December 12, 2017

Tony Clark’s Legacy Could Be Significant If…..

September 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Bob Sadowski was a pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves and Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. In a career that spanned 115 games, 54 of which he started, Sadowski won 20 games, collected eight saves and had a 3.87 Earned Run Average over 439 and two-third innings. Sadowski, who resides in Sharpsburg, Georgia, turned 79 earlier this year.  He recalls the time a fan from Evanston, Illinois wrote him requesting an autograph for his son. The man, adds Sadowski, even included a $10 check.

“I looked this fellow up in the phone book and called the guy and he couldn’t believe it,” he says, proudly. “He said, ‘Mister Sadowski, what an honor.’ And I said, Mister, I’m the one who should be honored that you thought so much of me to want my autograph for your boy. That’s payment enough for me. And he says, ‘But I already sent you a check.’ And I told him, I already sent it back.”

Baseball was simpler back then. Bob Sadowski remembers when baseball was a game. Baseball is a business now.

These days, promoters book retired players at card shows all the time. Just go to Cooperstown, New York during the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. You’ll find the greats of the game hawking their signatures on Main Street for cash. And in today’s world, Sadowski does not receive a pension from having played Major League Baseball (MLB). For the most part, baseball players nowadays are set for life. Vested retirees are able to earn as much as $210,000; even the minimum pension for someone who played after 1980 is a reported $34,000.

Except Sadowski played prior to 1980. Retired players like him only get $625 for every quarter of service credit of 43 game days they accrued, up to 16 quarters or $10,000. The first time he received a payment six year ago, Sadowski used it to purchase an air conditioner. Things must be going pretty bad for you if you don’t have an air conditioner in Georgia. Unlike a real pension, the non-qualified retirement benefit the pre-1980 retirees receive cannot be passed on to any of the players’ spouses, loved ones or designated beneficiaries; when the man dies, the payment dies with him.

Since they are not vested, these men are also not eligible to buy into the league’s generous health insurance plan, either. Sadowski and some 500 other retirees without MLB pensions are in this position because, during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend, a threatened players strike was averted when the late Ray Grebey, the negotiator for the league, made the following offer to the late Marvin Miller and Don Fehr of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) — going forward, every player would automatically qualify for a pension after 43 game days of service, and he’d qualify for health coverage after only one game day.

The problem for all the pre-1980 players was the proposal was never made retroactive. However, Ronald Dean, an employment benefits attorney who has argued cases before the State Supreme Appellate Court in California, is quoted as saying that “under ERISA it is perfectly permissible to make an amendment retroactive even if it then vests those who were previously unvested.” Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred concedes it can be done, but only in collective bargaining.

To date, the MLBPA has been loathe to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark — the first former player to ever hold that position, by the way —   has never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.

Clark is a widely respected, erudite figure. So it’s a head scratcher why he doesn’t want to go to bat for these men. When he received the coveted Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City last June, Clark, the former Detroit Tigers All-Star first baseman, referenced a quote from the late Muhammad Ali. “Success is what you achieve,” said Clark. “Your significance is what you leave.”

I hope Mr. Clark believes what he says. ‘Cause if he actually does something about this situation, he really would be leaving Bob Sadowski something of great significance. And that would be a nice achievement on his part.

Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books and multiple newspaper, magazine and webzine stories.

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