Things aren’t going too well these days for Modesto’s Dennis DeBarr.
The 65-year-old DeBarr, who reportedly lost his parents in a traffic accident when he was a youngster, is a former Toronto Blue Jays hurler who has been confined to a local rehabilitation facility since mid-August.
How’d he wind up there? Well, according to his friend, Susan Amador, of Manteca, DeBarr, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes, developed a blister that wouldn’t heal; it later morphed into sepsis. Gangrene followed and, as a result, his left leg was amputated below the knee on August 13. He had additional surgery on September 12.
Considering what he’s been through, Amador marvels that his disposition is as cheery as it is. “He is shockingly positive most days.”
It is great that Amador, who set up a GoFundMe account for DeBarr, is going to bat for him, because the union representing today’s ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) surely has not.
DeBarr is one of the 641 souls without a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension. Through no fault of their own, men like DeBarr were victimized by a vesting rules change that occurred during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend.
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.
The problem is, the union forgot to ask for retroactivity for men like DeBarr, who was only on a MLB roster for two months, from May to July 1977. In 14 appearances, he hurled 21 and one-third innings.
So since April 2011, all DeBarr and 640 other men have been receiving 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.
So at most, DeBarr gets a gross check of $1,000 every February for having played the game he loved.
Meanwhile, the maximum allowable pension a retired MLB player who is vested can make is currently $220,000.
And here’s the kicker: that payment to the 641 pension less retirees can’t be passed on to the man’s loved ones when he passes. So when DeBarr passes, his son from a prior message gets squat.
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.
MLB – which doesn’t have to negotiate about this issue in collective bargaining – is in a position to help all these men if it really wanted to. The league 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.
And the players? The average player made $4.47 million last season. The minimum salary goes up to $555,000 in 2019.
Upon hearing of DeBarr’s plight, I dashed off an email to Erik Nilsen, the executive director of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT). He assured me that BAT “was on it.”
And Nilsen will no doubt help. However, it is anathema to me why the MLBPA doesn’t want to share more of its wealth with these non-vested men. 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 DeBarrs of the world the little bone they’ve been doling out.
DeBarr may be missing part of a limb, but the union is missing its humanity.