At last, they said. Someone who can relate to us. Tony will have sympathy for us. But the wind was taken out of their sails when Tony did nothing for them in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that was negotiated  last November and ratified by the owners in December. I can’t tell you what Tony Clark thinks about this topic because he has never publicly commented on it. His special pensions assistant to the players, former Expos pitcher Steve Rogers, has been quoted numerous times commenting about it, however.

The league, he typically says, doesn’t have to negotiate about the matter. And that is technically correct. But it’s also being disingenuous, because even Manfred, who is now MLB Commissioner, acknowledges that the non-vested retirees’ situation can be entertained in CBA negotiations, I’m sure men like Terpko appreciate how helpful their former teammate Rogers has been in this matter. It’s like trying to nudge a brick from a building wall. Which brings us back to the $10 million donation to the museum which, when you get right down to it, is just a building.

“I am absolutely disgusted by the disdain that both the league and the union have shown us,” said Hutto.

“I feel I can speak for all the non-vested men when I say that today’s players, the union and the league make us feel like our service was for nothing,” said Clyde.

The T-206 Wagner card was bought by the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks for $2.8 million in 2007. If you add up all of the payments Clyde, Hinton, Terpko, Neibauer and Hutto have received since April 2011, you’d still come up more than $2 million short. Listen, I am married to a development professional, so I know how exciting it is to get a check that covers one-third of the goal you’re attempting to reach. But even with that $10 million, the Hall is still $8 million shy of its $30 million target.

The owners could have spent the money in a much more tangible way and proven that they care more about retirees than artifacts.

Comments

One Response to “Museum Artifacts More Important to MLB Than Pensionless Retirees”
  1. Kevin Pasley says:

    I too am a non vested player and I am frustrated with the fact that players prior to 1980 are not included. I still hold out faith that MLB plays Association and Major League Baseball will do the right thing and include the pre 1980 Major Leaguers.

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