Amy King, daughter of the legendary Bucs announcer Nellie King, is flanked by, at left, Doug and Jim Sadowski, of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, at the book signing and discussion of A Bitter Cup of Coffee that was held at the Barnes & Noble in the South Hills Village Mall, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Baseball is a great game that has had many “Ahhh!” moments throughout its history. As a thirty-seven year season ticket holder for the Philadelphia Phillies, I can attest to that personally. I witnessed one of those jaw-dropping moments when Roy Halladay pitched the second no-hitter in post-season history.
Players of phenomenal achievements, such as Halladay, deserve to be compensated properly, as do other top-performing players. Players’ salaries in general, however, have escalated beyond normal increases as owners of the teams continue to spend more money on free agents and top draft picks. Inflated salaries are not the only injustices in this greatest of American sports, as illustrated by Doug Gladstone in his book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee. Gladstone’s passion for righting a wrong and telling a compelling story transcends baseball, for it speaks to the humanitarian in all of us.
In his book, Mr. Gladstone points out that there are approximately 874 players alive today who played Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1947 through 1979. None of them, he states, qualified for post-retirement health benefits or a pension, because they played less than four years. Because of the threatened players’ strike in 1980, the vesting requirements changed from four years to one day of service credit for health benefits; it included 43 days of service credit to reap a retirement allowance. The bitter pill here is that the aforementioned athletes, who played from 1947 through 1979, were not included retroactively in the amended vesting requirement.
Legally, it appears that the Players Union or Major League Baseball do not have to compensate these men who made contributions to the game for a span of more than thirty years. Morally, however, these two groups have committed a grievous error. They have more than dropped the ball.
Let’s look at the facts. In 1997, MLB’s Executive Council created a pension plan for approximately 85 African-American players who did not play major league baseball long enough to qualify for a pension or did not have the opportunity to play MLB. The council also gave pensions to a group of non-African-Americans who retired before 1947, the year the pension began. Based on these facts alone, it morally behooves MLB to compensate the forgotten players.
Now let’s take a look at what has transpired since Doug Gladstone penned his magnificent book, which has received widespread attention. On April 21, 2011, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced that players who had appeared in the major leagues for less than four years, from 1947 through 1979, would receive payments of up to $10,000 each for the next two years. According to the MLB Players Alumni Association, 904 players will receive a sum of money, the amount of which will depend upon their quarters of service. If Mr. Gladstone did not expose this most grievous slight in his book, would anything have been rectified for the forgotten players? I will let you good readers answer this question.
Of course, given the overflowing coffers of MLB and the Players Association, much more could be done to make things right for the ’47-’79 players. As Gladstone so eloquently stated after Commissioner Selig’s announcement, “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 [player] passes. Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction. But if Mr. Selig and Mr. Weiner want to do right by these men, they ought to retroactively restore them back into pension coverage.”
Will this occur? If only I had a crystal ball, I might tell you. All I have to go by is history. Case in point:
In 1884, America’s 18th President and greatest general, Ulysses S. Grant, lost his money in a Ponzi scheme as he lay dying of cancer. After this was reported in the papers, General Grant received a check for $100 in the mail from a private citizen. That citizen enclosed a note that read, “For services rendered between the years 1861 to 1865.” So much for rewarding greatness and dedication!
It is time for MLB and the Players Association to retroactively restore the forgotten players back into pension coverage. They can write the players checks that include notes saying, “For services rendered during the years 1947 to 1979.” Hopefully, the checks will be a lot bigger than the one received by President Grant.
If Doug Gladstone is, by some quirk of fate, reading this, I would like to congratulate him. Mr. Gladstone, you and your remarkable book get my highest, ten-star recommendation!