For a guy who is supposed to be as progressive on race relations as Tony Clark, the executive director of the union representing current big leaguers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), he sure doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Clark in 2016 was awarded the Jackie Robinson Award by the Negro Leagues Museum for purportedly living up to the pioneering standards of that social justice trailblazer. Referring to a line made famous by the late Muhammad Ali, Clark said that “success is what you achieve. Your significance is what you leave.”
Regrettably, Clark is only paying lip service to the sentiment.
See, there are 626 retired ballplayers not receiving a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension. Not surprisingly, many are persons of color, such as former hurler Pablo Arnoldo Torrealba.
A resident of Caracas who was born in Lara, Venezuela, Mr. Torrealba played from 1975 to 1979, when he pitched for the Atlanta Braves, the Oakland Athletics and the Chicago White Sox. In 111 games, Torrealba threw four complete games, one of which was a shutout, and earned five saves to go along with his six lifetime victories. In 239 and one-third innings, he had a great career Earned Run Average of 3.27.
Non-vested men like Torrealba don’t receive MLB pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service, which is what you needed before 1980. However, during the 1980 Memorial Day weekend, the MLBPA accepted a proposal from the league in which the vesting requirements were lowered to one game day of service credit for health care and 43 game days of service credit for a pension.
Regrettably, for these 626 men, the union didn’t request that this change be made retroactive. So while vested retirees get to pass their pensions on to a loved one, spouse or designated beneficiary, the non-vested players don’t.
Men like Torrealba earn $625 for every 43 game days of service they were on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000. Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn up to $225,000 a year.
So Eduardo Escobar, who plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks and is of Venezuelan ancestry, has a lot to look forward to. Escobar is from the La Pica neighborhood of Maracuay. Miguel Cabrera, Omar Vizquel, and Andres Galarraga are also from Venezuela.
Imagine you were called up on August 15 of last year to your favorite club and stayed on its 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. And that pension gets passed on to your loved ones when you die. But Mr. Torrealba’s non-qualified monies don’t get passed on to his survivors when he passes on, in spite of the fact he was on an active roster much longer than you were.
Even though the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $3.5 billion, according to one post-1980 retiree, 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.
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.
Tony 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 twenty-six shouldn’t be penalized because of something that occurred in May 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 at www.gladstonewriter.com