A Queens native and lifelong baseball fan, journalist Doug Gladstone is interested in more than the sports’ pinnacle, the World Series, which began this week. He’s also interested in the welfare of the players — particularly some of the retired athletes, who played briefly in recent decades before they were able to qualify for baseball’s current pension plan.
As assistant public information officer for the New York Retirement System, he spent two years working on “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve” (Word Association Publishers), a recent book that was credited with focusing public attention on the inequitable pension payments. (“A cup of coffee” is baseball lingo for a player’s brief stay in MLB, Major League Baseball.)
Q: You’re not a former ballplayer. Why did you spend so much time working for their interests?
A: I saw an injustice being perpetrated against a group of senior citizens. Forget that they were ballplayers. They’re old people who were being taken advantage of and neglected. These were the men who gave me countless hours of entertainment growing up, they were the boyhood heroes of my youth. And I thought it was just tragic that their story wasn't being told.
You have a little daughter. How do you — or how will you, when she is old enough to understand — explain to her your crusade for strangers?
Well, the Hebrew word for parents is horim, which means “guiding.” I’m going to start by telling her what happened at my bar mitzvah nearly four decades ago. I went to the same temple in Manhattan, Congregation Habonim, as Henry Winkler. We had a small kiddush after the ceremony for friends and family. Then my late mother, God rest her soul, learned that the administrator had tried to deny admission to the temple to three sailors on liberty that weekend. These members of the Navy fight to defend our freedoms, and he wouldn’t let them into this party?
My mother really gave that administrator a verbal dressing down. And the sailors all ate with us and celebrated my big day. That set the tone for me as far as how to treat all people with respect and dignity.
You’ve said the words of the prophet Zechariah inspired your activism. How?
You can’t have justice for yourself unless other people have justice as well … this tradition is best expressed in Zechariah 8:16 — the world stands on three things: on truth, on justice and on peace. Because I’m such a huge baseball fan, as soon as I learned about this issue, it motivated me to do something about it.
Are you satisfied with the settlement in the last collective bargaining agreement?
Absolutely not. The men will only receive one other payment, scheduled to be disbursed in 2012. I’ve heard rumors that neither the league nor the union will be extending this program in the new collective bargaining agreement after the current one expires in December. Then there’s the matter of survivor benefits. If one of these guys passes on tomorrow, his widow or children or loved ones won’t get a plug nickel. Also, none of these guys are being afforded health insurance, and many of them have a lot of maladies and ailments.
Has your experience with baseball’s hierarchy soured you on the sport?
I still love the game itself, and I still love watching our national pastime. I can’t wait to teach our little girl how to turn the double play. My wife and I have already taken her to two afternoon games at Citi Field. But the business of baseball, that’s another matter altogether.
Officials from [Major League Baseball] were great. It was the Major League Baseball Players Association that acted like they always had something to cover up.