Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This cup of coffee is hard to swallow for ex-Major Leaguers

A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve
Douglas J. Gladstone -
Word Association Publishers, 2010.
192 pp.

For the 874 retired Major League Baseball players who played between 1947 and 1979 that did not play long enough to qualify for a pension, they have been left with an awful taste in their mouths over the amended vesting requirements of the 1980 contract. Players who entered Major League Baseball after 1980 have only needed one day of service credit for health benefits and 43 days to be eligible for a retirement allowance.

Douglas Gladstone's new book, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee", released in April 2010 by Word Association Publishers, details the plight of the aforementioned players, many of whom are of retirement age, in their quest to get the Major League Baseball Players Association to retroactively amend the vesting requirement to include them. In an April 2010 interview with the author, Gladstone reveals his impetus for championing the causes of those that came along too early. "I hope that my book would in some small way, change the landscape for these guys. These 874 guys, they're dying at a rate of three per month. They're not getting any younger. Given the economy, alot could use pensions to supplement their income. These guys were dues paying members, and now they're being told that all of their contributions went for naught."

His journey began innocently last year with an interview of Jimmy Qualls, who was the young rookie that broke up Tom Seaver's perfect game in 1969. Gladstone described how he was stumped by Qualls when the subject of a pension came up. "Last year was the anniversary of Tom Seaver's "imperfect game". I did some research, knowing that Seaver now has this large vineyard in Napa Valley, but that Jimmy Qualls had it hard after baseball. It seemed to be a perfect David vs. Goliath image, Seaver went to the Hall of Fame, and Qualls is struggling. For the piece, I interviewed Qualls and we had two to three sessions of about 30-45 minutes each. In the last one, he just innocently said, 'Mr. Gladstone, I had a great career in the show. I'm happy, just a country farmer. I just wish I had received a pension.' I knew a little bit about vesting. I asked him why he thought he deserved one when he wasn't clearly vested. He said, 'you don't understand, it's not as cut and dry. Number one, I could accept that it was not mine to begin with. Number two, in 1980, they gave instant pension eligibility, and they never changed the vesting requirements. In 1997, MLB conferred as charitable donations, payments to veterans of the Negro Leagues. I just think it's unfair that they never retroactively amended it.'"

Gladstone wanted to find out if there were other players out there who felt strongly about baseball's failure to include their predecessors in their pension amendments. He wasn't aware they gave Negro Leaguers these pensions, but this book isn't about race. According to him, this is an issue of legal interpretations. "To me this is an employment and labor law issue. You can't give a pension to people who had no contractual relationship with this employer." While some may argue that because Major League Baseball coded the payments to the Negro Leaguers as "charitable contributions" that a precedent wasn't set, but how were they funded ahead of members that actually paid into the system?

"A Bitter Cup of Coffee" seeks to answer why these men have been rebuked by their own union and fellow family of baseball players. With the large salaries going to current players who are immediately vested into the pension program, couldn't they spare a little bit of their future earnings for those who paved the way before them?

With the issues of retroactively adjusting the vesting requirements on the table for the 2011 collective bargaining negotiations, Gladstone has posed the following questions to the current union reps. "I would ask every ballplayer who has been a player rep since 1980, to look into their heart, and look into their soul and say to them, why didn't you do this? Is it a question that you didn't want your piece of the pie diminished? Would paying these guys detract from the revenue share stream that you are going to get? I would hate to hear that come out of the mouth of any current ballplayer. I really hope that isn't the current prevailing attitude. The other question I raise, is have these guys even been told about this? The guys on the pension committee, they really believe to a man, that Donald Fehr and Marvin Miller to a lesser extent, never told these guys about the situation. Whatever occurred, either scenario is reprehensible."

Let's see if during the next series of contract negotiations that the MLBPA rights this wrong. Gladstone's "A Bitter Cup of Coffee" is definitely one that will fire up discussions in hot stoves across the country.

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