Pin It

Baseball's Orphans 

Why are 74 old-timers -- players who helped create the multibillion-dollar business called Major League Baseball -- still without pensions?

Wednesday, Apr 15 1998
Comments

Former Brooklyn Dodger Dolf Camilli's toy poodles are up on the couch again, running back and forth and barking their little brains out at everyone and everything that passes the Camilli residence in San Mateo.

A little old lady carrying her mail: Yap! Yap! Yap!
An old man going for a stroll: Yap! Yap! Yap!
A neighbor walking his dog: Poodles berserk.

Dolf's widow, 72-year-old Molly Camilli, has had a heck of a time controlling the poodles since Dolf died on Oct. 21, 1997, at age 90. The dogs belonged to the former Dodgers first baseman, and they responded pretty much only to him. "Now they have the run of the place," she says.

The poodle demolition derby has taken a toll on the house, and, Molly says, she can't handle the cost of repairing the damage on her fixed income, composed of Social Security and the interest from a few investments. To illustrate her dilemma, Molly throws off a blanket that had been draped over the back of her couch and reveals serious poodle erosion: The damn dogs have chewed through the fabric, past the stuffing, and all the way to the wood. She wants to buy a new couch.

But her phosphate futures went in the toilet recently; she has no disposable income.

So she's suing Major League Baseball.

More precisely, Molly Camilli is representing her husband's estate in two lawsuits he and hundreds of other retired ballplayers have filed against baseball and its marketing and licensing agent, Major League Baseball Properties Inc., and associated companies that traffic in baseball memorabilia.

Those two suits, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, and two others in San Francisco are part of a larger legal crusade brought against baseball by former players. So far, nine coordinated civil cases have been filed across the country.

The plaintiffs in these suits range from modern-era Bay Area heroes like Reggie Jackson, John "Blue Moon" Odom, and Dagoberto "Campy" Campaneris -- all members of the Oakland Athletics minidynasty of the 1970s -- to old-timers and unknowns: Camilli, Pete Coscarart, and Frenchy Bordagaray, all Brooklyn Dodgers ("Bums," if you prefer) from the 1930s and '40s.

In state and federal courts in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Orlando, Fla., legends and lesser-knowns allege that baseball has unlawfully used their images without asking permission or properly compensating them -- all while making millions for the owners of baseball franchises and the companies licensed to use ballplayer images.

The former players are upset over a variety of enterprises: MCI television commercials; the Ken Burns documentary series on baseball, which ran on public television but also spawned a cottage industry of related marketing efforts; gimmicks that promote Target stores; baseball cards; books about baseball; game programs; and even baseball statistical books listing numerical records (and more esoteric information, including the little-known fact that Camilli was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1941, the year the Dodgers won the pennant for the first time in 21 years but lost the World Series as the result of a fluke play).

The first case to reach trial was a class-action suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of 384 former big-leaguers, including everyone from lead plaintiff Pete Coscarart, an obscure second baseman with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates, to legendary Giants center fielder Willie Mays. The jury found that Major League Baseball Properties did breach its contracts with the players for a merchandising and royalties program.

But the players were awarded just $84,000 to split among themselves.
Compared to what they wanted, and compared to all that they alleged -- a veritable baseball Watergate of fraud, deceit, and cover-up -- the monetary scope of the victory was infinitesimal. Coscarart, for example, will receive only $2 he would have not otherwise received.

A pretrial ruling severely limited the potential damages in the case. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Demetrios Agretelis -- who, by the way, is a big baseball fan -- excluded film and video products marketed through a Major League Baseball license from the case.

Agretelis' ruling is on appeal; if it is overturned, the players still could be awarded millions of dollars.

But even if the monetary award is not increased, the victory is still important, says Ron Katz, the lead attorney representing the ballplayers.

"It's like the Titanic," he says, sitting confidently behind his desk on the 33rd floor of the Embarcadero 4 office tower. "Baseball has hit an iceberg, and it's only a matter of hours now before she sinks."

Katz, of course, is an advocate who is being paid not to be impartial. But he has a point. For the first time in U.S. history, Major League Baseball has been hauled before a jury, made to stipulate to its existence as a legal entity, put on trial -- and defeated.

If the players rack up more victories in court, they could find themselves with leverage they could have never imagined when many of them played the game -- that is, when baseball was a patriarchal court, the owners were nobility, and the players were paid peanuts and treated like serfs.

And with that kind of power, the players could have at least a hope of settling a historic grievance, one that has simmered and bubbled in the bellies of some of the plaintiffs for 51 years. A grievance that has driven the lawsuits from the beginning.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson suited up in Dodgers blue and became the first black player to play in the major leagues. But 1947 was an important year in baseball for other reasons. That was the year the owners and the players set up a pension fund.

But that pension covered only current and future players. Everyone who finished his career before the first day of spring training in 1947 was left to fend for himself.

About The Author

George Cothran

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular