MLB Pensions: A Story About Players Who Have Been Left Behind

MLB Pensions

MLB pensions are the gold standard for athletes. But the Lords of Baseball don’t treat everyone equally. This story tells of those left behind.

Doug Gladstone - Guest Columnist
Doug Gladstone – Guest Columnist

Today’s guest columnist is Doug Gladstone, who writes passionately about the MLB pension system and, in particular, about the men who played the game, only to be left behind without a piece of the pie. Reflections On Baseball is proud to publish Mr. Gladstone’s essay today. (Steve Contursi)

This story about MLB Pensions begins on September 26, 1963, when, at the age of 20, Larry Yellen made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut when he pitched for the Houston Colt .45s — the precursor to the Houston Astros.

In 26 innings, he appeared in 14 games during his career, which lasted until the following year. All but two of his appearances were in relief.

A graduate of Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, New York, as well as Hunter College of the City University of New York, Mr. Yellen was born in Brooklyn on January 4, 1943. When he pitched for Hunter College’s baseball team – the “Hawks” —he was named the squad’s most valuable player two years in a row.

Larry Yellen, Former MLB Pitcher (Baseball America)
Larry Yellen, Former MLB Pitcher (Baseball America)

Yellen’s time playing Major League Baseball (MLB) might otherwise be forgotten were it not for the fact that he is among over 600 retirees who aren’t receiving MLB pensions.

Other Jewish men who are in the same boat include Don Taussig, an outfielder who played for the Houston Astros, the San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals, Stephen Hertz, a former member of the Houston Colt .45s who went on to manage the Tel Aviv Lightning in the Israeli Baseball League and Dick Sharon, who played for the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres.

Fast forward to today, and I’m wondering whether the highly respected New York Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is among several Jews playing baseball this season,  knows anything about this shonda.*

When I tweeted former Mets outfielder  Art Shamsky (below) last year, he didn’t know anything about it. And to date, new Mets owner Steve Cohen refuses to acknowledge any of the tweets I’ve sent him about it.

Art Shamsky, Former New York Mets Outfielder (Baseball America)
Art Shamsky, Former New York Mets Outfielder (Baseball America)

Pillar, who was a free agent this past off-season, currently makes a reported salary of $3.6 million with the Mets. That’s the great thing about free agency. Financially, you can set yourself up for the rest of your life.

Just ask New York Yankees ace Gerritt Cole; during the 2019 off-season, he signed a nine-year contract with the Bronx Bombers for $324 million. He will earn $36 million each year for almost a decade.

When Yellen, Taussig, Hertz, and Sharon played, there was no such thing as free agency.

Pillar and Cole are members of the union representing current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). But the MLBPA hasn’t lifted a finger to help all the men like Sharon, whose top salary in the game was a whopping $19,000.

Mind you; I don’t begrudge Cole and Pillar one penny. But the guys like Yellen and Hertz paved the way for the stars like them to command the salaries that are being handed out these days. They’re the ones who stood on picket lines, endured labor stoppages, and went without paychecks, so even the 25th man on the roster this year could earn a minimum salary of $565,500. The average salary in the game is approximately $4 million.

But for sheer outrageousness, according to its own 2015 Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the MLBPA paid its 72 staff salaries totaling $16 million. The union’s executive director, former Tigers All-Star Tony Clark, who was a former bench jockey for the Mets and Yankees, and receives a compensation package, including benefits, totaling more than $2.2 million.

MLB Pensions - Some Get Left Behind - Like Dick Sharon (Baseball America)
MLB Pensions – Some Get Left Behind – Like Dick Sharon (Baseball America)

Unions are supposed to take care of working men and women. But the MLBPA is too busy doling out top-shelf salaries to itself at the expense of men like Yellen and Hertz.

What’s wrong with this picture?

See, the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Since 1980, all you’ve needed is 43 games on an active MLB roster to earn a pension. But Yellen and Hertz and all the other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947-1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

In brief, MLB pensions accumulate for every 43 game days of service a man has accrued on an active MLB roster; he gets $625, up to $10,000. And that payment is before taxes are taken out. Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $230,000, according to the IRS.

What’s more, the payment cannot be passed on to a spouse or designated beneficiary. So none of Mr. Yellen’s loved ones will receive the bone he is being thrown when he dies.

And because the league is under no obligation to collectively bargain about this item, if the retired men are to be helped, it is the union that has to go to bat for them.

Kevin, are you mad about this disgrace? Are you mad enough to speak out about it?

Ta-gid li Kevin. Please ta-gid li.**

* Hebrew for disgrace.

**Hebrew for “Tell me.”

Editor’s Note

This link connects with a story and video featuring Doug Gladstone and a story that appeared in Spectrum News 1 (Albany, New York), and was written by Terry Stackhouse in 2017.

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And Thank You For Sharing –
Steve Contursi
– Story Teller



Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.