Kip Young expresses nothing but gratitude for the opportunity he had to play Major League Baseball in the late 1970s. Now 62, the Whiteoak High School graduate says he has good memories, and describes himself as “tickled to death.”
But an author who wrote a book about major league players who fell through the cracks when it comes to pensions and benefits says Young and hundreds of other players whose last games were played prior to 1980 and who fell short of a defined amount of time spent in the majors are being mistreated by the game they loved.
Doug Gladstone, author of the 2010 book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” says that while MLB takes better care of players with similar limited time who played from 1980 to the present, as well as several former Negro League players who did not have a chance to play in the major leagues, players like Young are unfairly left out of their piece of the game’s billion-dollar pie.
Instead, Young and other pre-1980 players who did not accrue four years of service credit have been allotted a relatively small nonqualified retirement payment that is dependent on renewal every time a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
In an interview this week, Young told The Times-Gazette he receives an annual payment from MLB of about $2,500 – “two grand after taxes,” he added.
Young said that on one hand, he’s grateful to still receive anything from baseball. But on the other hand, considering the riches the game enjoys today and the fact that players with similar limited time in the Big Leagues but who happened to play from 1980 on – just one year after his last major league appearance – have better pensions and benefits, it would be nice if baseball reconsidered its current arrangement.
After a phenomenal career that began at Whiteoak High School in the early 1970s and continued into American Legion baseball and Bowling Green State University, Young played in the minor leagues and then appeared in 27 games for the Detroit Tigers during parts of the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
Young started off at age 23 with a bang in 1978, his rookie year in the majors, throwing seven complete games and winning six, making 13 starts. In fact, Young said he won his first four major league starts and completed them all – a record for a rookie pitcher that still stands, as far as he knows.
Overall with Detroit, Young had eight career wins in 149 and one-third innings.
But Young never made another major league appearance after 1979, due both to arm problems and bad luck. With the Cincinnati Reds organization by 1981, Young was told one evening to get ready to head to Cincinnati the next day to join the Reds’ pitching staff. Instead, when the next day came, a strike was announced.
Young remembers his disappointment. “I was going to be pitching to Johnny Bench,” he said. But after the strike cancelled those plans, Young never made it to the Reds.
Gladstone said in an email, “Neither the league nor the union want to retroactively restore these men into pension coverage; instead, taxes are taken out of the nonqualified retirement payment, which cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary. So when Young passes on, the payment he is currently receiving will not be passed on to any of his loved ones. They are also not eligible to be covered under the league umbrella health insurance plan.”
Young said he has been divorced for 14 years, but he remains close with his two grown sons, and recently welcomed his first grandchild. After retiring in 2014 from a 30-year career as a physical education teacher with the Eastern Brown school district, he works these days at Brown County Motors in Russellville.
Young is happy to talk about his playing days and recognizes that even if his stint in the major leagues was relatively short, he’s one of just a handful of baseball players to make it to the top level of the game. He enjoys telling tales of long home runs hit off him by legends like Reggie Jackson and Jim Rice.
He said that when Jackson hit a tape-measure shot against him and then stood and admired it for a few seconds before rounding the bases, he later apologized to Young for “showing you up.” Young said he replied, “I’d have watched it, too.”
Young said he enjoyed playing for manager Ralph Houk his rookie year. He said that when Sparky Anderson became manager of Detroit in 1979, fellow pitcher Jack Billingham, who had played for Anderson with the Reds, warned him, “Sparky won’t like you.”
Young said Anderson did not care for pitchers in general. He said that after one successful outing when Young nearly threw a complete game, the manager removed him in the ninth inning after Young threw a couple of pitches outside the strike zone. He said Anderson came to the mound, took the ball and said, “See you later.”
“Not, ‘Good game,’ or ‘Way to go,’ just, ‘See you later,’” said Young.
After the game, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, then a manager in winter league ball in Puerto Rico, approached Young, asking him to play for his team during the winter and telling him, “You pitched one helluva game.” Young replied, “Can you tell my manager that?”
Young said he recalls contributing $200, along with other pre-1980 players, to a court action several years ago. Gladstone said that a class action lawsuit was filed in 2003 on behalf of pre-1980 players, alleging their Title VII rights had been violated. But the judge, while saying the players’ suit was “sympathetic,” granted MLB’s motion for summary judgment. An appeals court upheld that judgment.
At the very least, Gladstone argues, short of retroactively restoring pension coverage to the pre-1980 players, MLB should “agree to allow the nonqualified retirement payment to the pre-1980 player be permitted to be passed on to their designated survivors and/or loved ones.”
Gladstone recommends that the league and the players’ union “immediately increase the payments to a minimum of $10,000 for each person who is eligible,” and do away with the complicated formula used to calculate the relatively miniscule payments being made to the impacted players – payments which could end when the current collective bargaining agreement concludes in 2021.
In a 2011 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association who passed away in 2013, said he understood Gladstone’s viewpoint. But he said labor law does not require corporations to bargain for the benefits of former employees, and “current players shifted about $50 million from current to former players in payments, including both those previously covered and the pre-1980, non-vested guys.”
Gladstone said he is disappointed that the current executive director of the players association, Tony Clark, is not more sympathetic since he is a former player himself.
Gladstone carries on the fight for former players in no official capacity. He said the players’ union is under no legal obligation to advocate for the pre-1980 players, the league is under no pressure to negotiate, and the players’ alumni association “is too busy putting on golf outings.”
“These men have not been dealt a fair hand,” said Gladstone. “This is a multi-billion dollar industry we’re talking about, and the nickeling and diming has got to stop. There’s plenty of pie to be divvied up.”
He said he simply believes that fixing the problem is the right thing to do. “Why anyone doesn’t do the right thing, I don’t know,” he said in a telephone interview from New York.
Young said his top salary in baseball was $21,000, and he estimates making a total of $75,000 over seven years in both major and minor league baseball. He said it would be nice if the retirement payment was increased, even slightly, just as a matter of fairness and respect. He said he appreciates what Gladstone is doing, and was surprised that Gladstone “even knew who I was.”
But he makes it clear that for him, life is good either way. He has his family, his friends, and his memories of his days in Major League Baseball.
“I have a lot of good memories,” said Young. Whether the baseball pension is ever changed for players in his situation, “I’m happy, whether they do or don’t.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.