Former Cubs catcher/infielder Carmen Fanzone shows off his trumpet skills before a game at Wrigley Field in the 1970s.
Today’s column (linked here) on Major League Baseball’s response after all these years to the 900-some players who fell into the black hole of no pension relief because of a rule change in eligibility draws a few more things to note:
== While neither Carmen Fanzone, nor Eli Grba, nor Rudy Meoli, nor Jim Umbarger draw a pension, the financially maxed-out Lenny Dykstra, who did put in 12 seasons and 1,278 games with the Mets and Phillies from 1985 to 1996, lists his only income these days as a $5,700 monthly pension from Major League Baseball. And no one can touch it. (Think O.J. Simpson protecting his NFL pension from being taken by Ronald Goldman).
Dykstra had to be bailed out jail by Charlie Sheen recently after his arrest last month for allegedly embezzling more than $400,000 from his bankrupt estate, which is a federal crime.
== The great Satchel Paige did not qualify for a Major League Baseball pension, but might not be a surprise given he spent almost his entire career in the Negro Leagues. But he did put in 179 games spread over six seasons for Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City of the American League between 1948 and ’65. That was (reportedly) between the ages of 41 and 58. That should count for something, right?
He fell short of the MLB pension. So when the Kansas City A’s signed him in ’65, allowing him to pitch three innings, the agree was that he’d get one more season and earn his pension. But the A’s didn’t do it.
Instead, the Atlanta Braves helped him out. They put Paige on their roster so he could retire with the pension.
== Remember Craig Skok (linked here)? Neither do we.
A middle-relief pitcher in the big-leagues from 1973 to ’79, he posted a 4-7 record with a 4.86 ERA and five saves in 107 appearances during four seasons. But the last one, 1980, was a gift from Ted Turner.
The Texas Rangers, who got him in a trade with Boston for Ferguson Jenkins, released him in 1976. The Braves picked him up, and he appeared in more than 40 games during the ’78 and ’79 season. But he was still short of his pension vesting.
He talked Atlanta Braves owner Turner into adding him onto the ’80 roster so he could get his pension.
“Turner was one of those kind of guys we’d call ‘Godfathers,’ who could watch out for you in one of the organizations. I couldn’t find one with the Cubs,” said Fanzone.
== So how many fall into this black hole of pension-less players? MLB said the other day it was 904. Doug Gladstone, who did the book, “A Bitter Cup Of Coffee,” (linked here), says his research from the MLB players alumni association says it’s 874.
It could actually be closer to 869 — five players have died in the time between the publishing of Gladstone’s book and today. That includes Greg Goossen, the former Notre Dame High of Sherman Oaks catcher/first baseman who put in 193 games in six seasons with three franchise between 1965 and 1970.
The heartbreaking element to this, again, is that Goossen died in February, before Selig’s olive branch was extended last month. As if it would have mattered, since the payouts are only for living former players, not their spouses or children — which a true pension would cover.
== How many remember the time in 1972 — on Father’s Day — when Fanzone played the National Anthem on his trumpet at Wrigley Field before a Cubs-Dodgers Sunday afternoon game? We do. We can still hear Vin Scully marvel about it on the Dodgers’ telecast. The Cubs went onto win that game 5-4 in 11 innings. And it turns out, the date of the game, June 18, is the birthday of Fanzone’s wife, Sue Raney.
== Fanzone, with more on not receiving a pension: “I’m happy I’ll get something for my 12 years in pro ball, but I’m disappointed I’m not getting anything for the 3 1/2 years worth of big-league time. That just doesn’t sound right. My 3 1/2 years were just as important as those who put in the same time now. But the guys of my era didn’t make any kind of the money they are today.
“Guys today make so much, a pension seems like an afterthought. If it’s something they get, fine. To us, it means more. Today’s MLB pension is overfunded anyway, and what would it really cost baseball to give some 830 players their pension? Not a lot by their standards. They’re a multi-billion dollar industry.
“My top salary was $32,500, in my last season, while the major league minimum at the time was $16,500. I even remember Richie Allen getting $150,000 to play for the White Sox across town. The eventually gave him a $200,000 contract just to make it interesting enough for him to show up for games. The team gave him his own TV show. I appeared on it — but he didn’t show up for his own show.”
On possibly now finding himself eligible for a $10,000 annual stipend: “You can never have enough money, and it’ll be nice if I could pass it onto my wife. I just haven’t heard enough about it to be happy or disappointed. I guess it’s all kind of bittersweet.”
== Gladstone, with more reaction to the Selig announcement on April 21 about the retroactive payouts: “I’m happy for guys today like Ryan Howard and Matt Holliday who can command what seems to be obscene salaries.
“But they really owe it to the men like Carmen or Mike Colbern, who did go through work stoppages without paychecks just to make it better for those who came after them. We put a premium all the time on the future in general, but not enough respect for those who proceeded us in life.”
== Gladstone, on how he got involved in taking up this cause: “I was brought up in the TV generation, and loved to watch ‘The Fugitive.’ How many remember William Conrad saying, ‘The protagonist, Richard Kimble (played by David Janssen), was the victim of blind justice.’ I felt it was my responsibility in some small way to help them level the playing field. The odds have been stacked so grotesquely against them too long.
“(In writing the book), I would like to believe it increased public awareness. When you talk to some baseball beat writers today who haven’t heard of this situation, that’s tragic. I like to believe this helped facilitate the dialogue on the subject, but whether the MLB will ever admit that’s the reason why they finally came up with this money, I don’t think so.”