Douglas Gladstone
Douglas Gladstone

The Members of The Tribe – No, Not the Cleveland Indians — w/o MLB Pensions

On September 26, 1963, at the age of 20, Larry Yellen made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut when he pitched for the Houston Colt .45s — the precursor to the Houston Astros.
All told, in 26 innings, he appeared in 14 games during his career, which lasted until the following year. All but two of his appearances were in relief.

A resident of Duluth, Georgia, Mr. Yellen was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 4, 1943. When he pitched for Hunter College’s baseball team – the “Hawks” — he was named the squad’s most valuable player two years in a row.

Yellen’s time playing Major League Baseball (MLB) might otherwise be forgotten were it not for the fact that he is among over 600 retirees who aren’t receiving MLB pensions.

Other Jewish men who are in the same boat include Stephen Hertz, a former member of the Houston Colt .45s who went on to manage the Tel Aviv Lightning in the Israeli Baseball League and Dick Sharon, who played for the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres.

Fast forward to today, and I’m wondering whether Alex Bregman, the third baseman of the Astros, knows anything about this injustice.

Bregman is one of several Jews playing in “The Show” this year; some of the others include Atlanta Braves teammates Max Fried and Joc Pederson, Miami Marlins pitcher Richard Bleier and New York Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar. All are being compensated very well.

Bregman makes a salary of $11 million, and is a member of the union representing current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA). But the MLBPA hasn’t lifted a finger to help all the men like Sharon, whose top salary in the game was a whopping $19,000.
Bregman is playing at a time when the average MLB salary is approximately $4 million. Even the last man on the bench is making the minimum salary of $565,500 per year.

These days, when it comes to baseball salaries, you can set yourself up for the rest of your life. Just ask former Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole; during the 2019 off season, he signed a nine-year contract with the New York Yankees for $324 million. He will earn $36 million each year for almost a decade.

When Yellen played, there was no such thing as free agency.

Mind you, I don’t begrudge Bregman one penny. But the guys like Yellen and Hertz paved the way for today’s stars to command the salaries that are being handed out these days. They’re the ones who stood on picket lines, endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks so Bregman and Cole could earn the money they’re both receiving.

But for sheer outrageousness, according to its own 2015 Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the MLBPA paid its 72 staff salaries totaling $16 million. The union’s executive director, former Tigers All-Star Tony Clark, receives a compensation package, including benefits, totaling more than $2.2 million.

Unions are supposed to take care of working men and women. But the MLBPA is too busy doling out top shelf salaries to itself at the expense of men like Yellen and Hertz.

By the way, the lead attorney in charge of collective bargaining for the union is named Bruce Meyer. He recently received a hefty raise to $1 million a year.
What’s wrong with this picture?
See, the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Since 1980, all you’ve needed is 43 games on an active MLB roster to earn a pension. But Yellen and all 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.

Instead, they all receive 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 has accrued on an active MLB roster, he gets $625, up to $10,000. And that payment is before taxes are taken out. Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $230,000, according to the IRS.

What’s more, the payment cannot be passed on to a spouse or designated beneficiary. So none of Mr. Yellen’s loved ones will receive the bone he is being thrown when he dies.

And because the league is under no obligation to collectively bargain about this item, if the retired men are to be helped, it is the union which has to go to bat for them.

Alex, are you mad about this injustice? Are you mad enough to speak out about it?  Were you even aware that this was happening?

Is the well respected baseball executive Mark Shapiro, the president of The Toronto Blue Jays, aware of this shonda? What about Steve Cohen, the new owner of the Mets?

I hope Alex and all his baseball brethren are grateful for what they have. ‘Cause if they are, they’ll do the right thing.

About the Author
Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.”
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