Showing posts with label MLBPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MLBPA. Show all posts

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When will MLB finally do right by all of its retirees?

This week's guest post is from author Douglas Gladstone, who wrote the 2010 book, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve." Here, Gladstone continues to make the case for Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to retroactively grant pensions to the declining number of major leaguers that played prior to 1980 that would now be eligible under current guidelines.

With the passing of the most recent collective bargaining agreement, the MLBPA willfully chose to ignore the plight of their elder alumni, many whom are struggling both financially and physically. As salaries rise to astronomical levels and the amounts of dues collected by the MLBPA annually continue to accrue, surely there is enough of a cushion to support these aging retirees caught in the pension gap.

The plight of the pensionless, non-vested pre-1980 retirees 
- Douglas Gladstone

THE ISSUE

Why does former Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Caleb Gindl get an MLB pension but retired Astros and Cardinals infielder Ray Busse does not?

Gindl only played parts of two seasons for the Brewers, in 2013 and 2014. He appeared in a total of 64 games and only had 151 career at bats. Why he is more deserving of a pension than Busse, who appeared in more games (68) and had more at bats (156) during the parts of three seasons (1971, 1973 and 1974) he spent in The Show?

Some 800 men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947-1980 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

Former Texas Ranger and Cleveland Indian pitcher David Clyde was only 37 game days shy, former Cleveland Indian pinch hitter supreme Don Dillard was only 17 game days shy; yet instead of a pension, these non-vested men receive non-qualified life annuities based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

David Clyde / Baseball Hall of Fame

In brief, for every quarter of service a man has accrued, he gets $625. Four quarters (one year) totals $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000. And that payment is before taxes are taken out.

When the player dies, the payment is not permitted to be passed on to a designated beneficiary, like a spouse or other loved one. Former Tigers first baseman Jack Pierce received two of the payments before he died in 2012. He left behind a wife, six children and six grand children.

And the non-vested player is not covered under the MLB's health care umbrella coverage plan, either. Former Expo pitcher Michael Wegener was reportedly diagnosed in 1991 with stage three non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the sixth most form of cancer among males. As of last May, his cancer was in remission for the second time. A pension would let him be covered by the same great health insurance plan men who receive pensions are covered by. Retroactively restoring Wegener into pension coverage would also allow his benefit payments to be passed on to his wife, Marcia, or daughter, Michelle, in the event that something ever happens to him.

By contrast, a player who played after 1980 is eligible for health coverage after one game day, and he's also eligible for a pension after 43 game days. These benefits can be passed on to a loved one or designated recipient.

Currently, the maximum annual pension allowable under the IRS is $210,000, but the non-vested, pre-1980 players don't even come close to making that. For instance, for his 3 1/2 years of service credit, former White Sox, Mariners, Reds and Yankees hurler Rich Hinton receives a gross check of $8,625. After taxes, it is an even smaller $6,262.

These men are all being penalized for playing in the majors at the wrong time.

THE BACKGROUND

The Major League Baseball pension fund was established on April 1, 1947. At the time it was enacted, you had to be on an active major league roster on that date to qualify for a pension, and the rules stipulated that you only needed five years to retire. Effective 1969, that total was reduced to four years to qualify.

During the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend, a threatened players’ walkout was averted when the league and the union agreed that players would be eligible for health benefits after only one day of service and a pension after 43 days — roughly one-quarter of a season.

The problem? The proposal was never made retroactive.

THE CONTROVERSY

In 1997, the MLB executive council created a payment plan for about 85 black players who didn’t play in the majors long enough to qualify for a pension, or who did not have the opportunity to play in the majors at all. To be eligible for their payments, the black players had to either play in the Negro Leagues for at least one season before 1948 or play a combined four years in the Negro Leagues and the major leagues before 1979.

The price tag associated with this magnanimous gesture? It amounted to annual payments of between $7,500 and $10,000 per player. That future got even brighter for the veterans of the Negro Leagues in 2004, when MLB agreed to make payments to more of these ballplayers on the grounds that baseball had not been totally integrated until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox became the last team to field a black player.

The terms of the agreement weren’t exactly the same as with the 1997 group of ex Negro Leaguers. Players who never played in the major leagues were given the option of electing to choose pensions totaling $375 per month ($4,500 annually) for life or $10,000 a year for four years.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of the retired pre-1980 players was later filed in October 2003 alleging that their Title VII rights had been violated. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The suit also contended that team owners conspired to fund pension benefits for a group of former Negro Leaguers knowing that the white players who had played similar lengths of time in the big leagues had not received the same benefits.

Though he found the players’ case “sympathetic,” U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in March 2004 ultimately granted MLB’s motion for a summary judgment, agreeing with the Commissioner’s Office that the payments for the former Negro players “were not tied to any MLB employment relationship, rather, they were conferred as charitable donations.”

Not surprisingly, the players appealed Real’s ruling and, on December 6, 2005, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court in California heard oral arguments from both sides. Less than six months later, on May 22, 2006, the court of appeals for the ninth circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Justice Stephen Reinhardt indicated that the players had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, given that the enactment of the Negro League plans did not constitute an adverse employment action and given that the two groups of players are not similarly situated.

“Even if appellants had made such a prima facie showing, we would conclude that Major League Baseball has provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-pre-textual reason for their decision to implement the Plans,” he continued. “The plans were adopted for the specific purpose of providing benefits to those who had been discriminated against by being denied the opportunity to play MLB and to qualify for MLB benefits.”

The lawyers representing the men in the class action lawsuit either didn't know that numerous African American players and persons of color -- such as Pierce, Wayne Cage, Aaron Pointer, the late Billy Harrell and, perhaps most famously, Herb Washington, were part of the pre-1980 players, or they conveniently chose to overlook that fact.

SOLUTIONS

MLB has been doing right by men who had no contractual employment relationship with the league — in 2008, the league even had a mock draft of 30 Negro Leaguers, all of whom received $5,000 in real money from their new “teams” as a way to atone for the game’s past institutional racism.

But what about the guys like Cage?

Some of the Negro Leaguers are earning more monies than the guys like Clyde, Dillard, Hinton and Cage — all of whom did have contractual relationships with MLB.

The author recommends that, short of retroactively restoring these men back into pension coverage, the league, union, and the MLBPAA at the very least agree to allow the non-qualified life annuity payment to the pre-1980 player be permitted to be passed on to their designated survivors and/or loved ones.

No less than the widow of former Senator and Tiger hurler Alan Koch, who passed away last year, told the author it would be a severe, financial hardship if the payment were taken away from her. The author also recommends that all loved ones of men who were alive on April 21, 2011 — the day the union and league agreed to the payment plan — should have those monies be retroactively disbursed if they were, in fact, discontinued.

Both Pierce's and Harrell's widows would receive five years worth of retroactive, non-qualified life annuity payments.

The author also recommends that the union and league immediately increase the payments to a minimum of $10,000 for each person who is eligible and do away with the ridiculous $625 per quarter formula, based on the amount of quarters the man played, up to 16 quarters.

There is ample precedent for this too — in 1997, the league gave the pre-1947 players — men like 1941 National League MVP Dolph Camilli — quarterly payments of $7,500-$10,000. These were men who obviously didn't pay union dues because the pension plan didn't exist when they played. There were no qualifications.

The author feels that this would be a tremendous show of faith by the league and the union, and a great way to start off the New Year.

If you have any questions, they may be directed to my email address of abittercupofcoffee@gmail.com

Friday, April 22, 2011

Former MLB players react to new pension deal for payment to non-vested retirees

The cups of coffee for many retired players just got a bit sweeter: Major League Baseball announced Thursday in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association an agreement to make annual payments to retired players who played before 1980 that did not have enough service time to qualify for a retirement benefit.

Since the 1980 season, all Major League players have vested as members of the benefit plan after just one day of service in the Major Leagues. Prior to 1980, players secured a pension benefit only after completing at least four years of Major League service. While these payments are not truly a pension for these retirees, it is income that will go a long way for many.

Author Doug Gladstone illuminated the plight of the 874 retirees that fell into the pension gap with his 2010 book “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” In the book he details the struggle of the many veterans who have worked tirelessly to get the powers in baseball to change their stance on this issue of pension benefits. All of these alumni paid into the pension fund without receiving anything in return while MLB made record profits. All they wanted was a piece of what they helped to start.


“We don't live in a perfect world, and this is far from a perfect solution to this problem," Gladstone said in a release on Thursday. "What was announced today doesn't provide health insurance coverage, nor will any player's spouse or loved one receive a designated beneficiary payment after the man passes.”

While the arrangements may not be ideal for Gladstone, he does acknowledge that the men that he advocated for will be receiving payments for their service.

"However, I am elated that these men are at long last finally going to be compensated for their service and contributions to the national pastime. This was a wrong that should have been righted years ago.”

Steve Grilli / Youtube

Steve Grilli, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays from 1975-1979 is one of the younger players included in this agreement. At the age of 61, he missed the full pension by one game. He was on the 40-man roster for the entire 1980 season with the Blue Jays. Unfortunately for Grilli, his phone never rang.

“I wasn’t getting rich playing ball," said Grilli during a phone interview Friday evening. "I drove a UPS truck in between seasons. I just wanted baseball to do the right thing. That’s been my mantra throughout all of this.

"I’m not going to say they did the right thing; they did something. I’m very sympathetic for the guys that passed on that didn’t get at shot at this. They’re making the gesture of giving us the same thing they gave the Negro Leaguers a few years back. It shows you they made a mistake. If they offered it to them, why wait all this time to do it for us?”

Grilli feels that this offer from MLB and the MLBPA is an appeal to get the retirees away from the bargaining table.

“There was a dam with a hole in it which was us; that was the problem," he said. "I think they just put their finger in it to hold it off and didn’t permanently fix it. I’m more appeased than satisfied. Let’s just give them this and they’ll go away. Should I die tomorrow, my wife isn’t going to get the small amount that I will be getting."

Alumni from the New York area teams that fell into this pension gap were pleased to hear that they will finally be compensated for their years of service. Former New York Yankee pitcher Johnny James, who pitched from 1958-1961, was excited to hear the news.

“About two months ago, Eli Grba had sent me an article from the Chicago papers that they were talking about it," James said from his Arizona home. "It's exciting to think about because it's just nice. I don't expect it to be a lot, but the fact that it is something, is very nice. I knew what the deal was when I played and the fact that I didn't play long enough wasn't Major League Baseball's fault, it was mine. I will admit when I saw the article, it gave me a good feeling.”

Former Brooklyn Dodger and New York Yankee pitcher Fred Kipp, whose ten year career yielded stints in the big leagues from 1957-1960, echoed similar sentiments.

“We can use it.," Kipp said. "I'm not destitute. I played about a year and a half in the majors and about 10 years in pro ball. I'm not bitter or anything. That was the rule, you had to have five years."

Fortunately for the 79-year-old Kipp, he had a construction business for 40 years that provided support for his family after baseball.

Playing for the New York Mets from 1973-1974, George “The Stork” Theodore was a favorite in many Queens households. Now living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Theodore shared his appreciation for the work that Gladstone performed to promote the cause.

“I know Doug Gladstone has been our greatest ally in this with his book A Bitter Cup of Coffee," Theodore said. "I think it is wonderful. Like I said, he's been fighting for us for quite a while and I know about four or five other players in the Utah area that are in the same boat as me. We're appreciative and it will be a nice help.”

With praise from players like Theodore, Gladstone is glad that his work did not fall on deaf ears.

“My sole purpose in writing this book was to do right by the boyhood heroes of my youth, who gave me numerous hours of enjoyment and pleasure while growing up. If in some small way my book helped bring this issue to light, I couldn't be more pleased."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Bitter Cup of Coffee | How Douglas Gladstone's book goes to bat for MLB retirees

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," Gladstone said. "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 discussing the subject of a pension.

"Last year was the anniversary of Tom Seaver's "imperfect game" and I did some research, knowing that Seaver now has this large vineyard in Napa Valley, but that Jimmy Qualls had it hard after baseball," he said, "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," he said. "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?" he said. "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.