Richmond’s Les Cain mentioned in Major League Baseball pension debate

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By Douglas J. Gladstone

There’s a retired ballplayer residing in Richmond who I’d absolutely like to meet one day. Not because I’m a baseball fan.

But because I’m a fan of people who are not afraid to take on large corporations and win.

A native of San Luis Obispo, Les Cain will turn 69-years-old in January 2018.  He spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, pitching for them in 1968, 1980, 1971 and 1972. All told, in 68 games, 64 of which were stars, he collected 23 wins, including eight complete games and one shutout. In 373 innings, he posted a more than respectable Earned Run Average of 3.98.

His notoriety comes from the fact that he filed a disability claim against the Tigers in 1972 with the Michigan Bureau of Workman’s Compensation and, three years later, in 1976, won the case. Ever since, the Tigers have been forced to pay him $111 per week for life.

Now that’s what I call gumption.

It’s bad enough when you’ve been screwed once by the national pastime, But get this — Cain is also one of the retired persons of color who currently don’t receive pensions from having played Major League Baseball (MLB).

Mr. Cain doesn’t receive a traditional pension from MLB because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Cain and the other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947–1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan. 

Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.

In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000.

Meanwhile, a vested retiree can earn a pension of as much as $210,000, according to the IRS. Even the minimum pension for 43 game days of credit after 1980 is a reported $34,000.

To date, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has been loathe to divvy up anymore of the collective pie. Even though Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark — a former Tiger, by the way — 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. 

Although MLB, which has launched youth programs that include Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, has been praised for its increases in minority hiring, Clark told the Associated Press last year the union would like to see opportunities expanded to include senior club administration.

That’s fine, Mr. Clark. I also understand in December 2016, MLBPA and MLB made a $30 million commitment to help grow the game through the MLBPA-MLB Youth Development Foundation.

But what about the retirees who grew the game? You know, men like Bill Murphy (an African American who played for the New York Mets) and Wayne Cage (an African American who played for the Cleveland Indians) and Cuno Barragan (a Mexican American who played for the Cubs) and Dave Roberts (a native of Panama City, Panama who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates) who stood on picket lines and endured labor stoppages and went without paychecks so today’s players can be set for life in free agency?

I don’t know what Clark, who last year received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, is thinking here. Doesn’t it seem a little hypocritical to receive an award named to honor arguably the greatest pioneer in race relations this country has ever known, than hose a man like Cain?

After all, how much can a man be taken advantage of by the national pastime?

A New York based freelance writer who has been published in multiple magazines and webzines, Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books, including “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.”

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