The meanest man in professional baseball was once a Valhalla High School and Christian High School basketball star who was so dominating that he broke the San Diego high school single-season scoring record set by the legendary Bill Walton.
However, for a man who attended a high school whose mission is to “prepare students to be a light in their community,” 46-year-old Tony Clark is clearly in the dark about how to treat his elders.
As the first former player to serve as executive director of the union representing today’s current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, Mr. Clark heads an organization whose players’ welfare and benefits fund is valued at more than $3.5 billion.
Though he is to be commended for building that kitty up, Clark has done it at the expense of 633 retired ballplayers who aren’t receiving pensions from their time in the game because the union agreed to a vesting rules change in 1980 that, while dropping the eligibility requirement needed for a pension from four years to 43 game days, conveniently forgot to retroactively include all those players with less than four years of service but more than 43 game days.
All these men get is $625 for every 43 game days they spent on an active MLB roster, up to a maximum payment of $10,000. And that figure is before taxes are taken out.
The real head-scratcher is this: when the man passes, the payment passes with him.
Meanwhile, according to the IRS, a vested player can earn up to $225,000 per year. And his pension can be passed to a loved one.
Mind you, the bone that is being tossed these 633 poor unfortunate souls is a lot better than the situation an additional 200 retired players find themselves in — they don’t get even a plug nickel from having played in The Show because they had less than 43 game days of service on an active MLB roster.
This is not what I think of when I think of a labor leader. Unions are supposed to help hard-working men and women and their families get a fair shake in life. But Mr. Clark only seems to be helping himself – he receives a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension as well as an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits.
He also heads a union whose 2015 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing saw 72 staff members receive pay of more than $16 million.
Imagine you were called up on August 15 of last year by the San Diego Padres and stayed on the team’s roster till October 1. You never played a game, never pinch ran, never pinch hit, never was used as a defensive replacement. All you did was sit on the bench. For your 43 game days of service, because you played after 1980, you know what you’re guaranteed when you turn 62-years-old? A pension of $3,589.
Just for riding the pines.
But the monies somebody like 1975 Padres outfielder Dick Sharon — who has undergone 25 orthopedic procedures since retiring from the game – won’t get passed on to any of his designated beneficiaries.
I wonder what Clark would think if he was in Sharon’s shoes. Does he want that fate for his wife, Frances, and children Kiara, Jazzin, and Aeneas?
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.
What makes this injustice more unseemly is that the national pastime is doing very well financially. MLB recently announced that its revenue was up 325 percent from 1992 and that it has made $500 million since 2015. What’s more, the average value of each of the 30 clubs is up 19 percent from 2016 to $1.54 billion, and the average salary per player is $4.4 million.
Clark needs to realize that all the men who played the game – whether they’re vested or not – made important contributions to the sport. Six hundred and thirty-three shouldn’t be penalized because of something that occurred in 1980 that wasn’t their fault.
A freelance magazine writer, Douglas J. Gladstone authored the 2010 book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” His website is located atwww.gladstonewriter.com
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