Major League Baseball’s annual midsummer exhibition, the All-Star Game, is Tuesday.
Millions will see some of the game’s greatest players perform in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
But did you know baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association just recently agreed to provide some form of annuity to men who participated in the nation’s pastime but didn’t play long enough to get benefits?
And one of those men lives in the Mahoning Valley.
The author who brought this oversight to the public’s eye was Doug Gladstone. He wrote the book “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve,” which was published in April 2010.
Gladstone says the April 2011 agreement between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association is only a partial victory for those retirees.
He talked to me in late May about his book and mentioned that one of the ballplayers in his work is Herb Washington, 60, of Boardman.
Washington is owner of H.L.W. Fast Track, the company that owns most of the McDonald’s franchises in the Mahoning Valley and franchises in western Pennsylvania.
Washington also was former owner of the Youngstown Steelhounds pro hockey team that played its home games at the Covelli Centre, then known as the Chevy Centre.
A world-class sprinter, he once had the records in the 50- and 60-yard dashes.
Gladstone’s book points out that Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley came up with the idea to use Washington’s speed to enhance his ball club.
Washington, who did his track work at Michigan State University, became the A’s “designated runner” during the 1974-75 seasons. He has a World Series ring from the A’s 1974 world championship. According to Major League Baseball statistics, he appeared in 105 games, stole 31 bases and scored 33 runs. The A’s waived him in the 1975 season.
Washington now is one of the nation’s most-successful black restaurateurs. He later became chairman of the board of directors of the Buffalo, N.Y., branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and was subsequently named director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
He also is a board member of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania.
I tried to contact Washington to get his thoughts on his career and Gladstone’s book, but I was unable to catch up with him.
Gladstone points out that in the April 2011 agreement between baseball and the players association, inactive, nonvested men, like Washington, who played between 1947 and 1979 receive up to $10,000 per year, depending on their length of service credit, as compensation for their contributions to the national pastime.
In his press statement, Gladstone says, “What was announced on April 21, 2011, doesn’t provide health insurance coverage, nor will any player’s spouse or loved one receive a designated beneficiary payment after the man passes. So in my estimation, this is only a partial victory.
“I am, however, elated that these men are, at long last, finally going to receive some type of payment for their time in the game,” Gladstone added. “This was a wrong that should have been righted years ago.”
“A Bitter Cup of Coffee” tells the story about how these former big-league ballplayers were denied pensions as a result of the failure of both the league and the union to retroactively amend the vesting-requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980.
Before 1980, ballplayers had to have four years’ service credit to earn an annuity and medical benefits.
Gladstone points out that David Clyde, the Texas Ranger bonus-baby who had a devastating fast ball, was 37 days short of eligibility. Clyde also pitched a season for the Cleveland Indians. His career ended due to arm injuries.
Another player, Don Dillard, a former member of the Indians and the Milwaukee Braves, was just 17 days short of qualifying for pension benefits.
Since 1980, however, all you need is one day of service credit to be eligible to buy into the umbrella health insurance coverage the players’ pension fund offers at retirement, Gladstone said.
In the latest collective-bargaining agreement between the union and the league, the life annuities were extended through 2016. Gladstone’s book details the plight of the 874 players who were around “just long enough to drink a cup of coffee,” and were not included retroactively in the pension plan’s amended-vesting requirement, which has since been adopted by the players association.
A lifelong baseball fan, Gladstone is a journalist by training whose published articles have appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, Baseball Digest and The San Diego Jewish World, among others.
Here is the link to the book’s official website if you are interested: www.abittercupofcoffee.com. The book also is available on Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.