Dick Baney and the Other Lost Boys of Summer
Richard Lee "Dick" Baney remembers the excitement he felt in 1963 as a fireballing freshman at Anaheim High School. Scouts such as Los Angeles Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda already had their eyes on him. "I was told that I'd be the first Mexican signed out of Orange County," he says.
He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox three years later and went on to devote nine of his prime employment years to the game, mostly by riding stinky school buses to places such as Rochester, New York; Indianapolis; and Des Moines, Iowa. Baney debuted in the big leagues with the Seattle Pilots in 1969; his last appearance came with the Cincinnati Reds five years later. Career highlights included getting a win for the Big Red Machine in a 1973 playoff game and striking out Henry Aaron twice just a year before Hammerin' Hank broke Babe Ruth's home-run record. While in the Show, Baney compiled a 4-1 record, with three saves, 38 strikeouts and a 4.28 ERA.
After baseball, Baney worked with his father, an Orange County developer, then went into the oil business and other ventures that proved him a natural salesman. He's now mostly retired as a real-estate investor and property manager and lives in a nice home a stiff 7-iron from the Tustin Ranch Golf Club.
But many of the guys he played with had no such luck post-baseball. Most landed menial jobs. They had families to support and no time to return to school once they walked away from the diamond. Some fell to drug and alcohol abuse.
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v SEATTLE MARINERS
TicketsMon., Sep. 12, 7:05pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Seattle Mariners
TicketsMon., Sep. 12, 7:05pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v TORONTO BLUE JAYS
TicketsThu., Sep. 15, 7:05pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Toronto Blue Jays
TicketsThu., Sep. 15, 7:05pm
Baney doesn't begrudge current players their seven-digit salaries. What does irk him is that a game with a $500,000 minimum wage (compared to $1,500—or $7,600, allowing for inflation—when he played) can't take better care of the 800 or so retirees and wives from his era whom he hears from daily, an aging group that exists in a pension-and-benefits limbo that has turned the ex-players into baseball's lost boys.
Due to negotiations over the years between owners and the players' union, if you played at least five years before 1947 or were in the Negro Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier that same year, you receive annual $10,000 pensions, medical benefits and, once you die, coverage extended to your spouse or children. For those who spent at least 47 days in the bigs from 1980 forward, you also get the pension—and medical is extended to those who played just one day. But for players who clocked less than four full seasons between 1947 to 1980, there had been nothing.
If that does not sound unfair, consider this: If you were in a big league dugout for just one minute in 1980, you are covered medically in your golden years. If you pitched your arm out of a career after 3.99 years of MLB service by 1979, you are not.
Finding it cruel that those who played fewer games before and after they did are covered in their golden years—especially Negro Leaguers who were never part of Major League Baseball—three former ballplayers sued Commissioner Bud Selig and the 30 team owners in 2002, claiming 1,045 retirees were subjected to reverse discrimination.
The suit and appeal eventually broke baseball's way; publicity and a book about the issue, as well as recommendations from the MLB Players Alumni Association pensions committee, led Selig to announce in April 2011 that the Collective Bargaining Agreement includes annual annuities up to $10,000 to baseball's lost boys, paid by the league and the Players Association—through 2016. Since MLB is not legally obligated to cover them and the union does not have to represent them, those affected consider the annuities, which range from $621 to $9,375 yearly after taxes, better than nothing.
But for those such as Baney, who have been working on righting what they consider a wrong since the early 1980s, it was a major-league letdown, especially when they read about current players such as new Angel Albert Pujols pulling down $250 million or MLB kicking in another $1 million in quasi-pensions to 27 Negro Leaguers who played after 1950 but never in the bigs, on grounds the national pasttime was too slow to integrate.
"Ninety percent of players aren't happy with it," Baney says of baseball's lost boys. "The others are just happy to be getting anything."
Over the years, former ballplayers such as Baney, Gerry Janeski of Huntington Beach, David Clyde of Texas, and Ken Wright and Jimmy Hutto of Florida have written reams of letters to Hall of Famers, spoken out in newspaper accounts and on sports talk radio, and, in Baney's case, threatened to picket All-Star games on behalf of their baseball brothers who are struggling to make ends meet, dealing with medical issues and in some cases dying without health coverage. They maintain their colleagues deserve lifetime $10,000 annual pensions, medical coverage and benefits extended to survivors, just as almost all other baseball retirees get.
"Baseball has the best revenue it has ever had," Baney says. "I realize it's a business; I realize it's a business that does not want to take care of a few players. So the only chance we have is to embarrass baseball."
At 65, Baney doesn't need the retirement money. Though he was up and down between the minor and major leagues over a nine-year span, Baney is officially considered to have one year of total MLB service, with the Pilots, Reds and Red Sox. That earns him annuity checks of $2,400 each. But that's not the point, he says—fairness is. And because he has been so vocal, he routinely fields phone calls from sick and financially strapped retirees who now hope he can produce the ultimate late-inning relief.
"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."
* * *
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.
Clyde started 18 games that season, going 4-8, and 21 the next, for a 3-9 record, but after an opening loss in 1975, he developed arm problems and spent most of the next three seasons in the minors. He was traded to Cleveland before the 1978 season, when he went 8-11 after 25 starts. He started nine games in '79 before being demoted to the minors. Clyde was traded back to Texas after the 1979 season, but then he was released before opening day of 1980. He was just 37 days short of the four years required to be fully vested in the pension.
Asked if he was removed from the pensions committee for asking too many tough questions, Clyde strikes a diplomatic tone.
"The answer that I was given was I wasn't renewed," he says in a slow Texas drawl. "I was not told directly it had anything to do with that, so anything I have to say about that is pure conjecture. But a little bit on the funny side of that is we get these things approved, we are part of the inner committee that got it approved, and then myself and Gary Neibauer are no longer needed."
He remains "fearful" about non-vested retirees no longer having a voice on the committee.
"I don't mean to sound ugly or whatever, but for 25 years, nothing happened," says Clyde. "Sometimes you have to step on toes to get things done, but I don't think anybody I asked questions of acted as if I were out of line."
Clyde doesn't believe today's players understand that those from his era stood up for them decades ago, bringing free agency to the game and beating the reserve clause. And, he says, he's worried about his baseball brothers who are "in sadder shape than I am. I'm sorry they did not get completely what they wanted to get."
All he can pin his hopes on is future negotiations. Clyde believes Players Association executive director Michael Weiner has his heart in the right place. But it still bothers him that hundreds of players passed away before anything was done.
"All those guys wanted was to be remembered."
* * *
Gladstone really wishes someone else had written his book—say a George Will or Buzz Bissinger, anyone with more juice and a bigger built-in audience to shame baseball into doing more for the retirees. Having written articles for Baseball Digest, the Chicago Sun-Times and the San Diego Jewish Times, Gladstone took up the cause for his first book because many of the protagonists were his heroes growing up.
One respected baseball writer who would not have been with him was the late Doug Pappas, who wrote prolifically about the game's economics and often accused Major League Baseball and its media sycophants of spreading false information.
Days before passing away in May 2004, Pappas wrote on Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog that the retirees "have no case," that "their lawyers are an embarrassment to the legal profession," and that it was ridiculous short-timers should receive $10,000 per year for life, plus comprehensive medical benefits. "With all due respect," Pappas stated, "that's like a file clerk who worked for Google for two months in 2001 claiming a right to share in the proceeds of its IPO."
"Unfortunately, members of the Fourth Estate have been indifferent," says Gladstone. "There has been a ton of press, plenty of articles written, but they have not captured the frustration these men still feel."
Gladstone wants to see the moral outrage he and the lost boys of baseball feel, so these stories resonate better with readers. They know an average of 44 players has died every year since the suit was filed in 2002, a death rate that accelerates as the men age.
"I've heard a lot of players, who are not Young Turks, say that if they had youth on their side, they would fight harder," Gladstone says. "The bottom line is Major League Baseball does not have to legally do anything on behalf of these men. They do not have to negotiate with non-vested players. The union does not have to offer them the duty of fair representation. They don't have to be legal advocates."
However, he believes baseball "opened a Pandora's Box" when it awarded the benefits to the Negro Leaguers. "You can't give benefits to one group that, strictly speaking, did not have a contractual history with the league, then hose guys such as Dick Baney, David Clyde and all the others that did have a legal, contractual history," says Gladstone.
It's the stories of these players struggling in their golden years that haunt Gladstone. Guys such as Jim Qualls, a utility man who as a rookie with the Cubs in 1969 broke up Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver's bid for a perfect game. Now 65, Qualls cannot pay his health premiums and recently received a pink slip from his job, which offered no pension.
Jimmy Driscoll, a middle infielder with the A's and Rangers from '70-'72, used his small stipend to pay his home heating bill in North Conway, New Hampshire.
Or ex-players such as Jimmy Hutto. He has had a stroke and surgery for a cerebral aneurism, and he suffers from extreme arthritis in both knees. From his home in Pensacola, Florida, the former Baltimore Oriole and Philadelphia Phillie outfielder and first baseman laughs and adds, "Other than that, I feel great."
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."
Dan Foster, chief executive officer of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, says, "I continue to have discussions with the powers that be on increasing benefits for all former players, and as I assume you are aware, we don't comment until the results are finalized. I will be happy to provide details at which time the information is available to the public."
* * *
Asked why Baney is the guy fielding all the phone calls from retirees, Gladstone answers, "Because he's been very vocal. Dick is a guy who essentially personifies the issue on principle. Does Dick need this money? Probably not. Herb Washington? The same. Post-baseball, they have had fairly good careers. David Clyde does not need the money.
"But that's beside the point. It is the principle of the thing. . . . They are hosing guys out there who really do need the money, such as Mike Colbern."
For Baney, it's simple: "We just want what everyone else is getting," he says with a shrug. "I don't want to sound like I hated my playing days. I loved every minute of it; I loved the opportunity. If I could do it all over again, I would. It's just there are guys out there who need help."
This article appeared in print as "The Lost Boys of Summer: Even after Dick Baney helped embarrass Major League Baseball into helping retired ballplayers such as himself, he's still not happy—and he has plenty of company."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss OC Weekly's biggest stories. Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts