Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A guest post from author Douglas J. Gladstone centering on Steve Whitaker and Bill Dillman who are among 516 pre-1980 MLB retirees currently ineligible for a pension


Twenty-three years ago, former Major League Baseball (MLB) player Steve Whitaker and his son, Chad, founded the real estate company that bears their name. Located on Southeast Ninth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, Whitaker Realty bills itself as a company that is “passionate” about real estate.

The company sells high-end properties that result in handsomely paid brokerage fees, like the waterfront Fort Lauderdale home previously owned by two-time Stanley Cup champion Willie Mitchell and his wife that went for $4.5 million. Or the Hillsboro Mile mansion that a Whitaker associate sold for $14.9 million.

Given all the financial success he’s attained after hanging up his spikes, you might not think that Whitaker would give a flying fig that he’s among the remaining 516 retirees not receiving MLB pensions because of a change in the vesting requirements that occurred in 1980. That was the year the players' union was offered the opportunity to give its members the following sweetheart deal: only 43 game days of service for a pension. Prior to 1980, you needed four years of service to be eligible for a pension.

The only catch was that, if you had more than 43 days of service but less than four years like Steve, or Cocoa Beach’s Bill Dillman, you were left out in the cold.

The 81-year-old Whitaker is just as passionate about righting the wrong he says has been done to him and his other baseball brethren as he is about the suit brought last month against the National Association of Realtors that contended the current commission process violated antitrust rules.

Whitaker had a respectable, if unspectacular, career. In the 266 games he appeared in, he scored 73 runs, came up to the plate 758 times, collected 174 hits, including 24 home runs, 20 doubles and six triples, and had 85 runs batted in. Obviously not Hall of Fame numbers, but Whitaker did something that only 20,600 others have done since 1876 – he played in “The Show.”

As of this year, a vested retiree receiving an MLB pension can earn as much as $275,000. But that amount is not even remotely close to what either Steve or Bill receive.  Per a negotiated agreement between MLB and the union representing current ballplayers, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), for every 43 game days on an active MLB roster a non-vested man accrued, he gets $718.75, up to the maximum of $11,500. And that payment is before taxes are taken out.

By the way, in 1969, when he played for the expansion Seattle Pilots, Steve earned the princely sum of $15,000. When Bill debuted as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles in 1967, rookies at the time earned $6,000 to $9,000.

Meanwhile, the minimum salary this year went up to $740,000. And the average salary is $4.5 million.

The bone these men are being thrown isn’t a real pension, either; rather, it is what is called a non-qualified retirement annuity. What that means is the payment cannot be passed to a widow, loved one, family member or other designated beneficiary. When the man passes, the payment passes with him.

So whenever Steve dies, neither Chad nor anyone else will continue receiving it. Ditto Bill, whose own son, Doug, often tells me how upset his father is by this galling inequity. 

Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, is the man who could help. But Clark has consistently refused to do anything or even say anything about this reprehensible situation. For that matter, neither has the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA).

You would think a group that supposedly cares about former players would be sounding the alarm about this blight on the national pastime. But you only hear the sound of crickets coming out of Colorado Springs. Remember the Robert DeNiro baseball movie Bang the Drum Slowly? The MLBPAA isn’t banging the drum loudly, softly or quickly. It has been quiet as a church mouse.

Consequently, Whitaker routinely fires off emails to MLBPAA officials protesting the way he and the 515 others are being treated. “Let’s make this right!,” he wrote in one. “Work on getting the pre-1980 MLB players their rightful pensions.”


“I just got our so-called stipend today and found out they have been taking out Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes that can’t be recouped,” he recently complained. “So another screwing.”

He’s also not afraid of telephoning Clark’s pension liaison, former Montreal Expos pitcher Steve Rogers, to complain that the union isn’t doing more to help right this wrong. “What a crock of expletive deleted,” he told me afterwards.

(I was almost afraid to tell Whitaker that it was Rogers and the late Sal Bando that were the respective National League and American League Player Representatives who signed off on the infamous agreement in 1980.)

It is anathema to me why neither the MLBPA nor the MLBPAA don’t do more to help the men like Whitaker or Dillman and their families. But one possible answer is a quote attributed to the founder of the American Newspaper Guild, the late Haywood Broun:

 “Sports does not build character,” he once wrote. “It reveals it.”


Douglas J. Gladstone authored the book, A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve

1 comment:

  1. Great article you all !! Everyone who is employed by MLB should read this and do something to help those MLB players who have been screwed all these years. LETS keep fighting .