Are you aware that there are 612 former players who aren’t receiving Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions?
Of those 600+ retirees, the majority are white men, such as John Lawrence Balaz, a former California Angels outfielder who attended Point Loma High School and later San Diego Community College. During parts of the 1974 and 1975 seasons, Balaz appeared in a total of 59 career games, came up to the plate 162 times, collected 39 hits, including eight doubles, one triple, and two home runs, and had 16 runs batted in.
But many of the retirees impacted by this injustice are persons of color (POC), such as Ed Acosta, a native of Panama who pitched for the Padres in 1971 and 1972; the Atlanta Braves’ Pablo Torrealba, who is from Venezuela, Mexican American Hall of Famer Cuno Barragan and the Seattle Mariners’ Jose Baez, who hails from the Dominican Republic.
Other POC includes Norman Delaney Bass, a former Kansas City Athletic pitcher who later found fame at the Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, Aaron Pointer, an NAACP award winner and diversity pioneer who was the first African-American referee in the PAC-10, and onetime Padres outfielder Don Reynolds. If the name rings a bell, he is the older brother of MLB Network announcer Harold Reynolds, who strangely has never said anything about this topic.
Further, are you aware that Tony Clark, the onetime Detroit Tigers All-Star who is now the executive director of the union representing current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in 2016?
Let that sink in. The labor leader who has the power to assist these men is a social justice warrior who isn’t lifting a finger to help them.
Clark sure is an equal opportunity hypocrite.
Are you also aware that, according to its own 2015 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing, the MLBPA paid its 72 staff salaries totaling $16 million?
By the way, Clark — a onetime hoops star who broke Bill Walton’s San Diego high school single-season scoring record as a senior before later leading the San Diego State Aztecs with 11.5 points per game in the 1991-92 season – receives a compensation package, including benefits, totaling more than $2.2 million.
What’s wrong with this picture?
See, the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Balaz, Acosta, and all the 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 $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 Balaz’s loved ones, such as his wife, Bonnie, or children Justin and Lauren, 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.
In my opinion, Clark has not lived up to the standards set by the man who bears the name of the award he won. And because the league is under no obligation to collectively bargain about this item, the onus is on the players’ union. If the retired men are to be helped, it is the union that has to go to bat for them.
By the way, this is the same union that, only 10 years ago, stuck out a tin cup and panhandled for monies from the United States government.
In 2011, United States Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced legislation to save benefits and create jobs for people. The problem is, in sponsoring what was tantamount to a taxpayer-subsidized $165 billion bailout of organized labor, including the MLBPA, Senator Casey’s bill would have shifted the liabilities of the players union pension fund — widely regarded as being among the best-funded plans in the nation — to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
This is an utterly reprehensible situation made worse by the fact that Clark comes off as such a nice guy. His nickname in Detroit may have been Tony the Tiger, but the late Thurl Ravenscroft, who voiced the famous cartoon tiger, is probably turning over in his grave.
Cause this situation is anything but great.
Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” He and his family reside in the Capital District of New York