Home Run For Negro League?

Long overdue pension plan for players is in the works

Before players like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Ken Griffey Jr. I were able to command multimillion dollar contracts for their performance on the baseball diamond, there were unheralded players like Sam “Jet” Jethroe, who along with more recognizable stars like Jackie Robinson, were instrumental in helping to desegregate “America’s favorite pastime.”

But despite the impact players like Jethroe had on changing the face of baseball, he and many other African American players of his generation were never the recipients of any type of pension plan–until now.

Because players of that era that successfully made the transition to the Majors had to be on the roster four full seasons to qualify, many of the blacks who desegregated major league baseball received no pension payments. But recently, at the urging I of Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, (D-Illinois), Major League Baseball’s executive council decided to offer pensions of $7,500$10,000 a year to some 80-100 former Negro League players.

“It took two years of talking the issue over, but we kept at it and continued to press and raise the issue until we got a response, and the owners agreed,” says Moseley-Braun, a member of the pension-governing Senate Finance Committee. The agreement is a much-needed homerun for Moseley-Braun, who has been coming under increased attacks for debts stemming from her most recent campaign and charges that she’s increasingly been inattentive to her constituents in Chicago.

Funding for the pension plan will be made possible by equal contributions from the Major League Baseball owners. Still undecided are the actual amounts of the pension payments and who will get how much.

Along with being a huge financial help, the payments will give overdue recognition to the role that players like Jethroe had in the early days of the sport. In 1950, the 32-year-old switch-hitting Boston Braves outfielder was the Rookie of the Year. Twice leading the major leagues in stolen bases, “Jet” played three full seasons for the Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. But in the half century that has passed, Jethroe has never received a pension. Today, at age 79, he’s still working, and is optimistic about the plan. “No official has contacted me yet, but I’m waiting to hear from them about what’s going on,” says Jethroe, who now owns a bar in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Chicago White Sox principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf says dub owners have pushed the baseball players union for several years to create such a pension plan. Recipients will be notified once everyone is identified and lawyers draft a final pension plan, expected to be completed later this year.

Reinsdorf, who also owns the Chicago Bulls, says the plan has been a long time coming: “There really has been an injustice.”

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