Like a lot of movie fans, I’m very excited about the forthcoming Mister Rogers biopic, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks, which opens on November 22.
There is another Mister Rogers out there who is the complete antithesis of the legendary children’s television show host.
Steve Rogers was a former Montreal Expos hurler who won over 150 games with the club. Famously, when he was eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame, he didn’t receive one vote from any of the Montreal beat writers who covered the Expos.
That alone speaks volumes about his people skills.
A graduate of Tulsa University, Rogers’ degree in petroleum engineering attests to the fact he is a smart guy.
But onetime Oakland Athletics infielder Jimmy Driscoll isn’t impressed with the pedigree of Rogers, who is the pensions liaison to the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), Tony Clark.
“His degree fits him to the tee,” says the 76-year-old Driscoll. “He’s just a gas jockey, he’s a real slick customer.”
Driscoll is among the 600 plus retirees who played Major League Baseball (MLB) who are not receiving MLB pensions. Other former Athletics affected include Jerry Lynn Tabb— Rogers’ very own teammate on the 1971 Tulsa team that won the College Baseball World Series. Tabb was the Most Valuable Player during that College World Series and later played with Team USA at the ‘71 Pan American Games.
It is Rogers’ job to go to bat for men like Tabb. A job which, in my opinion, he has not done very well.
Rogers and Sal Bando were, respectively, the National League and American League Player Representatives when vesting rule changes occurred in 1980. Prior to that, you needed four years worth of service to be eligible for a MLB pension. But ever since, all that’s been required is 43 game days of service on an active MLB roster.
Thanks to the late Michael Weiner, who was Clark’s predecessor, the league and union in April 2011 partially remedied this situation. Men like Driscoll have been receiving $625 ever since in what is called non-qualified retirement monies for every 43 game days of service they accrued on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000. But it pales in comparison to the $225,000 vested retirees can earn.
A fact which the MLBPA doesn’t seem in any rush to change, in spite of the fact that so many men like Driscoll are without health insurance, defaulting on their mortgages and filing for Chapter 11.
Driscoll, for one, is disgusted by the union’s treatment of this group. “We’re the lost boys of baseball,” he’s told me on countless occasions.
See, in Steve Rogers’ neighborhood, it’s perfectly alright for the players’ union to pay its 72 staff members $16 million in salaries (according to its own 2015 IRS filing) but not pay pensions to the men like Driscoll and Tabb.
In this Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, the 25th man on the bench earns a minimum salary of $555,000 – thanks, in part, to the men like Driscoll and Tabb, who stood on picket lines, endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks all so that free agency could be ushered in.
In this Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, men he played with and against – like former Expos hurler Santo Alcala or California Angels pitcher Wally Wood – never received their non-qualified payments until somebody else had to tell the union they were due the monies. That is because the union has no quality control mechanism to ensure that everyone entitled to their money receives their money.
In Wolf’s case, former Angels pitcher Paul Doyle said that Rogers told him that his onetime teammate had “just fallen through the cracks.”
Great empathy, right? I told you he had dubious people skills.
Just two months ago, after writing a guest commentary for the Pikes Peak Bulletin, I helped Don Wallace, a former player who lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado, get nine years worth of back payments due him.
Rogers didn’t know about him either until I instructed Wallace to call the MLBPA.
Remember how Fred Rogers always used to sing to his audience and ask if they would be his neighbor? Be in Fred Rogers’ neighborhood? Of course. Be a neighbor of Steve Rogers?
Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance magazine writer and author of two books, including “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” Feel free to visit his website at www.gladstsonewriter.com