CHARLOTTE, NC, January 22, 2017 – One debate that will continue for as long as there are professional major league sports is the high salaries of the men and women who play games for a living. But it hasn’t always been that way.
In 1924, when baseball truly was the national pastime, an organization was formed that had, and still has, a lot of initials in its name; the APBPA. Baseball players know it as the Association of Professional Ball Players of America.
During the roaring 20s, before the stock market crashed, and for many decades afterward, most professional baseball players had meager contracts. There was no union. There were no agents, and players were, for the most part, uneducated. What they could do was hit, throw, catch and run to the delight of their fans who came to watch them play on summer nights escaping the claustrophobic heat before air conditioning.
Most players had to get real jobs during the winter months in order to pay their bills. During the season many of them roomed three and four to an apartment to save money.
Thus, when the APBPA was formed, the idea was to provide financial assistance to professional baseball players, coaches, managers, scouts, umpires and even clubhouse men who fell upon hard times later in their lives. Key among the organization was that no distinction was made between major and minor league players, as former professionals, they were part of the fraternity.
When I was seven years old, I decided to be a professional baseball player. My dream was to be a major leaguer, of course, but the thought of getting paid to play baseball was beyond my wildest imagination.
Ten years later, at the age of 17, I signed a bonus contract with the, then, Milwaukee Braves.
During the first week of the season, I was introduced to an organization called the Association of Professional Ball Players of America. The spokesman said “We’ve been active for four decades. We take care of our own.” And so, in youthful exuberance, I signed up.
Even in my day, big salaries were only beginning to fill the horizon, but the thought of contributing and giving something back to the guys who had made it possible for me to play only seemed natural.
Dues were graduated so that minor leaguers paid less than the guys in the Bigs, but the donation was minimal. In fact, given the salaries many players make today, the annual fees are shockingly low.
And so, for the next 20-years, long after my playing days were over, I faithfully sent in my dues and proudly cast my ballot each year to vote for the board members and officers of the group. My vote counted the same as that of Billy Martin’s or Tony Oliva’s or Rod Carew’s. It was an absolute thrill to be voting for players and managers, many of whom were already in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
After twenty years, my dues obligations were fulfilled and I became a life member, though I sent donations now and then, anyway.
The group had its genesis when 12 former players met in Los Angeles to determine the need to help fellow players. Today, that dozen man membership has grown to more than 11,000, and yet, the percentage of people who can say they played baseball at a professional level remains remarkably small.
The APBPA has provided assistance to more than 3,600 players, including many who are in the Hall of Fame.
Millions of dollars of assistance have been rendered by this loyal “band of brothers” who make no determination between the level of professional baseball you played, for they know all too well, that it isn’t always a matter of talent so much as it is a lucky break of being in the right place at the right time.
Only one out of every ten professional players makes it to the major leagues.
Since the APBPA is a non-profit 501 C-3 organization, all contributions are tax deductible.
Many of the greatest names in the baseball history have served on the APBPA board, and I am proud to say that I voted for many of the contemporary players. Among them are — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengal and Sparky Anderson.
Currently, the board consists of Tom Lasorda, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Wes Parker, Mike Scioscia and Terry Francona.
Often older players are ravaged by illness and infirmities. Other times sudden unexpected tragedies occur that create financial emergencies.
The organization prefers to serve its members in relative anonymity. It does not publicize its generosity out of respect for its members and their privacy. All cases are investigated with great discretion.
For myself, though I never saw action, I served in the United States Marines Corp during the peak of the Vietnam conflict.
Recently, when I was diagnosed with ALS it seemed only logical that a veteran with a terminal disease would be able to obtain assistance from Social Security or some other group.
I met with a lawyer who explained that I am not “disabled” because I still work.
To which I replied, “I still work because I have to pay my bills.”
The “Catch-22” of disability makes no sense in a world that has lost all of its common sense.
Out of desperation, I turned to the APBPA with a simple letter and a request for assistance. Last Thursday, I received a call. My baseball allies had rallied in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, two strikes and the bases loaded.
The Mighty Casey may have struck out in Mudville, but I have never prouder to have been a part of professional baseball than I am today.
You see, sports transcends winning and losing, and my “band of brothers” did not let me down.
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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