In the final episode of M*A*S*H, the pompous doctor portrayed by the late David Ogden Stiers got a sendoff that’s arguably one of the most indelible images in television history. After seven seasons of his character trumpeting his own self-importance, sophistication, breeding and surgical skills, like a proud peacock strutting his feathers, this upper-crust scion of a prominent Boston family left Korea on a garbage truck.
Aurora’s Gary Neibauer understands the irony. A former pitcher, Neibauer sometimes feels that the suits who run our national pastime have relegated him to the garbage heap.
Neibauer feels his band of baseball brothers have deserted him. That's because, in order to avert a threatened 1980 Memorial Day weekend walkout by the players, Major League Baseball made the following sweetheart offer to union representatives: Going forward, all a post-1980 player would need to be eligible to buy into the league’s premium health insurance plan was one game day of service; all a post-1980 player would need for a benefit allowance was 43 game days of service. At the time, the threshold was four years to be vested in the pension plan.
The problem was, the union failed to insist on retroactivity for players like Neibauer who had more than 43 game days but less than four years of service.
According to the IRS, a current MLB retiree can receive a pension of up to $225,000. Even a post-1980 player who only has 43 game days of service credit receives a minimum pension of $3,589 at the age of 62 if he stays on the active roster from August 15 to October 1.
The league and union partially remedied this situation in April 2011. The pre-1980 players alive at the time were each awarded payments of $625 for every 43 game days of service the man had. The maximum payment permitted is $10,000 per man.
So if your favorite team called you up on August 15 of this year, and you stayed on their active roster till October 1, when you turn 62-years-old you'd qualify for a lifetime pension of $3,589 that can be passed on to your loved ones. But when the 75-year-old Neibauer, who has two metal prostheses in his hips and suffers from the rare Type 2 diabetes, eventually passes, the moneys he’s now receiving won’t go to his wife, Christine.
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Neibauer says the Colorado Springs-based Major League Baseball Players’ Alumni Association puts on a lot of golf outings but does little else. Its executive director, Dan Foster, is a former executive with MLB Advanced Media who Neibauer suggests does not want to stir the pot and advocate for the men such as himself because he has ties to officials from both the league and the union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA).
Speaking of MLBPA, its leadership has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though the players' welfare and benefits fund is worth more than $3.5 billion, MLBPA 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.
Neibauer is being taken advantage of by an $11 billion business that can afford to do more for the men like himself who helped grow the game. He should not have to feel that Clark and Foster have unceremoniously tossed him into the garbage with the rest of the trash.
Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance writer and author of two books, including A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve. Visit his website at gladstonewriter.com.
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