Sunday, August 14, 2022

Former White Sox Player Among Hundreds Being Denied MLB Pension

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Bob Coluccio is not a household name for baseball fans. The 71-year-old currently lives in Costa Mesa. He sells luxury real estate insurance. On the surface, he seems like an ordinary guy. However, he is one of 515 former MLB players who are being denied a pension by the league and players association. 



Coluccio played three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers from 1973-1975. He then spent two seasons with the White Sox from 1975-1977. His final year in the league was in 1978 with the St Louis Cardinals. 

Coluccio was just 35 games shy of receiving a pension when he retired from the game due to an illness in the family. Since 1980 all a player has needed to qualify for health insurance is 43 game days. Culccio appeared in 370 games during his MLB career. He missed this change by two years so he is unable to recive a pension that can earn as much as $245,000 for a retired MLB player. 

The following is an essay from writer and publicist Douglas J Gladstone. He is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee and has been at the forefront of trying to get the players association to pay these players. Here is what he has to say: 

In a January 25, 2015 letter that was emailed to all fans who have an account with MLB.com, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred noted he had been “entrusted to protect the integrity of our national pastime and to set a course that allows this great game to continue to flourish.”

In this letter, Manfred, who is from Rome, in upstate New York, made a point of noting that he “will never forget my intense dedication to (his Little League team) that club and to my teammates- each of whom I can still name to this day — and to being part of a perfect game.”

“The mission before us is clear,” he continued. “To honor the game’s history while welcoming new people to our great sport.”

But is MLB really honoring the game history? Not from where I sit. See, there are 500 retired ballplayers who aren’t receiving MLB pensions. All they get is an annual stipend of $718.75 for every 43 days they were on an active roster. One hundred eighty additional men, who accrued less than 43 games, don’t even receive that.

The reason for this is because, in 1980, the union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), agreed to changes in the vesting rules by calling off a planned Memorial Day strike The changes made it easier for post-1980 players to qualify for a MLB pension. But it was at the expense of the pre-1980 players, men like onetime pitcher Rich Hinton, of Sarasota, Florida, who had three tours of duty with the South Siders. Other former White Sox in the same boat as Hinton are pitchers Dave Lemonds and Dennis O’Toole and outfielder Bob “The Macaroni Pony” Coluccio.

Prior to the vesting changes, a player needed four years of service to be eligible for a pension. Since that time, all you’ve needed is 43 games of service. But the guys like Hinton weren’t retroactively included in this sweetheart of a deal, so there are men with more than 43 days of service but less than four years who were left on the outside looking in.

And in collective bargaining negotiations, the league doesn’t have to negotiate about this item. It’s the responsibility of the union to go to bat for these men. Which, after 42 years, they have shown nearly zero interest in doing.

The league owners can step up and do something about this if they want to, however. Especially since, in 2017, the 30 league owners voted to earmark $10 million to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. And while that was certainly nice, it was a gesture that basically screamed, ‘We care more about relics than we do about flesh and blood retirees.’

Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Commissioner’s hometown of Rome to see the Griffiss International Sculpture Garden on Hill Road — the spot of the cement Alley Oop / American GI statue.

The statue depicts the cartoon caveman with a pot helmet. He used to be 15 feet tall, but after being vandalized over the years and left for neglect, he’s now only 10 feet tall and missing the machine gun he used to hold and part of his lower legs.

Which got me thinking — like this statue, so many of the men I’m trying to help have been neglected by their former employer.

The league recently agreed to pay 23,000 former and current minor league players $185 million to settle a class action lawsuit about wage claims. And the NBA Board of Governors recently earmarked $24.5 million to the 140 surviving members of the ABA to help offset rent, food, clothing and medical costs. So why not take the opportunity to mend fences with these non-vested retirees once and for all?

I think the least the league owners should consider is increasing the compensation these men are currently receiving. Do away with the ridiculous actuarial computation of $718.75 for every 43 game days of service they accrued, and just give them a straight $10,000. Let them figure out their own withholding taxes. And extend the benefits so that, for a finite time, say, three to five years, the spouses and loved ones of these men don’t get the monies taken away from them when the player passes.

Do that, Mr. Commissioner, and you’ll really be helping out the men whose contributions to this great game, like that statue in your hometown. have been vandalized for too long.

Doug Gladstone, of Saratoga Springs, New York, is a freelance magazine writer and author of two books, including “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve” 

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