Opinion: MLB long overdue on taking care of retirees

Billings native Gary Neibauer is less important than the T-206 Honus Wagner baseball card.

Neibauer, who was profiled in the Billings Gazette five years ago, was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies who threw one scoreless inning in the 1969 National League Championship Series. Nearly 50 years later, he has two metal prostheses in his hips and suffers from Type 2 diabetes.

But does Major League Baseball care? Nope.

Not only is Neibauer and 500 other men denied MLB pensions after having played the game they love, but the 30 MLB club owners recently announced they are donating $10 million to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Hall of Fame relics like the T-206 – which was purchased by the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 for $2.8 million, and which is currently encased in glass in the museum — are apparently more important than flesh-and-blood human beings like Neibauer, who now resides in Aurora, Colo.

Because of the league’s arrogance, I believe the time may be right to revisit repealing the anti-trust exemption that MLB has enjoyed for the last 95 years.

MLB maintains the loss of the antitrust exemption would affect its minor league operations nationwide and create instability through team relocations.

A 1922 United States Supreme Court case, Federal Baseball Club v. National Leaguefound that baseball is not involved in interstate commerce or trade as defined by the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Roger Noll, a Stanford University professor emeritus of economics, doesn’t believe baseball would suffer much if the exemption were tossed.

“While baseball may not like having less control over where teams play and where they can televise their games, it would not be economically threatened if its antitrust exemption were to be weakened or even eliminated,” Noll told the Stanford News Service two years ago.

His colleague, Professor Emeriti William Gould IV, agrees that the exemption should be rolled back.

“Baseball has never really made the case that it is different and unique from other professional sports,” says Gould, who is a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Legislation to revoke the exemption was introduced by the late Oklahoma Democrat Mike Synar and passed by the House Judiciary Committee in 1994, but was never sent to the full House of Representatives.

The Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law would be the body to hear testimony about any proposed new legislation.

In a 2002 Slate article titled “Baseball’s Con Game,” Rutgers’ David Greenberg wrote that the exemption “stems from the government’s naive insistence that baseball is only a game. Alone among professional sports, baseball enjoys immunity from antitrust prosecution because neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has been willing to overturn an ancient decision that baseball is merely an amusement, not a commercial enterprise.”

The idea that baseball isn’t a commercial enterprise is ludicrous, especially since Forbes recently reported that the average team’s value is $1.54 billion — 19 percent more than in 2016.

Maybe someone should remind the 30 club owners that they’re lucky to have their exemption. That’s why they should do right by the retirees like Neibauer who aren’t as fortunate as them.

Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books, including “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” and multiple newspaper, magazine and webzine stories.

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