By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He could use the medical benefits baseball provides vested retirees, and Hutto believes he deserves it because he's certain the game caused his arthritis.
Hutto returned to manage in the Oriole organization in the mid-1980s, but he was not rehired in 1986. Now 65, he does home improvements and, despite his declining health, does not see retirement as an option any time soon. His baseball annuity breaks out to $150 per month after taxes.
"I personally wrote a letter to every player representative in both leagues, people on the pension committee, people on various committees of the players union or alumni association, even to Brooks Robinson, the president of the alumni association," Hutto says, referring to the Orioles' Hall of Fame third baseman. "I sent them out to retired players such as [Hall of Famers] Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. Do you know how many responses I've received? None.
"I would say from that they were either told to not talk with us, or they just don't give a damn. I'd hate think to think firemen or policemen or factory workers would treat their retired people in that same manner."
One of his best friends is Wright, who lives across town from Hutto and whose wife just retired from Merrill Lynch. His "retirement" includes still working two jobs: at a food bank and as a courier. In better shape financially than most—he and his wife used his annuity to treat themselves to a cruise—Wright has worked feverishly for decades trying to get his fellow ballplayers pensions.
"You get to the point where you don't know how to fight," he says dejectedly. "We're dying."
* * *
The way Gerry Janeski of Huntington Beach sees it, taking better care of the lost boys would prove baseball recognizes players from all eras having been important to the game.
He has much in common with his pal Dick Baney. Janeski also hails from Southern California (Pasadena), was born in the same year (1946), played the same position (pitcher), was drafted by the same team (Boston Red Sox), settled post-baseball in the same area (Orange County) and succeeded in the same business (real estate).
He won a respectable 10 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1970 and, as is the case for Baney, does not need a baseball pension. But he knows too many lost boys who do, and he cannot understand how one who left the game in 1980 is entitled to more retirement assistance than a player from 1979.
"Of all the money being thrown around, in one day in time, they are saying you are not one of us," Janeski says. "It really is a shame."
But not all non-vested players are as angry as Baney and Janeski. Mike Colbern, a former All-American catcher at Arizona State University, was touted as the next Johnny Bench before an undiagnosed broken wrist cut his career short after two seasons in 1979. He had batted .352 with 116 RBIs.
The 57-year-old returned to Scottsdale after baseball and has suffered a variety of health problems, undergoing 14 surgeries for everything from a carotid artery that was 90 percent blocked to a bum shoulder. He was prescribed 22 pills per day and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When he was in between apartments recently, he spent two nights in his truck, parked near a Circle K in Tempe.
His annuity pays him $1,800, which is $1,500 after taxes, and he's happy to have it considering baseball did not legally have to pay him anything. One of the named plaintiffs in the 2002 lawsuit, he believes it was the right thing to do because it drew attention.
Colbern credits Selig with personally returning every fax the former ballplayer sent to the commissioner, who was ever cordial and never ducked the issue. "I do not want to get down on baseball," Colbern says. "At least they did something. But they also did something wrong, and they don't want to admit it."
The most upbeat of the non-vested retirees interviewed for this story was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit: Ernie Fazio, who, out of Santa Clara University in 1962, became a "Bonus Baby"—the first player signed by the Houston Colt 45s in the expansion draft. He spent most of his career in the minors, but he did play parts of two seasons in Houston before a 1966 stint with the then-Kansas City A's was shortened by a life-threatening virus. He was only 24—and one year shy of the four years of MLB experience that would have earned him a full pension.
So why is the 70-year-old upbeat?
"We hear that at the next Major League Baseball meeting, it will be discussed," he says from the Bay Area city of Alamo. "That's all I know. It could get extended. I hope it does—so do a lot of other people."
His source for the pension scoop was Eddie Robinson, who did not return the Weekly's repeated phone calls. The Major League Baseball Players Association also did not respond to repeated requests for comment via phone, fax and email.
The Office of Commissioner of Baseball in New York referred a reporter to the one-page statement from April 21, 2011, which notes, "Payments beyond the initial period will be discussed in collective bargaining."