Guests Only: Gladstone writes on local baseball player
By Douglas J. Gladstone
I don’t know much about the process of turning wood into bats. I know the best bats are made from maple, ash or birch, but that’s about all I know; I certainly didn’t get good wood on the ball growing up. That was painfully obvious when I played Little League baseball more than 50 years ago.
But 78-year-old Tom Metcalf, the owner of Metcalf Lumber, in Wisconsin Rapids, knows all about these things. Especially since, as a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher in 1963, he regularly got batters out. That’s what pitchers are supposed to do — prevent opposing batters from getting good wood on the ball.
In a little more than 47 game days on the New York Yankees’ active roster that season, from August 4 through September 20, Metcalf appeared in eight games, pitched 13 innings and recorded one win. He had a sterling Earned Run Average of 2.77 to boot.
These days, that would be enough for Metcalf to receive a minimum MLB pension of $3,589.
But Metcalf doesn’t earn nearly that much.
Metcalf and 640 other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947 – 1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.
Instead, they all receive non-qualified life annuities based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.
For his 47 game days of service, Metcalf receives a gross payment of $625. After taxes, his net payment is approximately $450.
Meanwhile, the maximum pension a ballplayer can receive these days is $220,000.
When the player dies, the payment is not permitted to be passed on to a designated beneficiary, like a spouse or other loved one. So when he dies, the money Metcalf receives won’t go to any of his loved ones. And the player is not covered under the MLB’s health care umbrella coverage plan, either.
By contrast, a player who played AFTER 1980 is eligible for health coverage after one game day. And he’s eligible for a pension after 43 game days. And the payment can be passed on to a loved one or designated recipient.
Men like Metcalf are being penalized for playing in the majors at the wrong time.
This is an injustice that nobody is writing about or talking about. What makes it more unseemly is that the national pastime is doing very well financially. MLB 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 union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) to date has been loath to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though many of these men are filing for bankruptcy at advance ages, having banks foreclose on their homes and are so sickly and poor that they cannot afford adequate health care coverage.
Unions are supposed to help hard working women and men in this country get a fair shake in life. But Tony Clark, the so-called MLBPA labor leader doesn’t seem to want to help anyone but himself — Clark receives a MLB pension AND an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits, for being the head of the union.
In my opinion, Metcalf and all the other men are being shortchanged by a sport that can afford to do more. Just increase the bone that is being thrown these men to $10,000 a year. Are MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Clark seriously suggesting they can’t afford to pay these men more? Given the economics of the sport, $6.41 million is chump change.
It’s about time Clark and Manfred bat that idea around. They can even ask Metcalf to supply the lumber.