What if I were to tell you that there are 618 former players who aren’t receiving Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions?
And that, of those 600+ retirees, many of them are persons of color, such as the Houston Astros’ Aaron Pointer — an NAACP award winner and diversity pioneer (he was the first African American referee in the PAC-10) who is also one of the two men who last hit .400 in professional baseball.
And that, according to its own 2015 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing, the union representing current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), paid its 72 staff salaries totaling $16 million?
And that the executive director of the MLBPA, the former Detroit Tigers All-Star Tony Clark, received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in 2016.
Let that sink in. The man who has the power to go to bat for these men is a social justice advocate who refuses to help them.
By the way, Clark receives a compensation package, including benefits, totaling more than $2.3 million.
What’s wrong with this picture, you might ask?
See, the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Pointer and other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947-1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.
Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.
In brief, for every 43 game days of service a man has accrued on an active MLB roster, he gets $625, up to the maximum of $10,000. And that payment is before taxes are taken out.
What’s more, the payment cannot be passed on to a spouse or designated beneficiary. So none of Pointer’s loved ones, including his wife, Leona, will receive the bone he is being thrown when he dies. These men are also not eligible to be covered under the league’s umbrella health insurance plan.
Besides Pointer, other African Americans being penalized for playing the game they loved at the wrong time include the Cleveland Indians’ Wayne Cage and Vince Colbert, the New York Mets’ Bill Murphy, the Oakland Athletics’ Sheldon Mallory, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Bernie Smith and the Detroit Tigers’ Les Cain.
Other persons of color include the Atlanta Braves’ Pablo Torrealba, who is from Venezuela; the Chicago Cubs’ Cuno Barragan (Mexican American Hall of Fame inductee); Jorge Roque of the St. Louis Cardinals, who is from Puerto Rico; the Seattle Mariners’ Jose Baez, who hails from the Dominican Republic; Cuban native George Lauzerique of the Kansas City Athletics, Mexico’s Cy Acosta of the Chicago White Sox and Ed Acosta of the San Diego Padres, who is a native of Panama.
Say what you want about Clark’s work as a labor leader, as far as being a social justice advocate is concerned, he’s an equal opportunity hypocrite.
In my opinion, Clark has not lived up to the standards set by the man who bears the name of the award he won. Not by a long shot.
This is an utterly reprehensible situation made worse still by the fact that Clark comes off as such a nice guy. His nickname in Detroit was “Tony the Tiger,” remember?
I remember. But that was then and this is now. And in my book, to paraphrase the iconic television commercial in which the cartoon tiger voiced by the late Thurl Ravenscroft was a pitchman for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, the current Tony the Tiger is anything but great.
Douglas J. Gladstone, who lives in upstate New York, is the author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve”