Greenwood’s Benjamin Franklin “Ben” Johnson is getting hosed by Major League Baseball (MLB) as well as the union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA).
A former pitcher with the 1959 and 1960 Chicago Cubs, the 87 year-old appeared in 21 games, two of which were starts, hurled 46 innings, won two games and saved another.
Johnson, who resides on Locksley Drive, spent a total of 16 seasons both before and after his MLB career in the minor leagues toiling for big league affiliates in such places as Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Fort Worth, Texas, Syracuse, New York and Atlanta, Georgia.
As that other Ben Franklin once said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”
Sage words. The problem is, all those stops in the minors hasn’t helped Ben Johnson have a pension.
See, because he played prior to 1980 and hadn’t accrued the necessary four years of service credit needed to be vested, Johnson isn’t getting a 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 Johnson who accrued between 43 game days of service but less than four years of service, were left out in the cold. Regrettably, the MLBPA forgot to request retroactivity for these pre-1980 men.
And service in the minor leagues cannot be credited to your MLB pension. So Johnson’s 16 seasons in the minors doesn’t add up to a plug nickel.
In April 2011, men like Johnson 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.
A cynic or jaded person might suggest Johnson isn’t entitled to anything else. Nonsense. Johnson spent 16 years getting seasoning.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 Johnson’s time?
As a result, once Johnson 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; Johnson may go to his own grave knowing that the game he loved didn’t love him back.
What can you do about this terrible situation? Well, considering today is Halloween, you can play a trick on union pension liaison Steve Rogers — the 1980 National League Players’ Representative who helped sell these men down the river in the first place — by calling him at 646-430-2112 and hanging up. Just hang up the phone. Consider doing it multiple times, like every hour on the hour. He’s been known to hang up on people who call to talk about this matter, so I figure turnabout is fair play.
As for union executive director Tony Clark, the former All-Star first baseman whose silence on this issue is deafening, send him a rock. Charlie Brown got rocks when he went door to door on Halloween, and Clark clearly has rocks in his head when it comes to this issue, so that can be the treat he gets. The union’s offices are located at 12 East 49th Street in New York City.
After all. as that other Franklin also said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”