The Issue With MLB Pensions

The Issue With MLB Pensions
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A baseball widow is slang for a woman who loses her husband due to the Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Think of Meg Hardy in Damn Yankees.

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Patty Hilton is a real baseball widow--her late husband, Dave, died in September 2017. An infielder for the San Diego Padres, he also served as first base coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

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At a time when a vested retiree can earn up to $220,000, and when the average MLB salary is $4.52 million, Patty Hilton doesn’t receive a plug nickel from MLB.

Because of the archaic rules the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) -- the union representing current players -- agreed to, when Hilton coached, only four baseball coaches on an MLB team were permitted to accrue service credit.

Hilton was also one of the 641 retirees who didn’t receive an MLB pension as a player because of vesting requirement changes that occurred in 1980. At the time, the threshold was four years to be vested, but the union was offered the opportunity to give its members the following deal: one game day of service credit to buy into the league's umbrella health insurance plan, and 43 game days of service for a pension.

The MLBPA just forgot to request retroactive coverage for all the men like Hilton.

In April 2011, the league and union tried to remedy the problem by giving men like Hilton $625 for each 43 game days of service they accrued on an active MLB roster, up to $10,000. But unlike a real pension, when the man passes, the payment passes with him.

So Patty Hilton gets squat.

Jilda Wright, the widow of pitcher Ken Wright, is in the same boat. Though Wright's gross payment each year totaled $8,125, his net amounted to only $5,900.

“I hope a fair minded person in the right position will see the true plight of these men and their widows,” Mrs. Wright recently told me. “The mindset seems to be these men will all be gone before too long and good riddance.”

“I stand with all the wives,” Patty Hilton recently wrote me. “I call them legacy wives because of their devotion to preserving their husbands’ value to the game.”

“It’s a damn shame about Hilton,” said former major leaguer Jack Heidemann. ”If I even made close to the minimum of today's rookie, I wouldn't need a pension.” The minimum salary rises to $555,000 in 2019.

“Today's collective bargaining negotiations are all about the ‘ME FIRST’ generation of players,” continued Heidemann, who, even with his MLB pension, still has to work. “There’s lots of money out there, but sharing is not in today's cards.”

Financially, the league 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.

The union is loath to divvy up anymore of the pie. Although Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark has never commented about these non-vested retirees, many of whom are filing for bankruptcy at advanced 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 get a fair shake in life. But Clark doesn’t seem to want to help anyone but himself -- he receives a MLB pension AND an annual salary of more than $2.1 million, including benefits, for being the head of the union.

Patty Hilton remains undeterred. “Our fight starts with people’s hearts and minds, and I love the challenge of working on the collective consciousness of the MLBPA,” she says. “I will use every resource to tell David’s story, because it’s the story of our life in baseball.”

Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance magazine writer who authored “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” His website is

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