Long-Retired Players Seek Pension, Licensing Money

With the players and owners battling over billions, baseball's eldest statesmen are seeking a few crumbs from the table. Spokesmen for the 77 survivors who played at least five years in the majors but retired before the pension plan took effect at the end of the 1946 season wonder why their performances remain unrecognized. This moral issue aside, Pete Coscarart and others have also raised the legal issue of their right to be compensated for the use of their name or likeness by baseball's official licensees.

Acting Commissioner Selig told the New York Times that the veterans' situation is "categorically unfair" and should be addressed in the pending labor agreement -- but it won't be. Donald Fehr says the Players' Association can't pay such benefits from its pension fund. His deputy Gene Orza weasels, "I sympathize with them, but the current players have no duty to bargain over retired employees. [Ask the UAW or United Steel-workers how they feel about retirees, Gene.] And you can't ask the players or the owners to give them charity. It seems unseemly." There might be a gracious way to justify indifference, but this wasn't it.

Amazingly enough, in 1987 the NFL overcame this feeling of "unseemliness" to establish a $40 million fund for its pre-1959 players, while in 1989, the NBA voted a stipend of $100/month per season played to veterans 62 or older. By contrast, an annuity to provide each of these 77 MLB veterans $1,000/month for the rest of their lives would cost about $5 million: 1/8 of the NFL's commitment, less than ½ of 1% of 1996 player compensation, and less than 10% of the MLBPA's annual licensing revenues, which for most of the Nineties have been paid into the union's strike fund rather than directly to the players.

The 77 affected players include six-time All-Star Jo-Jo Moore, former NL MVP Dolph Camilli, Harry Danning, Whitlow Wyatt, Babe Dahlgren, Woody English, Frenchy Bordagaray, Billy Rogell...and, in the interest of full disclosure, my great-uncle Joe Cascarella. At an average age of about 85, these players can't wait forever for someone connected with Major League Baseball to do the right thing.

Copyright © 1996 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Summer 1996 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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