August 24, 2019

How Jeter Can Be Like Teddy Ballgame

July 30, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

On July 25, 1966, Ted Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On July 26, 2020, it’s a near certainty that former New York Yankees shortstop and current Miami Marlins chief executive officer and part owner Derek Jeter will join him.

What’s not nearly as clear is the kind of induction speech Jeter, who grew up in Kalamazoo, will give. But if he really wants to follow in the Splendid Splinter’s footsteps, all he has to do is invoke the memory of the social justice activism that Williams delivered 53 years ago, especially the 36 word closing part that turned heads:

I hope that someday Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro Players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.

On that day, Williams went to bat for all the great persons of color who, because of the color of their skin, were not permitted to play our national pastime until the late Jackie Robinson broke that barrier in 1947.

Of course, baseball was just a mirror image of the institutional racism that affected this country seven plus decades ago. Some would say that racism still persists in sports as well as in life now. But that doesn’t mean it should.

Something else that shouldn’t be tolerated: ageism. That is especially true in a sport whose ratings depend on its older fans watching the games being played. According to data recently released by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Magna Global, the average age of a baseball viewer is 57, up from 52 in 2006. Of the top major sports, the national pastime has the oldest viewers, with 50 percent of its audience 55 or older, according to the Nielsen ratings. The average age of baseball viewers is 53, compared with 47 for the NFL and 37 for the NBA.

Yet for a sport that relies heavily on its old-timers, Major League Baseball (MLB) sure treats its retired players disrespectfully. That is because there are 628 former players, such as 70-year-old Steve Grilli being hosed out of pensions by the league and the players’ association. And how’s this for irony: his son, Jason Grilli also played in The Show and will receive an MLB pension. Both Grillis pitched for the Detroit Tigers.

Because they played before 1980, when the vesting rules changed, all the men like Steve Grilli have been getting since 2011 are non-qualified life annuities of $625 for every 43 game days they were on an active roster, up to $10,000. Meanwhile, the maximum IRS pension limit is $225,000.

Neither the league nor the union representing today’s players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) want to do anything more to help these retirees; in fact, the nonqualified annuity payment cannot be passed on to a designated beneficiary. So when Steve Grilli passes on, the payment he is currently receiving won’t go to any family member, such as his wife, Kathleen.

Onetime Tigers second baseman Chuck Scrivener is in the same boat. So is Cass High School alum Carmen Fanzone. When both of those men pass, their payments pass with them. So Barbara Scrivener and Sue Raney Fanzone will each get squat.

To date, the MLBPA has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though the players’ welfare and benefits fund is worth more than $3.5 billion, the union’s executive director, former Tigers first baseman Tony Clark, has never commented about this situation, though many of the retirees 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.

In my opinion, Jeter is just the person to deliver a ringing indictment against baseball’s version of elder abuse. Known for his good nature, Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation is devoted to supporting positive role models for children. As a result, in 2009, Jeter received both the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award and MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award for excellence in both baseball and community service. Five years later, Fortune Magazine named Jeter to its list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. According to the magazine, Jeter is “the type of role model player that even a Red Sox fan must grudgingly respect.”

Teddy Ballgame would no doubt agree.

Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance writer and author of two books, including A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve. His website is located at www.gladstonewriter.com

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