There are 640 retired ballplayers not receiving a Major League Baseball (MLB) pension.
Not surprisingly, many are Jewish men, such as former Tigers outfielder Dick Sharon.
A resident of Billings, Montana who has found fame as a celebrated fly fisherman, Sharon played for the Detroit Tigers during the 1973, and 1974 seasons before being traded to the San Diego Padres for the 1975 campaign. In 242 career games, he came up to bat 467 times, collected 102 hits, including 20 doubles and 13 home runs, and drove in 46 runs. He also scored 46 times.
Sharon -- whose top MLB salary was a reported $19,000 in 1975-- doesn't receive a traditional pension because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Sharon 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 and 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 quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000.
Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $220,000, according to the IRS.
For his approximately 2 1/2 years worth of service credit, Sharon receives a gross check of $5,625. And that is before taxes are taken out.
Regrettably for these 640 men, the union didn't request that this rules change be made retroactive. So while vested retirees get to pass their pensions on to a loved one, spouse or designated beneficiary, the non-vested players don't.
Imagine you were called up on Aug. 15 of last year by your favorite team and stayed on its roster till Oct. 1. You never played a game, never pinch ran, never pinch hit, never was used as a defensive replacement. All you did was sit on the bench. For your 43 game days of service, because you played after 1980, you know what you’re guaranteed when you turn 62-years-old? A pension of $3,589. And that pension gets passed on to your loved ones when you die. But Sharon's non-qualified monies don't get passed on to his survivors when he passes on, in spite of the fact he was on an active roster much longer than you were.
The union has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $3.5 billion, according to one post-1980 retiree, the union's executive director, Tony Clark, has never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.
What makes this injustice more unseemly is that the national pastime is doing very well financially. Major League Baseball recently announced that its revenue was up 325 percent from 1992, and that it has made $500 million since 2015. What’s more, the average value of the each of the 30 clubs is up 19 percent from 2016, to $1.54 billion.
As for the MLBPA, unions are supposed to help hard working women and men in this country get a fair shake in life. But Clark is apparently only helping himself -- he receives a MLB pension and an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits.
Clark needs to realize that all the men who played the game – whether they’re vested or not – made important contributions to the sport. Six hundred and forty shouldn’t be penalized because of something that occurred in May 1980 that wasn’t their fault.
A freelance magazine writer, Douglas J. Gladstone authored the 2010 book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” His website is located at www.gladstonewriter.com