Doug Gladstone’s 2010 book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee,” shed light on the plight of 847 former Major League Baseball players who were receiving no pensions or health benefits from the league.
Now, those players – all of whom had less than four years of major league service between 1947 and 1980 – are scheduled to receive up to $10,000 a year form the league for the next two years. That announcement was made on April 21, less than one year after “A Bitter Cup of Coffee” was published.
“Certainly, there is a validation to the extent that two years out of your life has meant something towards the greater good,” said Gladstone.
“I was just elated to know that in some small way, my book was a catalyst for these men to get at least something from Major League Baseball.”
However, Gladstone was quick to add that the money those players have been promised has yet to be delivered, nor is the amount nearly what post-1980 MLB alumni receive in pensions and health insurance.
“One of the players I profiled, [former Kansas City, Toronto and St. Louis pitcher] Tom Bruno, came up one game shy of qualifying for the pension,” said Gladstone. “He could have had either $10,000 or $930,000.”
Gladstone, a Saratoga Springs native who works for the New York State and Local Retirement System, added that the money these players are scheduled to receive will not come close to covering their costs.
“You know what Bob Sadowski [a former pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves and Boston Red Sox in the mid 1960s] wants to do with that money? He wants to buy an air conditioner,” said Gladstone. “To think that he doesn’t have the money to buy an air conditioner and he lives in Georgia – a place where you’d think that you would need an air conditioner – should tell you what his situation is like.”
Gladstone said that the bulk of the 847 former major leaguers will not receive $10,000. “The average player in this class has an average of two-and-a-half years of service, but they’re probably going to receive only about $3,000 to $4,000 a year for the next two years and that doesn’t include health insurance,” he said. “On the other hand, players from 1980 on who have had more than 43 days of service are automatically vested in the [MLB] pension plan.”
Gladstone said he learned about MLB’s plan two days before the April 21 announcement in New York City. Soon after, he was fielding calls from national media outlets looking to get his reaction, as well as from players from that class – including players who he hadn’t profiled but who had read his book and wanted to share their stories.
“They came out of the woodwork,” said Gladstone. “The irony is if I ever do a sequel to the book, I’d title it, ‘A Bitter Cup of Coffee: Extra Innings,’ because of all the stories I collected after the announcement was made.”
One such story is of former major league catcher George Yankowski. He played six games with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1942, then went to serve in the United States military during World War II. Upon his return, he worked his way back into the majors with the Chicago White Sox, where he played 12 games in 1949.
“He fought the ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ He was signed by Connie Mack himself back when he was with Philadelphia,” said Gladstone. “And he’s not getting any money [from MLB] at all. He’s just living on a teacher’s pension.”
As part of the announcement made April 21, MLB stated that it will discuss including Yankowski and the other former players with less than four years of service in the league’s pension and health care plans when collective bargaining agreement negotiations start. The current CBA expires in December.
Gladstone, though, said he doesn’t have much hope that the players he fought for will be extended the same benefits that more recent MLB alumni earned for less years of service.
“Saying that they’re committed to talking about it only means that they’re committed to talking about it. That doesn’t mean that it will be realized,” said Gladstone.
Gladstone added that he is disappointed that the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association hasn’t been more vigorous in their efforts to help this group of former players.
“Let me put it this way. If the executive leadership of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association was running point on the Revolutionary War, we’d still be the loyal subjects of King George,” said Gladstone. “The MLBPAA raises $13-$15 million for charities every year, and they can’t support their own men?”
So while MLB’s announcement for a payment plan is a start, Gladstone said he won’t be satisfied until the class of 847 former major leaguers he wrote about receives the same consideration as those who are already vested in the pension plan.
“I just want to see these men treated justly and fairly,” he said.