December 19, 2002

December 19, 2002 - TAMPA, Fla. (AP) --

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said his effort to persuade major league baseball to include more players from the Negro Leagues in a pension plan established five years ago has stalled.

Nelson announced Thursday from his office in Washington that he will call on Senate leaders to discuss the issue when Congress returns for a new session on Jan. 7. The Florida Democrat said he also may seek legislation to resolve the players' complaint about being denied benefits because they didn't play before 1947.

Bob Mitchell, a Tampa resident who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1950s, has estimated that there are about 145 men who were denied benefits in 1997 when baseball agreed to a $10,000-a-year pension for some former Negro Leagues players.

To be eligible, a player had to have played four years on a Negro Leagues or major league team, or a combination of both, and had to have played in the Negro Leagues before 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the majors.

"I remain committed to helping these players resolve their dispute ... over what really is a small retirement benefit," Nelson said. "The clock is ticking -- and they aren't getting any younger."

Nelson said he was told Wednesday by baseball's chief financial officer that while baseball is sympathetic to the players' plight that officials still haven't found the money to fund a retirement program.