Old-time major leaguer fights for pensionOctober 21, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins
HILLSDALE, New Jersey (CNN) -- Buddy Hassett played baseball for seven years with greats like Babe Ruth. His baseball career lasted into 1946, just months before Major League Baseball set up a pension fund.
Now he's fighting to win a pension for himself and other old- timers who helped build up the game.
"This is a time I think they could do some good for themselves. They've got a black eye to start with, and they could maybe take some of the black out of the eye if they could do something for fellows like myself," Hassett said.
In the 1940s, Hassett was nicknamed the "Irish Thrush" for his fine singing voice. Babe Ruth was his batting coach when he was with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was later traded to the Boston Braves, then to the New York Yankees. Hassett helped the Yankees win the American League pennant in 1942.
Then Hassett went off to war, serving as air control officer on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Back with the Yankees in 1946, he was cut from the team's roster in April. There was no such thing as retirement pay.
Then Major League Baseball set up a pension fund in 1947, but decided that players would be eligible only if they were on a team roster on the last day of the 1946 season or the first day of the 1947 season.
Of the former players left out under that rule, 77 are still living, some of whom are pressing for a change in the pension rules and suing Major League Baseball for using their photos and films without pay.
"If they had their pensions, if they were just being taken care of in their old age like you're supposed to be, they would never be bringing this lawsuit," said Ron Katz, an attorney for the old-timers.
No argument from many players, owners
Many major league players and owners say baseball should take care of all its old-timers, as professional football, basketball and hockey have done.
George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, is one. "I'm an old-timer, and having watched many of the players that were such an important part of my growing up, who are probably in the category you're talking about, I am very sympathetic to that," Steinbrenner said.
Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry also thinks the players deserve a pension. "A lot of people don't understand the game of baseball, how hard players work to get to this point. They truly deserve to be treated fair in this whole situation," he said.
The Players Association has said it lacks authority to change the pension rules. Major League Baseball says the situation is unfortunate, but it has no comment.
"People say, 'Are you angry?'" Hassett said. "I say 'No, I'm disappointed.'"
Buddy Hassett presses on in the issue, not just for himself, but to help his less fortunate colleagues. His wife of 48 years died in 1990, but he still lives in the house they shared, and works part-time in marketing for a trucking firm.
Winning a modest pension, he says, is more a matter of pride than money.
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