Special Guest Post by Doug Gladstone, author: A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve, and panelist for The Albany Government Law Review Spring Symposium: Baseball & the Law: America’s National Pastime.
On Thursday, April 21, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) announced, with much fanfare, that they would be giving all those men who played in “The Show” from 1947-1979, who had more than one day of service credit but less than four years, and who were therefore unable to qualify for MLB pensions, payments of up to $10,000 each for the next two years, depending on their respective lengths of service. The issue of these inactive, non-vested retirees was why I was on the “Legal State of Our National Pastime” panel at Baseball & The Law: America’s National Pastime symposium held on Monday, April 11 in the Dean Alexander Moot Courtroom at Albany Law School.
As the author of the book widely credited with helping spur MLB to pay these men the monies they’re about to receive, I’ve naturally been asked what I thought about the announcement quite a bit over the last week or so. Admittedly, I have mixed emotions about it. Obviously, given the continuing national recession in this country, there are very few people nowadays who would turn up their noses at an extra $10,000 per year. But that pales in comparison to what some of these men could have received if they were just restored back into pension coverage.
Take Tom Bruno, for instance. A native of Chicago who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, Bruno finished his career having accrued three years and 161 days of service. He fell one game short of meeting the vesting requirement. One game. Based on a report which indicated that the average baseball retiree was making $30,000 in 2006, you know what a onetime retroactive check would be worth to a guy like Bruno? If you answered, “$900,000,” you’ll realize why I’m not so impressed that he’s getting $10,000.
For the record, Major League Baseball is a $7 billion industry. Today’s player makes, on average, $3.3 million. You know what the most Tom Bruno ever made was? Only $65,000. These days, men like Ryan Howard ($125 million over five years), Matt Holiday ($120 million over seven years) and A-Rod ($27.5 million per year) are commanding what some would perceive are ridiculously obscene salaries. And part of the reason they’re able to earn that kind of money is due to men like Bruno, who frequently went without checks during work stoppages because he realized that a union is supposed to go to bat, not only for future players, but for past players as well.