I just learned that Ed Armbrister, the former Cincinnati Reds outfielder best remembered for a controversial bunt while pinch-hitting during the 1975 World Series, passed away earlier this year, on March 17. He died only a few months shy of his 73rd birthday.
If you’re of a certain age, you remember the evening of October 19, 1975, when, during Game 3 of the ‘75 World Series, Armbrister collided with Carlton Fisk on his way to first base after laying down his bunt to advance runner Cesar Geronimo. Fisk and the rest of the Boston Red Sox cried foul, that Armbrister had interfered with the Hall of Fame catcher, who made a bad throw to second trying to get Geronimo. The Reds would win that contest, and ultimately the Series, over the Red Sox in seven games.
In 224 career games spread out over five seasons, from 1973 to 1977, Armbrister collected only 65 hits, including four home runs, six triples, and 11 doubles, in 265 plate appearances.
Born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1948, Armbrister was the subject of a Rory Costello essay that appeared in a Society of American Baseball Research publication entitled The Great Eight: The 1975 Cincinnati Reds. In the book, the late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson says of Armbrister that he is “a person anyone would like to be around. He’s always, smiling, he’s happy. I don’t think nothing ever disturbed him. He could run like heck, he was a good outfielder, he wasn’t ‘gonna set no records with his bat or anything, but he was a great extra man to have.
“Any club could use a guy like that – a very valuable person to have on your club.”
High praise indeed. Except the Lords of Baseball didn’t think Armbrister was valuable or deserving enough to get a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension.
Armbrister was one of 613 retired players who weren’t receiving MLB pensions. Like Armbrister, many of these men are persons of color (POC) 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) and one of the two men who last hit .400 in professional baseball.
I mention this because the executive director of the union representing today’s players, 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 labor leader who had the power to assist men like Armbrister is a social justice warrior who isn’t lifting a finger to help them.
What’s wrong with this picture?
See, the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Armbrister was not getting a pension because he didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947-1979 needed to be eligible for one.
Instead, for every 43 game days of service a man like Armbrister accrued on an active MLB roster, he’d get $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 Armbrister’s loved ones can now continue to receive the bone he was being thrown while alive.
Other affected POC includes the Atlanta Braves’ Pablo Torrealba, who is from Venezuela; the Seattle Mariners’ Jose Baez, who hails from the Dominican Republic, and Ed Acosta of the San Diego Padres, who is a native of Panama.
When it comes to being a social justice advocate, Clark sure is 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. 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.
The average salary in the game today is approximately $4 million, and even the players who sit on the bench – like Armbrister did more often than not during his career — earn a minimum of $565,000 a year.
Armbrister’s top salary in the game? In his last season with the Reds, all he earned was $25,500.
Why is the national pastime treating our childhood heroes like this?
He may not have been worthy of a pension, but Armbrister’s picture was added to the Wall of Fame at Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau. The next year, he was inducted into the Bahamas National Hall of Fame, according to a published account.
Perhaps some of his fans in Cincinnati and elsewhere can build on Armbrister’s legacy by seeing to it that his loved ones are able to keep that bone.
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 New York