One hundred sixty-two years ago, on May 22, 1856, United States Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was caned in the Senate chambers by United States Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.
Brooks put the hurt on Sumner that day because a relative of his, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, was purportedly insulted by Sumner in a speech he delivered on the Senate floor three days prior to the beating.
I have no idea whether Tony Clark, the executive director of the union representing today’s major league ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), is aware of that fact, but it sometimes seems to me that he enjoys hurting 641 retired big leaguers who aren’t receiving pensions from having played Major League Baseball (MLB).
Through no fault of their own, these men 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 the men who played prior to 1980.
So since April 2011, all these 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.
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 one of these men passes, his widow or loved one or designated beneficiary gets squat.
So when Sonny Ruberto died four years ago, at a hospice center in Ave Maria, Florida, whatever the amount of his pittance of a payment was didn’t get passed on to any of his loved ones. The former backup catcher for the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds was only 68-years-old when he succumbed to cancer.
These men are also not eligible to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance coverage plan, either.
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.
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 Los Angeles Dodgers ace 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 them the little bone they’ve been doling out.
For instance, things haven’t been great for Orlando’s Bill Denehy, who shares his rookie card with Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Now legally blind, he gets around using a seeing eye dog. After taxes, the bone Denehy receives each year amounts to $3,500.
But the silence you hear from Clark at the union’s offices at 12 East 49th Street in New York City is deafening. And that is all the more egregious considering this man earns a MLB pension to go along with his current executive director salary of $2.1 million, including benefits.
So Clark keeps putting the big hurt (albeit not Hall of Famer Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas) on these men, who at one point in time, during National Retirement Security Week in October 2009, numbered 1,045.
Denehy may be blind, but he sees that Clark is missing something — compassion.