Onetime Padres outfielder Gene Locklear has his painting but no pension


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Credit: Gene Locklear

Gold Canyon, Arizona’s Gene Locklear, who turned  72 in July, is a Native American and a member of the Lumbee Indian Nation.

An artist who started painting when he was six years old, Locklear specializes in realism, abstract, and impressionism. His pieces are often of Western landscapes and have been commissioned by groups as diverse as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Turner Broadcasting.

He is also one of the 609 retirees who doesn’t receive a pension for having played Major League Baseball.

Over parts of five seasons, from 1973-1977, Locklear appeared in 292 games, most of them with the San Diego Padres. He also played with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees.

An outfielder who came up to the plate 595 times, Locklear collected 163 hits, including 24 doubles, four triples, and nine home runs. He walked 55 times, scored 76 runs, and had an additional 66 runs batted in. Locklear recorded a career batting average of .274.

In 1975, Locklear enjoyed his best season statistically when he hit .321 for the Padres in 100 games.

For that, he earned a princely salary of $16,000.

Painted by Gene Locklear

Mr. Locklear doesn’t receive a traditional pension because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Locklear and 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.

Mr. Locklear finished just 30 days shy of being eligible for a pension.

All retired big leaguers like Locklear receive each year are 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 had accrued, he’d get $625 up to the maximum, $10,000. And that payment is before taxes are taken out.

By comparison, effective January 2022, a post-1980 player such as new Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Mark Melancon, or new Padres pitcher Nick Martinez, can earn a pension of up to $245,000 a year.

What’s worse, the payment Locklear receives every February cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary. So neither Locklear’s wife, Susan, nor any of his other loved ones, will receive that payment when he dies.

Men like Locklear are being penalized for playing the game they loved at the wrong time.

Former Padre Melancon signed a two-year, $14 million free-agent contract to play for the Diamondbacks just before the recent lockout between the owners and the players’ union occurred. Martinez, who played in Japan last year, inked a four-year, $20 million deal.

But Locklear – one of the thousands of men who went without paychecks, endured labor stoppages, and walked the picket lines all so free agency could occur – is getting a bone thrown at him.

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Listen, nobody begrudges anyone their money. This is, after all, still a capitalist country. But if it weren’t for the old-timers like Locklear, do you think Melancon and Martinez would even be in a position to get such a lucrative payday?

Freelance writer Douglas J. Gladstone of New York is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.”

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