The late Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Murray was arguably the finest sports journalist Los Angeles ever produced. The first Murray column I ever read was about the famous December 12, 1982 game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins in which snowplow operator Mark Henderson, a convicted criminal on work release, cleared a spot on the field for New England’s John Smith so he could kick a game-winning field goal.
While New England coach Ron Meyer and others were saluting Henderson, a drug addict and burglar who famously joked that nothing could be done to him – “What are they gonna do, throw me in prison?” – it was Murray who wrote a piece protesting the sudden celebrity that he was being accorded. Murray revealed in an article that Henderson had stolen a bunch of items — including, if memory serves, some sterling silver – that were priceless family heirlooms.
Like Murray, I have always believed that it is the media’s role to educate folks about issues. That is why it is troubling that there are so many journalists today who are not reporting about the 627 retired baseball players who are not receiving pensions from having played Major League Baseball (MLB).
All these men are receiving are stipends totaling $625 for every 43 game days of service they were on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000. Meanwhile, a pension for someone who is fully vested is worth as much as $225,000 per year, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And the average salary of today’s player is $4.47 million. The minimum salary is $555,000.
I am constantly told that today’s sports journalists are afraid of losing their access to the baseball teams they cover. But in refusing to take the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) and MLB to task for not awarding pensions to men who were denied them, after an averted players’ strike changed the requirements of the vesting rules during the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend, it is my opinion that today’s sports journalists are abrogating their responsibilities and doing a profound disservice to their profession.
Giving the pre-1980 players a real wage of $10,000 per man is what I have suggested since all the men who played prior to 1947 – the year the players’ pension fund was established – received that sum. And since no widow is currently allowed to keep the payment when the man passes, I have also suggested allowing the monies to be passed to a designated beneficiary for a finite time.
The MLBPA is against that because it would mean less money for their current dues-paying members to enjoy. Of course, the executive director of the union, Tony Clark, doesn’t bother to tell you that the 72 MLBPA staff members collected $16 million in salary and benefits, according to s recent IRS filing.
Many of the affected retirees, including Kevin Pasley, the former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher who only receives Social Security disability payments, stood on picket lines, endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks all so that Clayton Kershaw could command $31.17 million last year. Is Kershaw really going to cry foul if $10,000 is awarded to Pasley? Given the game’s economy, that’s chump change.
And let’s not forget MLB. Each team is currently valued at $1.54 billion—an increase of 19 percent over 2016. The 30 owners recently wrote a $10 million check to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Essentially, they chose museum relics over flesh and blood retirees.
But is anyone pointing this out? Nope.
Murray might as well be turning over in his grave.
A freelance magazine writer and journalist, Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books, including 2010’s “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.”