Mr. Gladstone contacted TMD via email and asked us to consider posting the following information relative to his book. Not only is it relevant for Black History (the month is extracted on purpose), but it also has local connection with the Brewers. Support this work and get this book.
Bernie Smith, a 61-year-old African American who played eight seasons of minor league baseball with the New York Mets before catching on as a reserve outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, is one of nearly 900 men who don’t receive pensions and health insurance from Major League Baseball.
Smith played during a time, between 1947 and 1979, when you needed to accrue four years of service credit to become vested in MLB’s pension plan. In 1980, that threshold was lowered to what it’s been ever since: one day of service to become eligible to but into the league’s umbrella health insurance coverage, and 43 game days of service to qualify for a retirement benefit.
Unfortunately for men like Smith, Herb Washington, Billy Harrell, Wayne Cage and other African American ballplayers, that new requirement was never made retroactive for the pre-1980 players. So nearly 900 men fell between the cracks and now find themselves on the outside looking in.
My book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee, tells the true story about a group of former big-league ballplayers denied pensions as a result of the failure of both the league and the union to retroactively amend the vesting requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980.
As a result of all the publicity my book generated, in April 2011, MLB and the players’ association announced with much fanfare that all these men would receive life annuities totaling up to $10,000 per year, based on the service credit they accrued. Regrettably, the payment plan still doesn’t permit them to be covered by health insurance, nor can a payment be passed onto a designated beneficiary, wife, child or loved one when the man dies.
The complicated payment formula permits each man to receive up to $625 for every quarter of service they accrued while on a major league roster, up to 16 quarters or four years. So a man who, say, is credited with one year of service would receive a gross check of $2,500. A man who is credited with, say, 3 1/4 years would receive a gross check of $8,125.
In the latter example, a player who accrued 3 1/4 years of service would actually receive a net amount of only $5,900, since MLB does not issue W4-P forms to these retirees so they can determine how much should be taken out for taxes.
Given that MLB is a $8 billion industry, most of the players believe that they have been thrown the equivalent of a bone. It was appeasement at its most obvious.
Smith is among the men who received monies in September 2011; a second life annuity was disbursed to him last January, while his third payment was supposed to have been disbursed to him last month.
In the recently unveiled collective bargaining agreement between the union and the league, these life annuities were extended through 2016.
Born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana in September 1941, Calvin Bernard “Bernie” Smith attended Southern University, the historically black college located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and played for the Jaguars of the Southwestern Atlantic Conference in 1960 and 1961. He and Hall of Famer Lou Brock both played for the Jaguars in 1960.
After bouncing around the Mets minor league system, Smith made it to The Show as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, when he went 21 for 76, inclduing three doubles, one triple and one homerun. All told, in his abbreviated career, Smith only appeared in 59 games; he came up to the plate 112 times, scored nine runs and was credited with nine runs batted in.
In 1973, Smith managed the Danville Warriors, a Class A farm team in Danville, Illinois affiliated with the Brewers, and guided them to a 66-57 record in the Midwest League. The Warriors lost the Midwest League Finals that season.
I’ve said on numerous occasions that this whole disgraceful chapter in labor relations was a terrible inequity and injustice that stained baseball’s history. Although the life annuity plan is a step in the right direction, I hope that both the league and the union will ultimately restore these men into pension coverage.
I have attached a front cover image for your information. I am also sending you a link to the book’s official website. It can be accessed at: http://www.abittercupofcoffee.com.
The book was published on April 14, 2010. Once again, thank you, in advance, for your attention to this email. If you’d like to speak with me directly, feel free to call me on my cell at 1-518-817-8253.