August 20, 2019

This Con is On Us

December 28, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Craig Calcaterra, who is NBC Sports’ lead baseball writer, wears his journalistic principles on his sleeve. Like a badge of honor, Calcaterra’s Twitter profile notes that “journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed.”

Calcaterra’s website points out he worked for such Columbus firms as Thompson Hine, L.L.P and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. He was also an Assistant Attorney General for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Calcaterra, who I have never spoken to, is clearly an accomplished individual. So it is a head scratcher why he has not written about the 641 retirees without Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions.

For several years, I have emailed Calcaterra. I have tweeted him. Yet I have not received so much as an acknowledgement.

Like Mr. Calcaterra, there are sports journalists today who are seemingly hesitant to report about this situation. All the retirees –including former Cleveland Indians David Clyde and Wayne Cage, as well as former Cincinnati Reds pitchers Santo Alcala and Tom Carroll — are receiving is $625 for every 43 game days of service they were on an active MLB roster. Meanwhile, a pension for someone who is fully vested is worth as much as $220,000 per year, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The average salary of today’s player is $4.47 million. The minimum salary rises to $555,000 next year. And let’s not forget each team is currently valued at $1.54 billion—an increase of 19 percent over 2016. The 30 owners even wrote a recent $10 million check to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Essentially, MLB chose relics over retirees.

I am constantly told that today’s sports journalists are afraid of losing their access to the teams they cover. But in their refusal to take the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) and MLB to task for not awarding pensions to these men, after an averted 1980 players’ strike changed the vesting rules requirements, it is my opinion that today’s sports journalists are abrogating their responsibilities and doing a disservice to their readers.

“It is much harder to be a liberal than a conservative,” the late Mike Royko wrote. “Why? Because it is easier to give someone the finger than a helping hand.”

Like Royko, I have always believed that, if possible, people in a position of power should help people who are not. Yet the executive director of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, refuses to help these men. Giving them a real wage of $10,000 per man is what I have suggested, since all the men who played prior to 1947 – the year the players’ pension fund was established – received that sum. So there’s precedent. And since no widow or loved one is allowed to keep the payment when the man dies, I have also suggested allowing the monies to be passed to a designated beneficiary for a finite time.

The MLBPA is against that because it would mean less money for their current dues paying members. Of course, the MLBPA brass doesn’t have a problem with earning the big bucks themselves – according to a recent IRS filing, the 72 MLBPA staff members collected $16 million in salary and benefits.

Many of the affected retirees stood on picket lines so Manny Machado and Bryce Harper could earn huge free agency contracts. Are either of them going to squawk if $10,000 is awarded to a retiree like Clyde? Given the game’s economy, that’s chump change.

Remember the late Jim Murray? He wrote a column about the 1982 game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in which snowplow operator Mark Henderson, a convicted criminal on work release, cleared a spot on the field so the Patriots’ field goal kicker could kick a game-winning three-pointer to give the Patriots the victory. While Henderson joked that nothing could be done to him – “What are they gonna do, throw me in prison?” – it was Murray who protested the sudden celebrity that was being accorded Henderson. Murray revealed in an article that Henderson had taken a bunch of items that were the sort of priceless family heirlooms nobody would want stolen.

Like Murray, I have always believed that it is the media’s role to educate people about the issues. To give them the complete picture That is why the failure of scribes such as Calcaterra to write about this egregious injustice is so disconcerting.

A freelance magazine writer and journalist, Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books, including 2010’s “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” A new edition of that book is due out in early 2019.

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