Earlier this year, it was Michael Cuddyer who surprised the Mets by announcing his premature retirement from baseball. On Monday, it was Skip Schumaker, who at the age of 36 with eleven seasons in the big leagues, sending a text message to Andy Green, the GM of the San Diego Padres, indicating that he was heading home from Spring Training and would not be back.
Meanwhile, we can recall images in our minds of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield with the expansion New York Mets and Mickey Mantle, in denial of the fact that his knees and legs were gone, playing that one season too many that only succeeded in taking some of the luster off what had been brilliant careers.
This contrast caused me to wonder how two generations of players could be so different. I found the answer in one of baseball’s most uncelebrated under the radar perks……a retirement system that wraps itself around every player even from the first day they step onto a major league field………
For all of us, the choice to retire from whatever career we have is directly related to our ability to be financially secure in our retirement years. And if we calculate that we can’t be secure today, we hang in there keeping the job we have until we get to the point where we can retire.
But for ballplayers, these calculations are meaningless because of the fact that their existence as an athlete is tied proportionately to the health of their body. Father Time often intervenes forcing decisions that are unwanted and stressful for the player. But it would be a stretch to think that either Mays or Mantle did not know that they were a mere shadow of themselves when they played out that final year or two.
So, why would they do it?…………. Early Wynn (right) pitched in 23 seasons trying five times in his final season with the Cleveland Indians to get to 300 wins that would insure his election to the Hall Of Fame (which eventually did happen on both counts). Retiring in 1963 at age of 43 and in the same era as Mays and Mantle, he qualified for a yearly retirement benefit of a mere $11,000.
However, when calculated to the value of 2016 dollars , that amount soars to more than $85,000 a year. Not bad, most of us would say and we’d be correct. But the problem is that Early Wynn had to play in 23 seconds and pitch well into his forties to achieve that level of income in his retirement years. How many of his peers could do that……… And what do you suppose would be the pension dollar amount for those who played a normal career of five to ten years…..
Which finally brings us to today……….For openers, on the very first day a player sets foot on a major league field he is guaranteed paid health insurance – for life! Then, if he can manage to be on the 25 man roster for 43 days, he becomes eligible to receive a yearly pension of $34,000. Length of service determines the steps up from there, but note that ten years of service merits a reward of $100,000 annually for life following retirement. (Business Insider)
So with that in mind, maybe that’s why Skip Schumaker (right) found it more advantageous to collect his pension for doing nothing as opposed to traveling and being away from his family for the next six months. Granted, 100 grand doesn’t go very far these days. But any ballplayer of good character and personality can easily double the value of that sum by attending a few card shows a year (expenses paid), appearing at the local car dealership for a few hours in return for the free use of a leased vehicle of your choice, or by simply lending your name to any one of a hundred fledgling businesses.
In contrast to baseball, NBA players are vested after three years of service. Once they turn 62, they get at least $57,000 a year. The benefit is maxed out at $1.965 million after playing 11 seasons. Players that choose 401(k) plans are matched at 140%.
Again, according to Business Insider, football players fall far behind everyone (no surprise – plus they earn the benefit of life threatening brain injuries sustained while they play) – but for them
NFL players are also vested after three seasons. They earn $470 a month for each year they played. Brett Favre, who played 20 years, will get about $112,000 a year once he turns 55. The NFL’s optional 401(k) plan matches player contributions at 200%. Players that participate in four or more seasons can also get a $65,000 annuity bonus.
In sum (and thankfully), major leaguers of today can afford to take the high road by retiring of their own free will like a Skip Schumaker who’s journey in the complementary words of his General Manager “was complete”. With that in mind, it gives me pause to wonder whose category David Ortiz will fall into by the time October rolls around. Will he be Skip Schumaker or Willie Mays? And that – as they say – is why the games are played……