Mets And Moneyball

Mets Pensionless Players (Part IV): The Compelling Story Of Hank Webb

Former New York Mets pitcher Hank Webb is one of the 641 retired men who played Major League Baseball (MLB) who isn’t receiving an MLB pension.

For Mets fans and fans of baseball, here is the story of Hank Webb.

The league – which does not have to address this matter unless the union representing today’s players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), broaches it in collective bargaining negotiations — recently announced that its revenue was up 325 percent from 1992 and that it has made $500 million since 2015. What’s more, the average value of each of the 30 clubs is up 19 percent from 2016, to $1.54 billion.  So the national pastime is in good shape financially.

Hank Webb, Pitcher New York Mets Photo Credit: Bleacher Report
Hank Webb, Pitcher New York Mets Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

Men like former Mets player Webb, a Copiague native who also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, are in this position because of a rules change that occurred during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend. At the time, a player needed four years of service credit to be eligible for both health coverage and a pension.

A strike was averted that weekend after the union accepted the following offer— moving forward, all a player would need to be eligible to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan was one game day of service on an active MLB roster. Further, all a player would need to be eligible for a monthly pension was 43 game days on an active MLB roster.

Unfortunately, the union never requested that this change be made retroactive for the men who had more than 43 game days but less than four years of service. In April 2011, the league and union agreed to partially remedy this injustice. For each 43 game days of service a pre-1980 player was credited with, he’d receive $625, up to a maximum of $10,000. And that is before taxes are taken out.

Meanwhile, a vested retiree can receive a maximum pension of $220,000. And his payment can be passed on to his widow or loved ones or designated beneficiaries. And be permitted to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan.

The MLBPA has been loath to divvy up any more 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 ever to hold that position — 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.

Former Mets player Webb, whose son Ryan will receive an MLB pension when he ultimately hangs up his spikes, used to be the executive director of the Clearwater for Youth, a social services group in the Tampa, Florida area. He took care of the future generation. But nobody at the offices of the players’ association, at 12 East 49th Street in New York City, apparently wants to take care of him.

Unions are supposed to help hardworking women and men in this country get a fair shake in life. But the so-called MLBPA labor leader doesn’t seem to want to help anyone but himself — Clark receives an MLB pension AND an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits, for being the head of the union.

Now does that seem fair to you? It doesn’t to men like Webb.

Written by Doug Gladstone for Reflections On Baseball

Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” His website is www.gladstonewriter.com

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