By STEVE KRAH
Bill Edgerton would not trade his time on a professional baseball field for the world.
It’s the business side that has left a bitter taste for the former left-handed pitcher who spent 68 days on a Major League Baseball roster.
“It was the best time of my life,” says Edgerton, who graduated from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., in 1960 and played in the majors with the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and 1967 and the Seattle Pilots in 1969. “I enjoyed every second of it. There was a statistic back then that something like 1 in 10,000 guys made it (to the big leagues). That was everybody’s goal to make it there and establish yourself.
“Along the way, they had the situation to their liking but not to anybody else’s.”
The ‘they” Edgerton refers to is the owners and baseball officials who make money decisions, including pensions.
“It’s always been a one-sided situation,” says Edgerton, 76. “I found that out.
“When I played, they sent you to a league nearest your home so they can give you a bus ticket to get home.
“The whole system was set up for them to make money. It was a business more than anything else. It’s the old adage: the little guy doesn’t matter much. They are working in volume and numbers.”
Doug Gladstone, author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” has been advocating for Edgerton and 500 other men do not get pensions because they did not accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between the years 1947 and 1979 needed to be eligible for the MLB pension plan.
“A lot of us wouldn’t have gotten a dime without his persistence,” says Edgerton of Gladstone. “He’s a driving force for guys who don’t even realize they have someone in their corner.”
Gladstone calls it an “under-reported topic” and an “incredible injustice.”
“All these men have been getting since 2011 are non-qualified retirement payments of $625 per quarter, up to 16 quarters, or a maximum payment of $10,000,” says Gladstone. “Meanwhile, the maximum IRS pension limit is $210,000. Even the minimum pension a vested retiree can get is a reported $34,000.
“The union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), doesn’t have to be the legal advocates for these men, the league doesn’t have to negotiate about this matter and the alumni association is too busy putting on golf outings.”
Gladstone notes that Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, yet the union representing the current players, the MLBPA, has been reluctant to share the wealth.
Edgerton, who laid out his case to South Bend Tribune columnist Al Lesar in 2012, fought to prove he had 68 days of service time and was finally given an annual sum that Gladstone says amounts to less than $1,000 after taxes.
“It was real frustrating,” says Edgerton of his prolonged fight. “They tried to work me under the mill. It’s been a long, hard battle. I’ve been lied to, twisted and turned.
Gladstone calls Edgerton’s payment a pittance, especially in industry reportedly worth $12-13 billion.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s chump change,” says Gladstone. “These are reparations. They’re definitely not pensions. A pension can be passed on to a loved one.”
Kim Edgerton, 20 years younger than husband Bill, will receive nothing after her husband passes away.
“Bill wants to provide for his wife,” says Gladstone. “Nobody can have too much money. I know guys who have no health insurance and have had three heart attacks.
“Not everybody is commanding the money today’s players are making. That’s what people don’t get. The explosion of wealth this game has seen did not trickle down the guys who played before 1980.”
Gladstone notes that Richie Hebner, who played through 1985, was a grave digger in the off-season throughout his 18-year MLB career.
“Guys like Yoenis Cespedes don’t have to dig a ditch,” says Gladstone. “If they make proper investments, they have no worries about money.
“But there are some living hand-to-mouth.”
While Edgerton is not in that situation, he is grateful for the advocate’s efforts.
“Gladstone knows what he’s doing,” says Edgerton. “He knows how they lie and cheat. There are till guys who deserve something and don’t get anything. There are guys who really need it.”
Edgerton retired after 34 years at the AM General plant in Mishawaka and headed south for warmer weather.
“I don’t regret that move at all,” says Edgerton, who lives on a golf course in Foley, Ala., a town not far from the Gulf of Mexico.
Edgerton fondly remembers his early baseball days at Jefferson Elementary in South Bend. Al Vincent was his coach.
“We all idolized this guy because of his knowledge, personality and teaching skills,” says Edgerton, whose older brothers Mel and Paul played at South Bend Adams and got the attention of professional scouts and younger brother Rick was an all-around athlete at Penn. “Those guys are rare and they stuck with you for your life. They don’t only teach you what you need to know about the game, but away from the game.”
Edgerton played on the Mishawaka High School varsity as a freshman and then went to Penn when that school opened its doors. Bill Brinkman was the Kingsmen’s head coach.
During the summer, Edgerton took the mound for Sherman Cleaners and then the Toasty Flyers, coached by future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and professional coach and manager Jim Reinebold.
“I pitched against college players,” says Edgerton, who had a few college baseball opportunities but continued to play on the semi-pro circuit after high school graduation before signing with the expansion New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1963.
“I played in the Mets organization for 90 days,” says Edgerton, who was with the 1963 Quincy (Ill.) Jets. “They owed me bonus money.”
After his release, Edgerton came back to northern Indiana and was planning to give up on pro baseball.
“I was giving my equipment away,” says Edgerton, who then got an offer from the Kansas City Athletics, owned by Charles O. Finley. They needed a left-hander to finish the summer. He signed and went back to the Class-A Midwest League with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees.
Edgerton was in Class-A and Triple-A ball in 1964, Double-A in 1965 and went 17-6 for the 1966 Triple-A Mobile (Ala.) A’s when he was called up to Kansas City.
At 25, he made his debut Sept. 3 with a scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox and got into six big league games in 1966 and seven in 1967.
“I did a lot of sitting and watching,” says Edgerton, who watched owners try to recoup their investment in their Bonus Babies (amateur baseball players who received a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 and went straight to the majors between the years 1947 and 1965). “I know I had better skills than them. I’m not bragging. That’s the way it was.”
Before the 1969 season, Edgerton went from the Phillies to the expansion Seattle Pilots. He was with the Vancouver (B.C.) Mounties and then the big-league Pilots, appearing in four games. His final MLB appearance was April 25 against the Oakland Athletics.
“I’m glad that was the time period I played in,” says Edgerton. “There were some great ballplayers — ones I idolized for years and years. There was Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. They were exceptional for their time.”
Edgerton recalls one spring while with Kansas City when the Athletics went to play the New York Yankees, who then trained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As Edgerton and another Athletic approached the batting cage, they saw Mantle taking his cuts.
“Did you just get the chills?,” Edgerton asked his teammate. “The hairs were standing up on my arm. There’s an aura here I don’t understand. I’d like to face that guy one time to see what I got. The only regret is I didn’t get the shot I deserved.”
Nor the financial compensation.
Bill Edgerton, a 1960 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., pitched in parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Kansas City Athletics and Seattle Pilots.