Bob Coluccio is not a household name to baseball fans. The 71-year-old currently resides in Costa Mesa. He sells luxury home insurance. On the surface, he seems like a perfectly normal guy. However, he is one of 515 former MLB players who are being denied a pension by the league and players’ association.
Coluccio played three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers from 1973 to 1975. He then spent two seasons with the White Sox from 1975 to 1977. His last year in the league was in 1978 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Coluccio was just 35 games away from his retirement when he retired from football due to a family illness. Since 1980, it has taken a player just 43 game days to qualify for health insurance. Culccio played 370 games during his MLB career. He missed that move by two years, leaving him unable to receive a pension, which can net a retired MLB player up to $245,000.
The following is an essay by a writer and publicist Douglas J Gladstone. He is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee” and was at the forefront of getting the Players’ Association to pay these players. Here’s what he has to say:
In a January 25, 2015 letter emailed to all fans who have an account with MLB.comMajor League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred noted he was “charged with protecting the integrity of our national pastime and charting a course that will allow this great game to continue to thrive.”
In that letter, Manfred, who hails from Rome, New York, stressed that he “will never forget my intense devotion to (his little league team) this club and my teammates – each of whom I can still name to this day.” – and to be part of a perfect game.”
“The mission ahead is clear,” he continued. “To honor the history of the game while welcoming new people to our great sport.”
But does MLB really honor game history? Not from where I’m sitting. Look, there are 500 retired ball players who don’t get MLB pensions. All they receive is an annual stipend of $718.75 for every 43 days they were on an active roster. One hundred and eighty extra men who accrued fewer than 43 games don’t even get that.
This is because the union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), approved changes to the vesting rules in 1980 by canceling a planned Memorial Day strike. In 1980, players qualify for an MLB retirement. But it came at the expense of the pre-1980 players, men like former Sarasota, Fla., pitcher Rich Hinton, who made three appearances with the South Siders. Other former White Sox in the same boat as Hinton include pitchers Dave Lemonds and Dennis O’Toole, and outfielder Bob “The Macaroni Pony” Coluccio.
Before the vesting changes, a player needed four years of service to be eligible for a pension. Since that time you have only needed 43 service games. But the guys like Hinton weren’t retroactively included in that treasure trove of deals, so there are men with 43+ days of service but under 4 years left out and looking in.
And in collective bargaining, the league does not have to negotiate on this point. It is the union’s responsibility to stand up for these men. Which they have shown almost no interest in after 42 years.
However, the league owners can do something about it if they wish. Especially since in 2017 the 30 league owners voted to allocate $10 million to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. And while that was certainly nice, it was a gesture that basically screamed, “We care more about relics than flesh-and-blood retirees.”
Recently I had the pleasure of traveling to the Commissioner’s hometown of Rome to see the Griffiss International Sculpture Garden on Hill Road – the site of the cement Alley Oop / American GI statue.
The statue depicts the cartoon caveman wearing a great helmet. He used to be 15 feet tall, but after being trashed and neglected over the years, he’s now only 10 feet tall and is missing the machine gun he used to hold and part of his lower legs.
Which got me thinking – like this statue, so many of the men I try to help were neglected by their former employer.
The league recently agreed to pay 23,000 former and current minor league players $185 million to resolve a wage claim class action lawsuit. And the NBA Board of Governors recently allocated $24.5 million to the ABA’s 140 surviving members to cover rent, groceries, clothing and medical expenses. So why not take the opportunity to fix fences with these pensioners without vested interests once and for all?
I think the least league owners should consider is increasing the compensation these men are currently receiving. Stop the ridiculous actuarial calculation of $718.75 for every 43 days of play they’ve accumulated and just give them $10,000. Let them figure out their own withholding taxes. And extend the benefits so that for a limited time, say three to five years, those men’s spouses and dependents won’t have their funds taken away if the player dies.
Do that, Mr. Commissioner, and you will truly help the men who contribute to this great game, like this statue in your hometown. been ravaged for too long.
Doug Gladstone, of Saratoga Springs, New York, is a freelance magazine writer and the author of two books, including A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB and The Players Association Killed 874 Retirees”
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