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Douglas Gladstone: MLBPA’s failure to go to bat for former player’s pensions is reprehensible

Are you aware that there are 609 former players who aren’t receiving Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions?

Of those 600+ retirees, the majority are white men, such as Dr. David Watkins, a former Phillies backstop who later became the medical director of the Frazier Rehabilitation Center in Louisville.

But many of them are persons of color, such as Covington native Leo Foster, the 36th pick in the 1969 amateur draft who played with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets over parts of five seasons. In 144 games, he came up to bat 262 times, collected 52 hits, including eight doubles and two home runs, scored 35 times and had 26 runs batted in.

Douglas J. Gladstone

As a rookie, Foster, who now resides in Cincinnati, made a reported $12,750; during his final season, he earned a salary of $22,000.

These days, even the 25th man riding the pines earns $575,000. The average MLB salary is just over $3.7 million.

Are you also aware 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?

Further, are you aware that the executive director of the MLBPA, 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. A Black man who has the power to assist these retirees is a social justice advocate who refuses to lift a finger to do so.

By the way, Clark 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. Watkins, Foster and the 607 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 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 Foster’s loved ones will receive the bone he is being thrown when he dies.

Besides Foster, other African Americans being taken advantage of include former Kansas City Athletics pitcher Norman Delaney Bass, who won a Bronze medal in the 1976 Paralympics in Sydney Australia, and the Houston Astros’ Aaron Pointer, one of the last two men to hit .400 in professional baseball and the first Black referee in history of the PAC-10.

Other persons of color include 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.

Clark is certainly 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.

This is a 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.”

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