The same union representing today’s baseball players that only nine years ago stuck out a tin cup and went panhandling for monies from the United States government when its funding level was only 48 percent now refuses to help 640 non-vested retired men without Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions.
Talk about chutzpah. Talk about unmitigated gall. Let’s talk about the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA).
The retirees, such as David Clyde, Carmen Fanzone, George “The Stork” Theodore, Bob “The Macaroni Pony” Coluccio, Gene Hiser, Jim Ollom, Gary Neibauer and Tom Bruno, are in this position as a result of a rules change that occurred during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend. At the time, a player needed four years of service credit to be eligible for both health coverage and a pension. A strike was averted after the MLBPA accepted the following offer— moving forward, all a player would need to be eligible to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan was one game day of service on an active MLB roster. Further, all a player would need to be eligible for a monthly pension was 43 game days on an active MLB roster.
Unfortunately, MLBPA never requested that this change be made retroactive for the men who had more than 43 game days but less than four years of service. So in April 2011, MLB and MLBPA agreed to partially remedy this injustice. For each 43 game days of service a pre-1980 player was credited with, he’d receive $625, up to a maximum of $10,000. And that is before taxes are taken out.
Meanwhile, a vested retiree can receive a maximum pension of $220,000. And his payment can be passed on to his widow or loved ones or designated beneficiaries. And be permitted to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan.
The MLBPA has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Though one retired player recently told me that the players’ pension and welfare fund is currently valued at more than $3.5 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark has 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.
Clark’s refusal to go to bat for these non-vested men and their families is especially troubling since the union would have profited from 2010 legislation that was tantamount to a taxpayer subsidized $165 billion bailout of organized labor, including the MLBPA and the Teamsters.
In and of itself, Pennsylvania United States Senator Bob Casey’s “Create Jobs & Save Benefits Act” was a well-intentioned measure. The problem was Senator Casey’s bill would have shifted the unfunded liabilities of the players union pension fund — widely regarded as being among the best funded plans in the nation — to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Which means ordinary folks like you and me would have been responsible for bailing out ballplayers like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, each of whom are expected to score big contracts any day. And even if you’re not a free agent superstar, the average ballplayer makes $4.47 million; even the minimum salary goes up to $555,000 this season.
Fortunately, Casey’s measure, as well as a companion bill in the House of Representative, never made it to their respective chambers for a floor vote.
I have no problem with unions. They advocate on behalf of the working men and women and their families in this country who pay taxes.
I have no problem with the MLBPA rank and file either. My problem is when a union leader like Clark doesn’t seem to want to help anyone but himself – he receives a MLB pension AND an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits, for being the head of the union.
Unions are supposed to help hard working women and men in this country get a fair shake in life. It’s about time Mr. Clark remembers that.
Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” An updated version of the book is scheduled to be released this month.