Three weeks from today, on November 22, John Glen Morlan turns 71-years-old. A quick check of the calendar says that is indeed Thanksgiving Day, which of course is when we reflect on what we are grateful for and give thanks to those who make our lives so special.
So when Americans come together that day to eat their turkey, I know 641 guys who will be giving Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball Players’ Association Executive Director Tony Clark and Major League Baseball Players’ Alumni Association Executive Director Dan Foster the bird.
Morlan is one of the 641 souls without a MLB pension. Through no fault of their own, men like Morlan 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 Morlan, a former Pittsburgh Pirates hurler who appeared in 49 games during his career; in 106 innings of work, he recorded two wins and pitched one complete game.
Since April 2011, all Morlan 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, Morlan 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 Morlan passes, his wife, Susan, 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.
As for Foster, his group is supposed to go to bat for baseball’s alumni. Instead, the group raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to help the future generation.
Which is all fine and dandy. As the parent of a student athlete, I appreciate the commendable work the MLBPAA does. But I’d appreciate Foster a whole heckuva lot more if he showed some spine — he was once an executive for MLB Advanced Media, and obviously knows where his bread is buttered — and helped the men like Morlan too.
It is anathema to me why the national pastime 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 free agents like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado can sign some outrageous contract this off-season, I would think that the game would want to do more than just throw the Morlans of the world the little bone they’ve been doling out.