Jerry Nyman was a major league lifer. After pitching for the Chicago White Sox in 1968 and 1969, as well as the 1970 San Diego Padres, he began developing young arms in the minor league organizations of the Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs in places such as Idaho Falls, Idaho, Salinas, California, Burlingon, Iowa and Lexington, Kentucky.
So the symbolism was not lost on me when I came upon this article published in this newspaper on November 17, 2017 that profiled Nyman in his new career as a groundskeeper for the Fort Missoula Post Cemetery.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s honest work, and somebody has to do it. Heck, for years while I was growing up, I regularly read that former Pittsburgh Pirates star third baseman Richie Hebner spent his offseason digging graves.
Yet because he played prior to 1980 and hadn’t accrued the necessary four years of service credit needed to be vested in the MLB pension plan, Nyman isn’t getting a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension.
As a result of a vesting change that occurred during the Memorial Day Weekend, players who accrued at least 43 game days of service after 1980 are currently guaranteed a MLB pension. The league also averted a strike by agreeing that, going forward, all that a player needed to be eligible to buy into the league’s health insurance plan was one game day of service on an active MLB roster.
But men like Nyman, who accrued between 43 game days of service but less than four years of service, were left out in the cold. Regrettably, the union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, forgot to request retroactivity for these pre-1980 men.
And service in the minor leagues cannot be credited to your MLB pension. So all that time Nyman spent helping others mature as pitchers doesn’t help him one bit.
A cynic or jaded person might suggest Nyman isn’t entitled to anything else. Nonsense. Nyman spent parts of six seasons in the minors. As Staten Island, New York business consultant Marc Weiss frequently reminds me, when someone is working as an apprentice in a union, he or she is covered by the union’s benefits. So why doesn’t this union honor Nyman’s time toiling in the minors?
In April 2011, men like Nyman began receiving $625 for every 43 game days they spent on an active MLB roster, up to 16 quarters. However, unlike a real pension, which can be passed on to a spouse or other designated beneficiary or loved one, that payment is discontinued when the man dies.
As a result, once Nyman passes – and we hope that isn’t for a very long time — when the non-qualified payments are disbursed every February, whoever he has designated as his beneficiary won’t receive a plug nickel. No spousal benefits, no health insurance, no nuthin.
Meanwhile, if you’re vested, the maximum pension is $220,000.
The irony should not be lost on anyone; Nyman may go to his own grave knowing that the game he gave his life for didn’t care one fig about him.