DO THE (UNION) HUSTLE

 

How many fans of The Cleveland Indians remember Wayne Cage? Probably not a lot.

 

He played for the Tribe back before we were all debating the merits of hustle, and whether Manny Machado’s lack of it will cost him dearly this off season, as he markets himself as a free agent.

 

Back then, you always hustled. You did or you sat. Or worse, you were released.

 

These days, however, the inmates are running the asylum.  I don’t know whether I’d cast Tony Clark, of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) in the role of a male Nurse Ratched, but he’s hustling a lot of people out of money.

 

Cage is one of the 641 retirees who currently don’t receive pensions from having played Major League Baseball (MLB).

Mr. Cage doesn’t receive a traditional pension from MLB because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Cage and the other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947–1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

 

Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

 

In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000.

 

Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $220,000, according to the IRS.

 

To date, the MLBPA has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Though a post-1980 retiree I’m friendly with told me that the MLBPA’s welfare and pensions benefits fund is now valued at more than $3.5 billion, Clark has still never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.

 

He’s obviously quite content hustling the old timers.

 

Besides Cage, an African American who now lives in Louisiana, there are men like Bill Murphy (an African American who played for the New York Mets) and Cuno Barragan (a Mexican American who played for the Cubs) and Dave Roberts (a native of Panama City, Panama who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates) who stood on picket lines and endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks so today’s players can be set for life in free agency?

 

Are you listening Manny? For that matter, are staunch union guys like Corey Kluber listening?

 

I don’t know what Clark, who in 2016 received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, is thinking here. Doesn’t it seem a little hypocritical to receive an award named to honor one of arguably the greatest pioneers in race relations and social justice this country has ever known, than hose a man like Cage?

 

This is no way for a billion dollar industry to act. Each club is currently valued at $1.56 billion, up 19 percent from 2016, the league minimum salary is rising to $565,000 in 2019 and the average big leaguer is paid $4.4 million.

 

Our national pastime is a big business, even if it is exempt from federal anti-trust laws.

 

The least the suits who run the game can do is share their considerable wealth with the men and their families who weren’t fortunate enough to play prior to free agency.

 

That’s not only good business. It’s the right thing to do.

 

I’m sure Wayne Cage would agree.

 

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