July 22, 2002

Negro League Pension Expansion Sought

By FRED GOODALL (AP Sports Writer) The Associated Press
Web Posted : 07/22/2002 8:43 PM

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson reported progress Monday in efforts to persuade major league baseball to include more players from the Negro Leagues in a pension plan established five years ago.

Nelson has been assisting the players for months in hopes of resolving their complaint about being denied benefits because they didn't play before 1947.

And although he has yet to meet with baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Nelson viewed a conversation he had last week with Jonathan Mariner, baseball's new chief financial officer, as a breakthrough.

"I am very encouraged," the Florida Democrat said. "For the first time, I have seen an indication by major league baseball that they are going to recognize the valid claims for the players of the old Negro Leagues to receive a pension."

Bob Mitchell, a Tampa resident who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs in the 1950s, estimates 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.

Nelson met with Mitchell and others eight months ago, promising to take their case to baseball officials.

"I was very impressed and very heartened. I think this is a breath of fresh air," Nelson said.

"Major league baseball is clearly having its problems these days, totally unrelated to this. But this has been a blot on their ability to project an image that would tell the world that they are dealing fairly with all people."

Mitchell said Mariner had requested information from him in writing, including several "solutions" the players have proposed to Selig in the past.

One option could be lump-sum payments to the players, a move Mitchell said would cost baseball less than $9 million. Others include quarterly payments (which eligible players currently receive) or monthly benefits.

Nelson said baseball is looking at ways to resolve the dispute but has not made any proposals. Nor is there a timetable for coming up with a plan.

"There is clearly no legal commitment, but I can tell you Mr. Mariner said straight through that telephone to me that it is his intent ... to see that some justice is done, and that a pension is forthcoming. What's in the details is to be worked out in the future. But that is marked change from where we've been in the past."

In 1997, about 70 players were recognized as eligible for a pension from major league baseball. Players who played solely on Negro Leagues teams for 1948 to 1960 were excluded because baseball considered itself fully integrated after 1947.