Letters

Cothran's story also failed to mention that the Commissioner's Office offered, in late 1997, Mr. Lanier a $10,000-per-year supplemental benefit, even though he did not qualify for the Major League Baseball Players Benefit Plan and even though he did not qualify for the new supplemental benefit plan for pre-1947 players who had never had the opportunity to join the ongoing pension plan. This offer was consistent with any assurances Mr. Lanier had from Bud Selig that he should receive a benefit. Mr. Lanier did not even respond to the offer, which your story ignored, and instead filed a lawsuit, apparently believing that the generosity of the Commissioner's Office was not generous enough. Also omitted was the fact that Mr. Lanier sued the commissioner and the major league clubs in 1949 in regard to his return from Mexico and received what was then a substantial settlement payment.

The very premise of your story, as reflected in your subheadline stating that 74 old-timers are "without pensions," is misleading. Over 1,400 retired Major League Baseball players and coaches receive pensions under the Major League Baseball Players Benefit Plan, which may very well be the most generous pension plan in America. In addition, you recognize that last year the Major League Baseball clubs established the supplemental benefit plan for pre-1947 players, but failed to mention that 118 players actually enrolled and are receiving benefits from the Commissioner's Office. The Commissioner's Office pays this $10,000-per-year benefit to these old-time players even though it had no legal obligation to establish the new plan. In addition, your story failed to mention that another 108 pre-1947 players were also offered the opportunity to participate in the voluntary supplemental benefit plan, but chose not to do so.

It was disappointing that there was no mention of the pro bono aspect of Major League Baseball Properties' Former Player Program, the subject of the lawsuit in Oakland that Cothran covered. To help former players, such as Pete Coscarart, for whom there would be virtually no interest in names and likenesses, MLBP established the program, acted as the players' agent in marketing their personality rights, and took zero percent of the money attributable to such player rights in the licenses. (MLBP took its usual agency fee from the licensing of club logos, as it does in all of its licensing business.) Players remained free to sell their images on their own. With the exception of a few marquee players, every single dollar players received from the program was a dollar they likely would never have been able to generate on their own. Through the Former Player Program lawsuit in Oakland that Cothran covered, Pete Coscarart received all of $2 more than he otherwise would have had he not sued.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit recently concluded in Oakland was an attempt to obscure facts and substitute sympathy for reason. It is disappointing that your writer took the same approach.

Bob Rose
Vice President, Communications
San Francisco Giants

George Cothran replies: Mr. Rose correctly points out one error in my story. I reported that a player who wasn't on a major league team on the last day of 1946 or the first day of 1947 -- a crucial qualifying requirement for the pension created in 1947 -- was not eligible for the pension even if he played in the major leagues after the '46-47 cutoff.

Under an exception to the '46-47 clause, if, for example, one of the Mexican League players, like Max Lanier (who was not on a major league team at the end of 1946 or the beginning of 1947) or one of the pro-union Pittsburgh players, like Pete Coscarart (who was punished with demotion to the minors before the last day of '46), had come back into the majors and played for the required five years and paid into the pension, he would indeed have garnered retirement benefits from Major League Baseball.

Mr. Rose neglects, however, to point out that these requirements were often nearly impossible for players to fulfill. The 1946-47 clause still meant many players like Coscarart and Lanier didn't qualify for a pension. Yes, Lanier came back to the majors in 1949 -- but by then he was a 12-year baseball veteran, and was, predictably, unable to play for another five full years. Had he not been affected by the '46-47 clause, his nine years in the majors prior to 1946 would have qualified him for a pension. Coscarart never made it back into the majors after being sent down to the minors. His union support and the '46-47 clause rendered his nine pre-'46 years meaningless.

Mr. Rose says I didn't mention that baseball offered Lanier a $10,000-a-year payment. I mentioned the $10,000-a-year offer to the pensionless players prominently.

Moreover, if Mr. Rose wants to portray a paltry $10,000 a year as "generosity," that's his right. I choose to see it as Max Lanier did: an insult to players who, while playing for peanuts, built the sport that now pays Mr. Rose handsomely.

Correction
In our May 20 issue, a caption in the Night + Day section referenced an artwork by illustrator Mark Ulricksen. Unfortunately, the wrong artwork was published above that caption. SF Weekly regrets the error.

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