Ken Wright and Jim Hutto: Lost Boys of Baseball Who've Sought Relief for Years
When it comes to "The Lost Boys of Summer," two former ballplayers who have worked to get better retirement benefits for decades are Pensacola, Florida, buddies Ken Wright and Jim Hutto.
They even tried to enlist retired, well-known major leaguers such as Dave Winfield and Robin Yount to help them. Among those Hutto also reached out to was Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman he played with on the Baltimore Orioles, as well as current president of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
But Hutto and Wright struck out.
"Do you know how many responses I received? None," Hutto says incredulously. "Not a single guy picked up the phone or emailed, not even to say they are sympathetic with us guys or they are not doing anything to help us, some acknowledgement. Not one."
The former outfielder and first baseman, who also played for the Philadelphia Phillies, got the message.
"I would say from that they were either told not to talk with us, or they just don't give a damn," Hutto says. "I'd hate think to think firemen or policemen or factory workers would treat their retired people in that same manner.
"How can you treat a group of their own in such a manner? I sent Selig letters, lawyers, everybody. I sent 200 letters, not just regular postage but with return receipts, like to Winfield, and I never got an acknowledgment, not a single one. I would think one would say, 'Tell me more about this.' It is hard for me to believe they simply don't care. I think they were told not to."
With no luck from former stars, Hutto contemplated picketing All-Star games with Tustin's Dick Baney, but that was a problem financially and logistically.
"Most of us guys, like myself, have a short amount of time in the big leagues," Hutto says. "We've been doing whatever we do ever since. For the most part, we are not educated people. The time that could have been spent in a university was spent on a minor league field in Dubuque, Iowa.
"I'm not saying we could not do other things, but we spent our really productive years, from ages 17-32, trying to get to the big leagues. You'll read about these guys saying, 'I'm doing great,' and it's all bullshit. A few guys naturally, as in any cross section of people, some guys did quite well. There are lawyers, if that's considered doing well, or doctors, but there are very, very few."
Hutto believes a pension should not be based on whether you were good enough on the field to remain on a big league roster for four years, as was dictated in his union contract at the time. The minimum term was later changed to at least 47 days in the bigs from 1980 on, and only one day to have access to baseball's healthcare program. He figures minor and major league service should enter into the equation. And it really irks him that players from 1980 on are essentially "worth" more than players from '79 and before.
"I've always said, from day one, if someone else's life is worth so many dollars, so is mine," Hutto says. "Some of our guys are getting $625 a year. That is embarrassing. Granted, many did not have a whole lot of time [in the MLB]. Most had a little over a year. Still, today's player or any player who played as much as one inning after 1979 gets a considerable amount more than I do."
Baseball should value all who played equally, he believes.
"We're all living in the same economy," Hutto says. "In the meantime, vested members of the pension program just gave themselves a really nice raise. Before this raise, it was $180,000 a year. It was raised to $200,000 cash benefits. Meanwhile, we get no medical, no survivor benefits, no nothing. It was just throw the dog a bone to shut us up and make themselves look good."
Baseball "is not obligated to represent us. The union--excuse me, they prefer association--they are not obligated to represent us. But current players still were ballplayers just like us. They made these changes after 1980. Why stop at '80? Why not '75 or '70?"
Hutto believes the average reader sees annual annuities payments are up to $10,000 and assume most lost boys are at the top end. They are not."
When people discover Hutto is an ex-ballplayer and then learn about his measly pension, "it stuns them. They say, 'You're kidding.' I talked with a lady who just retired with the state of Florida. She said, 'Wait, you mean to tell me you are one of the few people who played in Major League Baseball and you get no pension?' I said, 'Not a dime.' She said, 'I can't believe it.' It's mind-boggling.'"
When he and Wright started raising the issue, there were 1,400 lost boys. Now there are between 800-900.
"They could have easily taken us in and vested us, like everyone else, like post-1980 players," Hutto says. "It's not that much money. As a matter of fact, when they write checks to us once a year, like they just did [in February], the total is less than $4 million. Between Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, their contracts are a half billion dollars."
Baseball should remember that not all players are a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, he reasons.
"Every team has two or three prospects who have to have support players. Everyone can't be a star. For every 20-game winner, there is a guy like Ken Wright who is in the bullpen and started. In Kenny's situation, he was just short of four years. But another guy who was short of four years but played after 1980 gets $25,000-$30,000 a year. What's the difference?"
After baseball, Hutto bought a mom and pop grocery store in Fort Myers, Florida. He returned to manage in the Oriole organization in the mid-1980s, but was not rehired in 1986. Now 65, he does home improvements and, despite declining health, does not see retirement as an option any time soon. "I have to do it. It is not a choice."
The quotes above might not reflect it, but Hutto swears he has "calmed down" about the treatment of the lost boys.
"It was driving me crazy, the idea of the unfairness of it," he says. "Back in the '70s, after I was out of baseball, I called anyone I'd played with or who had coached me and they would get me tickets to a ballgame. I'd pick up a phone and start saying, 'This is Jim Hutto, I don't know if you remember me,' and they'd say, 'Hey, Jimmy, what are you doing?'
"Try that today, and you can't even get to them, for one thing. The world has changed so much. [Today's players] do not travel together, they are flying on private jets. The starting pitchers don't even go on the road if they are not pitching.
Across town, his pal Wright is in better shape financially--and he draws a larger annuity payment as a lost boy since he almost made it to four years. Like Hutto, Wright has written letters to everyone he thinks might be able to help his fellow ballplayers, to no avail. He does not believe today's players are even aware of the issue.
"The saddest part of the whole thing is the way it's structured," Wright says of the annuity program. "The saddest part is the people who don't have 43 days," the minimum to receive any payment.
Wright believes those who played any time at all in the majors are part of an elite class. He can understand baseball giving benefits to players from the Negro Leagues denied entrance into baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. But then baseball later gave $10,000 annual payments for four years and lifetime medical care access to Negro Leaguers who played after 1950 but never in the bigs.
"The second group was just not good enough to play in the majors, but they go ahead and pay them?" he says. "Charlie Pride, he got $40,0000 and he never played a day in the majors or minors."
African-American Pride more famously broke the color barrier in country music and, "being from the South," Wright considers himself a fan. But he can't fathom why baseball paid guys like Pride and denied the same to the lost boys.
However, unlike others interviewed for our cover story, Wright does not see it as a big deal that the lost boys have been denied access to the medical coverage. It would have been helpful when he and Hutto first started fighting for benefits, but now most of the lost boys are in their 60s and 70s and eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.
Despite taking on Major League Baseball, Wright says he still loves the game and loves to watch it.
"I don't really miss playing," he says. "I miss the camaraderie."
And he defends today's players getting everything they can from team owners. As he knows all too well, you'd better get it while you can.
Bottom lines: James Neamon Hutto ... Born Oct. 17, 1947, in Norfolk, Virginia (age 64) ... High school: Pensacola, Florida ... Outfielder/first baseman ... 5-foot-11 ... 195 lbs. ... Bats/throws: right ... Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round of the 1965 amateur draft ... Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals from the Red Sox in the 1967 minor league draft ... Traded April 3, 1969, to the Philadelphia Phillies ... MLB debut April 17, 1970, with the Phillies ... Traded Dec. 16, 1970, to the Baltimore Orioles ... Drafted Nov. 29, 1971, by the California Angels in the 1971 rule 5 draft (an annual Winter Meetings event aimed at preventing teams from stockpiling too many young players in the minors) ... Traded back to the Orioles in June 1973 ... Last MLB appearance Sept. 28, 1975, with the Orioles ... Average: .175 ... Homeruns: 3 ... RBI: 12.
Kenneth Warren Wright ... Born Sept. 4, 1946, in Pensacola, Florida (age 65) ...
Pitcher ... 6-foot-2 ... 210 lbs. ... Bats-throws: right ... Signed by the Boston Red Sox as
an amateur free agent in 1964 ... Selected from Boston in the rule 5 draft by the Kansas
City Royals ... MLB debut with the Royals on April 10, 1970 ... The next season he
appeared in Final MLB game with the New York Yankees on April 28, 1974 ... Wins-
losses: 11-15 ... ERA: 4.54 ... Strikeouts: 181 (source: Baseball-Reference.com)
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.