SPORTS
06/17/2011 05:06 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2011

A Bitter Cup Of Coffee : Doug Gladstone Talks Baseball Pensions

Doug Gladstone's A Bitter Cup of Coffee is an engaging, critically acclaimed book focused on the lack of pensions for former Major League Baseball players. He recently caught up with the The Huffington Post via email to answer some questions about A Bitter Cup of Coffee. Below is our edited conversation:

HuffPost: What inspired you to write the book?

To be perfectly candid, I didn't just jump into this fray right away. I mean, having the courage of your convictions is nice, but this was, after all, Major League Baseball.

I remember one blogger for CBS.com -- he knows who he is -- asked me straight up, "Why do you care about these guys so much?" That's when you start wondering whether you're like Cervantes' mad knight errant, Don Quixote, and you're tilting at windmills.

But when I made the decision to write the book, I did so, in large part, because these were the men who gave me countless hours of entertainment growing up, they were the boyhood heroes of my youth. And I thought it was just tragic that their story wasn't being told.

Even today, when I go to my author events and make presentations before people, you wouldn't believe their reactions. Their mouths are agape and their jaws drop, they just cannot fathom why this inequity wasn't corrected years ago.

By the way, that's part of the reason I think this story has resonated with people, because we've all at some point or another in our lives felt the pain and sting of victimization, that other individuals or groups were getting the breaks that we perceive should have gone our way but didn't. That's a raw human emotion which is very powerful.

Finally, and this might sound a bit hokey, but I was a huge fan of the television series "The Fugitive" growing up. All David Janssen, who portrayed Dr. Richard Kimble, wanted was to prove that he was the victim of a terrible error of our judicial system. As the narrator, William Conrad, reminded us week after week, the protagonist was a victim of blind justice.

Similarly, all I wanted to try to do was tip the scales of justice back into a level playing field so that these men could get the compensation I and a lot of other folks believed they were deserving of. In some small way, I hope my book helped focus attention on this issue to the point where MLB decided at long last to do right by these men.

What type of impact would you like the book to have on baseball culture, and not just the major leagues?

This might come across as sounding a bit preachy, and I certainly don't mean it to be, but we put a great premium in this country on the future generation. As well we should. Our children are our future.

But we also need to remember those that came before us. We need to treat our senior population with the same healthy respect we accord our little ones. And that didn't occur here.

Do you really think that today's ballplayers know anything about what the men who came before them had to go through so that they're now capable of earning these ridiculous, obscene salaries? A guy like Steve Grilli, who pitched for the Tigers and the Blue Jays, his first contract was for $17,500, he used to drive a UPS truck in the off-season just to make ends meet.

Now do you think we're ever going to see someone like A-Rod drive a UPS truck? Absolutely not. And that's because he doesn't have to, because the Grillis and the David Clydes and the Jimmy Qualls' and all those other men who played between 1947 and 1979 were the guys who went without paychecks so that today's players can make what they're making.

And all I'm saying is that maybe it's about time that today's players recognize that sacrifice, and not be content with merely throwing 'em a bone. Cut these men in so that they can enjoy a slice of the pie. Baseball is a $7.3 billion industry -- there's certainly enough money to go around.

Yet there are men out there who are without health insurance, who are living out of their vans, who aren't getting the proper medical care they need and who are literally one paycheck from the gutter. And I think that's sad.

I also think, in light of all the stories about performance enhancing drug use in baseball, that sports reporting today should be more than just reporting about what happened on the diamond. Baseball beat writers have to move beyond the boxscores.

The business side of sports is just as important as the games themselves. You couldn't ask for a better labor relations storyline, for example, than the mess the NFL and its players' union find themselves in now.

Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that every baseball beat writer out there needs to be well-grounded in employee benefits law in order to do their jobs, but I do think that the vast majority of baseball beat writers don't want to tackle subjects that are as complex as this one. Maybe it's laziness, maybe it's indifference, it could be something else entirely.

In your mind, what makes this book special, and what differentiates it from others?

Over the last three decades, very few sportswriters have tackled this issue. Dave Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winner of the New York Times, did a piece back in October 2003 about the matter, as did John McGrath, of the Tacoma News-Tribune. But by and large, that's been it.

Nobody had ever before written a book that exclusively dealt with the issue like I did. And I think that's a shame, because perhaps if some enterprising reporter had bothered to write about this back in 1980, something could have been done way before now.

If more members of the Fourth Estate had bothered to point out how these men were being so badly taken advantage of, that they were being hosed by their employer, maybe it wouldn't have taken 31 years to do something on their behalf, to do right by them. There were 1,400 men who were affected by this issue in 2000. That number dwindled to 1,053 in 2003, and 874 when my book came out last April. At least eight men that I know of have died since the publication of my book, and I'm sure a lot of them went to their graves thinking that MLB had turned their backs on them.

How did you come up with the name?

The phrase, "a cup of coffee" has been in the lexicon since 1908, when a reporter for the now defunct New York Globe first used it. According to the "Dickson Baseball Dictionary," it derives from the observation that a young player's first taste of the majors is usually quite short -- figuratively, just long enough to drink a cup of coffee.

Since 1980, all a player has needed is one day of service to be eligible for health benefits and 43 days of service credit to be eligible for a pension. Now that's what I call a sweetheart deal.

But the men who I wrote about weren't retroactively included in that deal, so I figured that their situation was the polar opposite of sweet. It was sour and bitter.

What does this book mean for baseball? What are you hoping it results in?

For me, this story has always been about equity, about fairness. You just cannot give benefits to groups who, strictly speaking, didn't have a contractual employment history with the league and then turn around and hose guys who did have legitimate working relationships with this employer.

I'll put things in context for you -- in 1993, MLB decided to award 34 veterans of the Negro Leagues and their spouses health insurance. And you know what? Props to MLB for doing that.

The late Commissioner Giamatti was fond of saying, "in matters of race, in matters of decency, baseball should lead the way."

And obviously, before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, during the '20s, '30s and '40s, MLB was just a mirror institution for the social segregation that was going on in this country. So MLB did right by trying to remedy the injustices of the past.

Then, in 1997, MLB awarded 29 veterans of the Negro Leagues life annuities totaling between $7,500 and $10,000 per year. Again, I give a big thumbs up to MLB for doing that. They also awarded men who played prior to 1947 -- the year the pension fund was established -- quarterly $2,500 payments.

And finally, in 2004, MLB awarded additional veterans of the Negro Leagues $40,000 for four years, or $350 a month for life.

Many of the men who are still being taken advantage of are persons of color. My point is that MLB opened up this Pandora's box when they started giving out benefits to men who technically hadn't even paid union dues. The guys I wrote about obviously did.

Ultimately, I hope that the men in my book get retroactively restored into pension coverage. It's certainly doable, as long as MLB and the union want to do it. So I'll be eagerly monitoring the negotiations to come up with a new [collective bargaining agreement]. The one they're playing under expires this December, and if they really want to do right by these men, that's the time to do it.

Email me or ask me questions about anything sports related at @206Child for my upcoming mailbag.

Plus, check out my brand new HuffPost sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things sports.