Understand first of all that Major League Baseball is very well off financially. That goes for franchises which, according to Forbes Magazine, are worth an average of $1.54 billion, and their players, for whom the minimum salary is $535,000.
No benefits are necessary for this community. But while teams and players rake in big bucks, there remains hidden in the shadows, baseball’s dirty little secret.
Some 500 players, who had the bad timing of playing before 1980, are struggling with bare bones annuities, the relics of an economic system that instead of rewarding them for their service to the game, took advantage of them.
Major League Baseball’s pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, according to Forbes. But for those who played before 1980, when the system was reformed, that number means nothing because they don’t share in it
Remember George “The Stork’’ Theodore? He was a gangly outfielder with the New York Mets, all arms and legs, leading to his nickname. The Stork became something of a fan favorite, even played in the 1973 World Series.
After leaving baseball, he became a guidance counselor in Utah and last year was named Educator of the Year by the South Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce. But because he played fewer than four seasons in the majors and did it before 1980, he does not qualify for a baseball pension. Instead, he gets no health coverage and an annuity that maxes out at $10,000, based on $625 for each quarter season played. Theodore played two years. His annuity amounted to $3,500 . That’s a couple of hour’s take at an upper deck concession stand at CitiField, home of the Mets.
One of Theodore’s teammates was Dave Schneck, another outfielder. He spent 14 months in the Army during the Vietnam War and, like Theodore, was a spare part with the Mets. His top salary was $20,000. He is forgotten by all but the most ardent Mets fan and certainly by baseball, which left him, like Theodore, without a pension.
Then there is David Clyde, one of the most celebrated high school players ever drafted by Major League Baseball. Clyde’s credentials at Houston’s Westchester High School included five no-hitters, two of them perfect games. So he was a no-brain No. 1 pick in the 1973 draft by the Texas Rangers, struggling to establish themselves in Clyde’s state.
The young pitcher’s deal for $65,000, big money in those days, included the requirement that his first two professional starts be with the major league club. He attracted big crowds, convincing management to keep him around. But Clyde was in over his head and never got the chance to develop properly. He was 4-8 that first season on his way to an 18-33 career record that was short circuited by arm and shoulder injuries.
At 26, David Clyde was done, 37 days short of qualifying for a pension.
Contrast that with the current pension system. Today’s players qualify after 43 game days and get health coverage on Day One of their Major League service. The minimum 43 game days generates a $34,000 pension. The maximum pension is $210,000.
There are plenty of other stories like these and author Doug Gladstone is on a crusade to get baseball to recognize the contributions of the pre-1980 community of players. Their stories are told in his book “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB and the Players Association threw 834 Retirees A Curve.’’
It should be required reading for the players reaping in the current benefits while baseball refuses to allow this all-but-forgotten community to share in the riches of the game it helped build.