George Theodore dislocates his hip after colliding with Don Hahn in July 1973 game at Shea. (Dan Farrell/News)

Opening The Door On The Plight Of Pensionless MLB Ballplayers

Welcome Douglas Gladstone, guest commentator, as he unveils the plight of pensionless ballplayers, ignored by MLB and left helpless by the Player’s Union. 

For the past nine years, I have been attempting to get justice for retired, pensionless baseball players who clearly don’t appreciate the fact that they have been forsaken by both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA). Through no fault of their own, these men were victimized by a vesting rules change that occurred during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend.

At the time, ballplayers such as the New York Mets’ George “The Stork” Theodore, Bobby Pfeil, Rod Gaspar, Hank Webb, and Dave Schneck, as well as the New York Yankees’ Rich Hinton and Ross Moschitto, needed to accrue four years of service credit; that was what anyone who played between 1947 – 1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

Rod Gaspar, member 1969 Mets Photo Credit:SportsTalk1240
Rod Gaspar, member 1969 Mets Photo Credit:SportsTalk1240

But during that weekend, the vesting requirement was lowered to one game day to be eligible to buy into the league’s health insurance plan and just 43 game days on an active MLB roster for a pension. As a result, the maximum allowable pension a retired MLB player who is vested can make is currently $220,000.

However, the union failed to request that this sweetheart of a deal be made retroactive for the men like the Stork.

Consequently, since April 2011, all Theodore, Pfeil and 640 others receive are non-qualified retirement payments based on the following formula: for every quarter of service a man has accrued, which is defined as 43 game days of service, he gets $625. And that payment is before taxes are taken out. These men are also not eligible to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance coverage plan.

Despite having a pension and welfare fund that one post-1980 player recently told me is valued at nearly $3.5 billion, the MLBPA has been loath to divvy up more of the collective pie. Consequently, many of the impacted retirees are filing for bankruptcies at advanced ages, having their homes foreclosed on and are so poor and sickly they cannot afford adequate health insurance coverage.

The union is clearly the elephant in the room. And the pensionless ballplayers are the mice.

Tony Clark, Head, Major League Player's Association
Tony Clark, Head, Major League Player’s Association

This elephant also has a lousy memory. It has forgotten that unions are supposed to take care of the hard-working men and women it represents. And while the MLBPA doesn’t owe retirees what is legally called the duty of fair representation, the union once did represent these men, all of whom paid union dues.

Surely that should count for more than the peanuts they’ve been thrown by this elephant.

Some jaded types claim the men like the Stork are not entitled to anything else. Nonsense. Theodore may not have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, but he did something that only 11,000 others have done since 1947, namely, play in the major leagues.

Theodore’s contributions to baseball need to be validated, not thrown away like we would when we dispose of trash in the garbage dump. ‘Cause that’s what many of these men feel the league and the union think they are: disposable garbage.

The average player made $4.47 million last season. The minimum salary goes up to $555,000 in 2019.

So it is anathema to me why the MLBPA doesn’t want to share more of its wealth with these non-vested men. Sure, they don’t have to. But considering that many of these players stood on picket lines, went without paychecks and frequently endured labor stoppages all so that a Clayton Kershaw could benefit from free agency and command $31.17 million last season, I would think they’d want to do more than just throw the mice the little scraps of cheese they’ve been doling out.

South African cleric Desmond Tutu once said that “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

“If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality,” he continued.

A freelance magazine writer, Douglas J. Gladstone is also the author of two books, including “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” You can visit his website at www.gladstonewriter.com

Editor’s Note: 

The problem deepens when the discussion turns to minor league ballplayers. A former minor league ballplayer explains in vivid and crushing detail…

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