April 21, 2021

C’mon Steve, The Pre-1980 Players Need You To Become Their Captain America

January 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

During his playing days, former Montreal Expos ace Steve Rogers was a great pitcher. That’s undeniable. Oh sure, he gave up that game-winning home run to Rick Monday in the fifth game of the 1981 National League Championship Series,  but other than that, he had a great career. He’s been a lot less effective as a special assistant to the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

For example, consider his gem in response to a reporter’s question about what the players union was doing to help all those pre-1980, non-vested ballplayers I wrote about in my 2010 book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve:

There are now guys from the 1950s and 1960s who are earning benefits that are five or 10 times higher than what they earned while they were playing,” Rogers told the Los Angeles Times’ Greg Johnson in an article that was published on February 27, 2007. “Each time we negotiate, we try to reach back a minimum of 10 years to get current benefits extended in time.”

So Steve, if that’s true, how come the pre-1980 players still haven’t been retroactively restored into pension coverage? Huh?  How come? In case you didn’t know, in April 2011, the union and the league announced with much fanfare that the pre-1980, non-vested ballplayers — those players who didn’t accrue four years of service — would each receive up to $10,000 in nonqualified, life annuity payments for their time in “The Show,” based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounted to the maximum, $10,000. And that payment was before taxes were taken out. Take a guy like Rich Hinton, of Sarasota, Florida for example. He’s credited with 3 1/2 years of service. His gross payment is $8,625. His net is a whopping $6,262.

I say whopping in a facetious manner, because the current IRS limit on pensions like those disbursed by the players pension plan is $210,000. These payments stop when the player dies. Their spouses or other designated beneficiaries don’t continue to get them. And they’re not permitted to be part of the league’s health insurance plan either. So someone like Sarasota native Jack Voight, who last laced up his cleats in 1998, after debuting in 1992, gets a pension. But Hinton doesn’t.

Now please, don’t blame Major League Baseball. The league doesn’t have to negotiate over this issue. Neither, for that matter, does the union. I am the first to acknowledge that Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark doesn’t owe these retired players the “duty of fair representation,” namely, he doesn’t have to be their legal advocate.

But someone has to. Dan Foster’s group out in Colorado, the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, isn’t interested in doing anything on their behalf. They hold golf outings and youth clinics, and that’s about it. Let’s just all acknowledge that the MLBPA either can’t (or won’t) go to bat for these 800 men for fear that, either the league will turn them down, or there will be less pieces of the money pie, a.k.a. gravy train, to divvy up among their current dues paying members.

Steve, these guys — your former peers, those men you played with and against — are just looking for you to do right by them. Men like your former teammate, Michael Wegener. In case you didn’t know, Mr. Wegener was reportedly diagnosed in 1991 with stage three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the sixth most form of cancer among males. As of last May, his cancer was in remission for the second time. A pension would let him be covered by the same great health insurance plan that you’re covered under Steve.

Retroactively restoring Wegener into pension coverage would also allow his benefit payments to be passed on to his wife, Marcia, or daughter, Michelle, in the event that G-d forbid something ever happens to him. But nobody wishes anything bad to happen. Sounds like the Wegeners have had more than their share of bad luck. So c’mon Steve. The (base)ball is in your court. The pre-1980 players need you to become their Captain America. Hey, it doesn’t even have to be Cap. Pick a superhero. Any Marvel superhero will do. Except The Hulk.

These men are angry enough. They feel betrayed by the union they paid dues to.

Besides, you don’t want to make these guys even angrier than they already are. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.


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