"I personally wrote a letter to every player representative in both leagues, people on the pension committee, people on various committees of the players union or alumni association, even to Brooks Robinson, the president of the alumni association," Hutto says, referring to the Orioles' Hall of Fame third baseman. "I sent them out to retired players like [Hall of Famers] Dave Winfield and Robin Yount. Do you know how many responses I received? None. Not a single guy picked up the phone or e-mailed, not even to say they are sympathetic with us guys, or they are not doing anything to help us, some acknowledgement. Not one.

"I would say from that they were either told not to talk with us, or they just don't give a damn. I'd hate think to think firemen or policemen or factory workers would treat their retired people in that same manner."

One of Hutto's best friends is Wright, who, chatting by phone from his Pensacola home, mentions his wife just retired from Merrill Lynch. Wright's own "retirement" includes still working two jobs, at a food bank and as a courier. In better shape financially than most — he and his wife used his annuity to treat themselves to a cruise — Wright has worked feverishly for decades trying to get his fellow ballplayers pensions.

Alamo resident Ernie Fazio, who played for the Houston Colt 45s and Kansas City Athletics, was among the plaintiffs who unsuccessfully sued Major League Baseball over pensions.
Frank Gaglione
Alamo resident Ernie Fazio, who played for the Houston Colt 45s and Kansas City Athletics, was among the plaintiffs who unsuccessfully sued Major League Baseball over pensions.
Dick Baney (left) and Gerry Janeski were both born in 1946, were both pitchers, and were both drafted by the Red Sox.
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Dick Baney (left) and Gerry Janeski were both born in 1946, were both pitchers, and were both drafted by the Red Sox.

"You get to the point where you don't know how to fight," he says dejectedly. "We're dying."


The way Gerry Janeski of Huntington Beach sees it, taking better care of the lost boys would prove baseball recognizes players from all eras having been important to the game.

He has much in common with his pal Dick Baney. Janeski also hails from Southern California (Pasadena), was born in the same year (1946), played the same position (pitcher), was drafted by the same team (Boston Red Sox), settled post-baseball in the same area (Orange County) and succeeded in the same business (real estate).

Janeski won a respectable 10 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1970 and, like Baney, he does not need a baseball pension. But he knows too many lost boys who do, and he cannot understand how one who left the game in 1980 is entitled to more retirement assistance than a player from 1979.

"Of all the money being thrown around, in one day in time they are saying you are not one of us," Janeski says. "It really is a shame."

But not all non-vested players are as angry as Baney and Janeski. Mike Colbern, a former All-American catcher at Arizona State University, was touted as the next Johnny Bench before an undiagnosed broken wrist cut his career short after two seasons in 1979. He had batted .352 with 116 RBIs.

The 57-year-old returned to Scottsdale, Ariz., after baseball and has suffered a variety of health and problems, undergoing 14 surgeries for everything from a carotid artery that was 90 percent blocked to a bum shoulder. He was prescribed 22 pills a day and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When he was between apartments recently, he spent two nights in his truck parked near a Circle K in Tempe, Ariz.

Colbern's annuity pays him $1,500 after taxes, and he's happy to have it, considering baseball did not legally have to pay him anything. One of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, he believes it was the right thing to do because it drew attention to the issue.

Colbern credits Selig with personally returning every fax the former ballplayer sent to the commissioner. "I do not want to get down on baseball," Colbern says. "At least they did something. But they also did something wrong, and they don't want to admit it."

The most upbeat of the non-vested retirees interviewed for this story was a plaintiff in the lawsuit: Ernie Fazio, who out of Santa Clara University in 1962 became a "Bonus Baby" — the first player signed by the Houston Colt 45s in the expansion draft. He spent most of his career in the minors, but he did play parts of two seasons in Houston before a 1966 stint with the then-Kansas City A's was shortened by a life-threatening virus. He was only 24 — and one year shy of the four years of MLB experience that would have earned him a full pension.

So why is the 70-year-old upbeat?

"We hear that at the next Major League Baseball meeting, it will be discussed," he says by phone from Alamo, Calif. "That's all I know. It could get extended. I hope it does, so do a lot of other people."

His source for the pension scoop was Eddie Robinson, who did not return repeated phone calls. The Major League Baseball Players Association also did not respond to repeated requests for comment via phone, fax, and e-mail.

The Office of Commissioner of Baseball in New York referred a reporter to the one-page statement from April 21, 2011, which notes, "Payments beyond the initial period will be discussed in collective bargaining."

Dan Foster, chief executive officer of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, says, "I continue to have discussions with the powers that be on increasing benefits for all former players, and as I assume you are aware, we don't comment until the results are finalized. I will be happy to provide details when the information is available to the public." Asked why Baney is the guy fielding all the phone calls from retirees, Gladstone answers, "Because he's been very vocal. Dick is a guy who essentially personifies the issue on principle. Does Dick need this money? Probably not. Herb Washington? The same. Post-baseball, they have had fairly good careers. David Clyde does not need the money.

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pacocornholio
pacocornholio

Can they finish their degrees now on scholarships from the United Niekro College Fund?

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mixedsingle_com1

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