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MLB: Dave Hilton is another casualty due to vesting requirement changes

MLB Dave Hilton

Unless you’ve been holed up in a cave somewhere, you know that former MLB Houston Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman was fired on October 24 for making deplorable comments directed at three female sportswriters following the club’s victory in the American League Championship Series. One of the reporters, who was wearing a purple domestic violence bracelet, has been outspoken in her condemnation of the topic.

I won’t waste this space and your intelligence by repeating those comments here, but in my opinion, the team has itself to blame. The moment the Astros made the ill-fated decision last year to trade for former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna, who received a 75-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball (MLB)’s domestic violence policy – he allegedly assaulted the mother of his then three-year-old son on May 8, 2018 — something like Taubman’s inappropriate outburst was bound to happen.

The fact that people on Facebook and on Twitter are surprised it did is what I find interesting.

Like Claude Rains’ Inspector Renault acting shocked that there’s gambling going on at Rick Blaine’s cafe, female sports journalists are often treated as second class citizens. One only needs to comb through the tweets directed at such scribes as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion, Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle and Sheryl Ring, of Fan Graphs and Beyond the Box Score, on any given day to be repulsed beyond belief.

That these women are able to suck it up and do professional work in the face of such horrific tweets is commendable.

But nobody should be surprised by this culture because MLB and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) are biased against women.

Oh sure, the league rallies against breast cancer and today’s players don pink stirrups and take pink bats to the plate. Oh, and MLB’s Chief Diversity Officer is a woman [npr.org]

But when you come right down to it, there is still a jockocracy out there. Nowhere is it better exemplified than by the way the league and the union are treating women like Scottsdale’s Patty Hilton.

Patty’s late husband, Dave, died on September 2017. An infielder for the San Diego Padres, he also served as first base coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

At a time when a vested retiree can earn up to $225,000, and when the average Major League Baseball (MLB) salary is $4.52 million, [usatoday.com] Patty doesn’t receive a plug nickel from MLB.

Because of the archaic rules the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) — the union representing current players — agreed to, when Hilton coached, only four baseball coaches on an MLB team were permitted to accrue service credit.

Hilton was also one of the 626 retirees who didn’t receive an MLB pension as a player because of vesting requirement changes that occurred in 1980. At the time, the threshold was four years to be vested, but the union was offered the opportunity to give its members the following deal: one game day of service credit to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan, and 43 game days of service for a pension. [businessinsider.com]

The MLBPA just forgot to request retroactive coverage for all the men like Hilton.

In April 2011, the league and union tried to remedy the problem by giving men like Hilton $625 for each 43 game days of service they accrued on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000 [dailytribune.com]. But unlike a real pension, when the man passes, the payment passes with him.

So Patty gets squat.

“I stand with all the wives,” Patty recently wrote me. “I call them legacy wives because of their devotion to preserving their husbands’ value to the game.”

“It’s a damn shame about Hilton,” said former major leaguer Jack Heidemann, who played for the Brewers in 1976 and 1977. ”If I even made close to the minimum of today’s rookie, I wouldn’t need a pension.” The minimum salary rises to $555,000 in 2019.

“Today’s collective bargaining negotiations are all about the ‘ME FIRST’ generation of players,” continued Hedemann, who, even with his MLB pension, still has to work. “There’s lots of money out there, but sharing is not in today’s cards.”

Financially, the league recently announced that its revenue was up 325 percent from 1992 and that it has made $500 million since 2015. [forbes.com] What’s more, the average value of each of the 30 clubs is up 19 percent from 2016, to $1.54 billion. [forbes.com]

The union is loath to divvy up anymore of the pie. Although the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $3.5 billion, [forbes.com] MLBPA Executive Director Tony 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.

Unions are supposed to help hard-working women and men get a fair shake in life. But Clark doesn’t seem to want to help anyone but himself — he receives a MLB pension AND an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits, for being the head of the union. [unionfacts.com]

Patty Hilton, who celebrates her birthday today, on October 27, remains undeterred. “Our fight starts with people’s hearts and minds, and I love the challenge of working on the collective consciousness of the MLBPA,” she says. “I will use every resource to tell David’s story because it’s the story of our life in baseball.”

Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance magazine writer who authored “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” His website is www.gladstonewriter.com [gladstonewriter.com]

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