By Gustavo Arellano
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"What do I tell all these guys or their widows who call every day?" he asks in between cough drops. "Why isn't more being done?
"I feel [the settlement] was a way to say, 'You guys are a bunch of nobodies. You never made it big,'" Baney adds. "But who was giving up all these home runs to Harmon Killebrew and Willie Mays? I was part of it."
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The '47-'80 discrepancy first received national attention in 2002, when former Houston Colt 45s bonus-baby infielder Ernie Fazio, former Met shortstop Al Moran and former Chicago White Sox catcher Mike Colbern, on behalf of 1,045 fellow non-vested retirees, sued Selig and the 30 Major League Baseball club owners for reverse discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. After meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1997, baseball decided to extend retirement and medical coverage to dozens of players from the Negro Leagues who had been denied entry to the big leagues. That decision marked the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier.
The 2002 complaint found it discriminatory that MLB paid pensions to 69 ex-Negro Leaguers while denying the same to the predominantly white non-vested players. The plaintiffs also claimed they deserved medical benefits because team doctors and trainers shot them full of cortisone.
Federal Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles dismissed the suit on March 15, 2004, agreeing with baseball's position: The Negro Leaguers had not been MLB employees, so they could not have benefited from employment discrimination. The payments to them were charity, not part of a contractual agreement, the judge found. But Real also concluded the non-vested players "have the higher ground in this lawsuit. . . . Their case is just. . . . MLB should make things right." In 2006, the U.S. 9th Circuit District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles agreed that baseball was not guilty of reverse discrimination.
Baney understands this should not have been spun into a black-and-white issue. "We're not saying the blacks should not have gotten it; I'm glad they did," he explains. "We're saying, 'Why not we, too?' It should be fair for everyone."
Doug Gladstone literally wrote the book on this: 2010's A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.
Reached at his upstate New York home—in between rounds of fantasy-baseball drafts—Gladstone says it was a tactical mistake to make the legal case about race. "I pointed out when they filed this lawsuit saying that Title VII rights of mostly Caucasians had been violated that, in fact, Herb Washington, one of the guys on the Oakland A's whom the Dodgers' Mike Marshall picked off in the 1974 World Series, is part of the non-vested group," says Gladstone. "Last time I looked, Herb Washington was black."
Other African-Americans among the non-vested group include Aaron Pointer, who was on the Houston Colt 45s, and Bill Harold Boso, a former Cleveland Indian who now drags an oxygen tank.
Gladstone says he always tells Jim Acho, the Detroit lawyer who filed the suit, "Had this just been handled as an employment-benefits issue, it would have been a slam dunk."
Baney was prepared to picket on behalf of baseball's lost boys outside Angels Stadium before the 2010 All-Star Game, but, he says, he backed off after Gary Neibauer of the MLB alumni association's pension committee assured him help was on the way. His hopes were raised further when, in April 2011, the American Association of Retired Persons broke a story claiming the ex-players would receive $10,000 pensions for life, plus medical coverage.
However, on April 21 of that year, Bud Selig announced that as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players with no MLB retirement benefits who retired between Jan. 1, 1947, and Jan. 1, 1980, would receive payments up to $10,000 through 2016, jointly paid by baseball and the Players Association.
"Very simply, we felt that this was the right thing to do for these former players who contributed to our game's unparalleled history," said Selig, who made no mention of medical or survivor benefits.
Baney and many other retirees were underwhelmed, especially once they understood the funding formula would have the vast majority earning a fraction of $10,000. Shortly thereafter, Neibauer and David Clyde were removed from the pensions committee, which was rounded out by 91-year-old Eddie Robinson, a respected big-league first baseman, scout and front-office executive, and Craig Skok, a Braves, Rangers and Red Sox pitcher who appeared in his last game in 1979 but, because Ted Turner allowed him to remain on Atlanta's roster in 1980, is fully vested in the pension. Baney swears Clyde and Neibauer were yanked "because they asked tough questions."
In between March thunderstorms in North Houston, David Clyde is schooling a young pitcher at a baseball academy. He knows a thing or three about the pressures of being a young hurler. After going 18-0 at Westchester High School in Houston, the lefty was taken with the No. 1 pick by the Texas Rangers in 1973, receiving a reported $125,000 signing bonus. On June 27, 1973—three weeks after graduating from high school and without a day spent in the minors—Clyde started before 37,000 fans at Arlington Stadium, the Rangers' first sell-out. He won that game and the next one.