Former Players Strike Baseball With Lawsuit

October 17, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A group of former professional baseball players has filed a lawsuit against America's pastime alleging that racism, battery, negligence and conspiracy contributed to the denial of their pension benefits.

The lawsuit alleges the wrongs were committed after the vesting requirement for full comprehensive medical benefits for life and full pension benefits was changed following a baseball players’ strike in 1981. Following the strike, the requirements were reduced from four years to one day of Major League service for medical benefits, and from four years to 43 days of service for full pension benefits, according to an Associated Press report.

However, a 1968 collective bargaining agreement had set the vesting requirement for pension and medical benefits at five years of service and the 1981 change excluded players who played before 1980. Thus, the 1,053 players involved in the lawsuit say they were left out in the cold after not being included retroactively in the amended vesting schedule.

By refusing to include the group almost entirely made up of white players in the retroactive vesting, the suit contends the class was discriminated against. As evidence of this purported discrimination, the plaintiffs point to the League’s 1997 decision to grant a $10,000 annual pension to some former black players who played in the Negro League and for Major League teams, even though they never vested under the former requirements.

Further, the suit contends that owners of professional baseball teams conspired to fund the pension and medical benefits for the former Negro League players knowing that white players who had played similar lengths had not received those benefits. The plaintiffs argue the same benefits should be extended to them.

In addition, the suit alleges battery and negligence. These charges stem from allegations that Major League Baseball teams directed doctors and trainers to inject players with multiple cortisone shots to mask pain, without informing players of the danger.

The suit was filed against Major League Baseball, the 30 professional teams that make up the organization and baseball’s commissioner Bud Selig in US District Court. Named as the three principals plaintiffs were former New York Mets starting shortstop Richard Moran, Ernie Fazio, the first player signed by the Houston Astros franchise, and former Chicago White Sox player Mike Colberna.

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