Not All Players Get Fair Pensions

ALSO: WHAT'S NEXT FOR TREVOR BAUER AND MARCELL OZUNA?

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

The Giants could reach or top the franchise record for victories (106 in 1904) . . .

Talk about an easy schedule: the Red Sox play nine of their final 14 against the Orioles (6) and Nationals (3) . . .

Unless the Phillies can topple the Braves in the NL East, their playoff drought will be a full decade — their worst since a 13-year dry spell from 1994-2006 . . .

Thanks in part to newly-acquired reliever Ian Kennedy (seven homers allowed in his first 15 2/3 innings), Philadelphia leads NL teams in the worst percentage of inherited runners scoring . . .

Seattle is about to post its eight winning season in the last 20 that has not resulted in a trip to the playoffs . . .

Oh-oh: San Diego has 10 games left with the Giants and Dodgers . . .

Cleveland has been no-hit a record three times in nine-inning games this year plus a fourth time in an official seven-inning game that should count . . .

Of the last five world champions, the only one to follow a World Series win with a losing record were the Washington Nationals.

Leading Off

Pension Tension

Hundreds of MLB players whose careers were short got the shaft in pension plan re-alignment 

By Jeff Kallman 

If you’re a former major league baseball player whose career extended past or began after 1980, you have it made even if you had nothing but the proverbial cup of coffee. All you needed from there was 43 days worth of time in the Show, and you vested for a major league pension.  

It gets better, too: all you needed from there was one day’s Showtime and you qualified for health benefits. 

There’s only one thing wrong with that pension realignment. If you had such a short major league career that ended before 1980, you got three things: jack, diddley, and squat. 

Last week, the Major League Baseball Players Association’s first executive director, Marvin Miller, was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame, along with Ted Simmons, the catcher who became prominent enough in the union’s works and workings during the 1970s.  

Miller died in 2012 with two known regrets: that he wasn’t going to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his lifetime (he was very vocal about not wanting to be considered anymore before his death: “At age 91, I can do without farce”); and, that the pre-1980 short-career players shafted out of pensions in that realignment weren’t revisited and redressed properly. 

The only thing the pre-1980 short-career players have received since comes from a 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and the late Players Association director Michael Weiner. That deal gave those former players $625 a quarter for every 43 days major league service time, up to four years. It was a start, but there was an unpleasant kicker: should they pass away before collecting the entire dollars due, those dollars can’t be passed to their families. 

Miller’s regrets about the pension plan were made known to me by way of my own contacts with a few of the affected players. They include Bill Denehy, the ill-fated Mets pitcher remembered best for going to the Washington Senators in the deal that brought manager Gil Hodges to the Mets for 1968.  

They include David Clyde, the badly-mishandled Rangers teen pitching phenom, rushed to the Show mound so then-owner Bob Short could goose his gate---then denied proper minor league seasoning, because his surprise out-of-the-gate success meant Short breaking a promise to then-manager Whitey Herzog to send the kid for just that seasoning. 

They include a 1969 Miracle Met, outfielder Rod Gaspar. During that World Series, Gaspar scored the winning Mets run in the bottom of the tenth on the fabled throw that hit batter J.C. Martin in the back just before Martin hit first base.  

They include Gaspar’s Miracle teammate, infielder Bobby Pfeil. They also include Jimmy Qualls, the obscure 1969 Cub whose one-out single in the ninth broke up Hall of Famer Tom Seaver’s bid for a perfect game that season. As a matter of fact, Qualls appeared for the Cubs only in 1969—and in exactly 43 games. 

The reasons why Qualls, Clyde, Denehy, Gaspar, Pfeil, and the rest of the remaining 600+ short-career, frozen-out players had short careers vary. What most have in common otherwise is that they weren’t just September call-ups, the excuse several of those players have told me was used as a big part of the reason they got frozen out in the first place. 

As if it should matter. You get 43 Show days, you should be in, whether you came up the first time in April or September. 

“I love baseball,” Gaspar told me last November. “I don’t like what they’ve done with the pension, eliminating guys who didn’t have the four full years, there’s a lot of guys out there who are hurting.”  

Guys like Denehy, whose early 1967 shoulder injury resulted in misdiagnosis, a fragmented and short pitching career, and an excessive volume of cortisone administered for his shoulder issues.   

Denehy swears to this day that he was given up to 57 cortisone shots over a 26-month period. Known medical opinion suggests you should have no more than ten cortisone shots in a lifetime. Taken to excess, cortisone’s long-term effects can include visual trouble. Today, Denehy is legally blind, on the threshold of what he said “we call in blindness, darkness.” 

The former righthander also battles for pension redress. “My feeling,” he told me in a 2019 interview, “is that we should get a pension that is indicative of the service time in the big leagues. We earned the time, okay? When they dropped it down to 43 days active service time, every one of us prior to 1980 that had more than 43 days should have gotten a pension.” 

“[The MLBPA] didn’t hesitate one bit taking my dues when I was a major league player,” Clyde told me in 2019. “But as soon as you’re no longer a major league player, they basically don’t want to have anything to do with you.” He missed his full pension vesting by 37 days.  

To a man, the affected players I’ve spoken to in the past two years believe current union director Tony Clark—himself a former major league first baseman—is shockingly indifferent to their plight and to the wrong. Efforts to get Clark to think or talk about the issue have proven fruitless thus far.  

“I would say, for Tony Clark, he’s just never taken the time to sit down with people like myself and hear us and get close enough to us and hear what we have to say,” former Twins relief pitcher Tom Johnson—today a minister who oversees a youth baseball program in Slovakia—told me last December. 

Ask Johnson what he could tell Clark if given the chance, his answer was simple: “Take some time to hear from us. We played. We did walk the picket lines. We did participate in lockouts. We did work on behalf of players who are now making six and seven figures, to make it possible to make it happen.” 

Today’s MLBPA is believed to have a welfare and benefits fund stuffed to the tune of about $4.5 billion. Redressing the pension re-alignment error of 1980 properly would probably equal pocket change in comparison. Legally, the union has no obligation to do it for the frozen-out, short-career players. Morally, of course, is another question entirely. 

The affected players don’t begrudge the giga-millions today’s stars earn, or the mere millions earned by the comparative rank-and-file players. They also don’t want to become millionaires overnight. They want nothing but what should have come to them based on their actual Show time. Maybe Bill Denehy put it best. 

“I don’t think they owe me because of all the cortisone shots that they gave me, I don’t think that they owe me for the tear that I had in my shoulder,” he said. “All I’m asking for is what I earned, and that was the service time that I got in. If they do that, make me just a regular pension, I will continue to stay happy and promote this great game of baseball.”

Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research,  The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they were born.

Cleaning Up

Bad Boys Bauer, Ozuna Face Major Roadblocks

By Dan Schlossberg

What a difference a year makes.

During the virus-shortened 2020 baseball season, Trevor Bauer not only won the National League’s Cy Young Award but also landed a three-year, $102 million contract to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Another star who earned a lucrative free-agent deal was Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL in home runs, runs batted in, and total bases — convincing the Atlanta Braves to give him a four-year deal worth $65 million with a one-year option attached.

Fast forward to the waning weeks of the 2021 season.

After multiple women accused Bauer of sexual violence, he was placed on administrative leave — making him ineligible to pitch but still able to collect his astronomical paycheck.

Several reports surfaced suggesting he won’t be welcomed back to the Dodgers clubhouse.

As for Ozuna, his misadventures began in Boston, when he foolishly slid head-first into the cleats of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers. Ozuna emerged with two fractured fingers and a diagnosis of six weeks in recovery.

Sent home to Sandy Springs, Georgia, Ozuna then got into an altercation with his wife Genesis. Police responding to a domestic disturbance call allegedly caught him in the act of attempting to strangle her — with his injured arm.

Initially, the Ozuna situation seemed grave: he faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the multiple counts against him. He also faces almost certain suspension by Major League Baseball, which is conducting its own investigation.

But Ozuna has agreed to join a domestic violence intervention program, lasting three to six months, that could erase all charges against him. The original felony charges had been changed to a pair of misdemeanors last month.

The target of Ozuna’s rage, wife Genesis, was charged with domestic violence against him last year after she threw a soap dish at him and cut his face. Why he stayed with her after that remains unknown but now he’s been ordered to keep away.

Should Major League Baseball change his administrative leave to a suspension, Ozuna’s paychecks will stop coming. Bauer faces the same prospect.

For a pair of 30-year-olds at the height of their athletic powers, these setbacks suggest a shocking lack of self-control. If either or both return to the big leagues, let’s hope they learned a bitter lesson.

Baseball’s Domestic Violence policy, a joint agreement between the players and owners, authorizes MLB to impose discipline in the absence of criminal charges.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The intertwined NY design on Yankee caps, used by the team since 1909, originated as a 1877 medal given to the first NYPD officer killed in the line of duty . . .

Derek Jeter was the last ballplayer to host Saturday Night Live . . .

Thanks mainly to wife Maryanne, Ted Simmons became so interested in art and antiques that he became a trustee of the St. Louis Art Museum . . .

Milwaukee’s no-hitter by Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader was the 16th combined no-hitter in major-league history and the record ninth of the 2021 season (not counting the seven-inning hitless gem by Madison Bumgarner or a seven-inning Tampa Bay win over Cleveland on July 7) . . .

Nolan Ryan and Max Scherzer share the record for most strikeouts during a no-hitter (17) . . .

Four no-hitters have been thrown on September 11 throughout baseball history.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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