Major League Baseball (MLB) and the union representing its current players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), are anti-family.
What other conclusion can you draw from the fact that widows and loved ones of dead players who were not vested in the league pension plan are not receiving the monies their late husbands were awarded in April 2011?
The loved ones of the late Al Severinsen know what I’m referring to.
In the 88 games he appeared in during the 1969, 1971, and 1972 seasons, Severinsen notched three wins and saved nine games. In a total of 111 innings, he had a stellar Earned Run Average of 3.08.
Seventy-six of those games, totaling 91 and one-third innings, came when he pitched for the Padres.
Nowadays, those statistics would be enough to earn Severinsen an annual pension.
But they’re not.
During the 1980 Memorial Day Weekend, a threatened players strike was averted when the late Ray Grebey, the negotiator for the league, made the following offer to the late Marvin Miller and Don Fehr of the players’ association — going forward, every player would automatically qualify for a pension after 43 game days of service, and he’d be eligible to buy into the league’s generous health coverage plan after only one game day.
The problem for all the pre-1980 players was the proposal was never made retroactive for the men such as Severinsen, who had to attain four years of service credit to be eligible for a pension.
To date, the MLBPA has been loathe to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark — the first former player ever to serve as leader of the union — 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.
When the player dies, the payment is not permitted to be passed on to a designated beneficiary, like a spouse or other loved one. So when he dies, the payment to former Padre Rich Troedson, who logged 171 innings for the club during the 1973 and 1974 seasons, won’t go to anybody. It will die with him.
Troedson is only 67 years young, so let’s hope he’s around for a few more years.
It took a ridiculous 31 years for the league and the union to partially remedy this injustice. Starting in April 2011, these unvested men all began receiving non-qualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.
In brief, for every quarter of service a man has accrued, which is defined as 43 game days of service, he gets $625. And that payment is before taxes are out.
By contrast, a player who played AFTER 1980 is eligible for health coverage after one game day. And he’s eligible for a pension after 43 game days. And the payment can be passed on to a loved one or designated recipient.
According to the IRS, the maximum allowable pension a ballplayer can receive is $210,000. Even someone who played after 1980 and only has 43 game days worth of credit is currently receiving a pension reportedly worth $34,000.
Does this sound fair to you? It doesn’t to me.
This is no way for a $12 to $13 billion industry to act. Each club is currently valued at $1.56 billion, up 19 percent from 2016, the league minimum salary is rising to $535,000 in 2019, and the average big leaguer is paid $4.4 million.
Our national pastime is a big business, even if it is exempt from federal anti-trust laws.
The least the suits who run the game can do is share their considerable wealth with the men and their families who weren’t fortunate enough to play prior to free agency. Like Severinsen, who died in Mystic, Connecticut in 2015 at the far too young age of 71.
That’s not only good business. It’s the right thing to do.
Freelance magazine writer.
Advocate for MLB players rights