Retired Detroit Tiger Hurler Babe Birrer Shown No Mercy by MLB
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As sports anniversaries go, July 19 probably doesn't mean a thing to you.
But it does to Werner Joseph "Babe" Birrer, the retired Detroit Tigers hurler who made his debut in The Show on June 5, 1955.
Currently a resident of a nursing home in Clarence, New York, Mr. Birrer is the only man in the history of MLB who played for more than one year to have all of his lifetime home runs and RBI in one game.
Born on the Fourth of July in 1929, Birrer, who would later pitch for the Baltimore Orioles in 1956, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958, reportedly served up Mickey Mantle's third-longest tape measure homer while he was with Detroit.
Afterwards, as his career was winding down, he pitched for his hometown Buffalo Bisons in the minors.
Other than in the Erie County, New York area where he was—and still is—a celebrity, as a player Birrer was seemingly destined for relative obscurity.
A right-hander, he appeared in a total of 56 games during his career, compiling a 4-3 win-loss record.
In 119 2/3 innings, Birrer's lifetime ERA was 4.36. He had one complete game and four saves to his credit, according to the Baseball Almanac.
With the Tigers in 1955, Birrer appeared in 36 games; in 80 1/3 innings, he had three of his four career saves and that one CG.
Are you aware that some 900 retired ballplayers don't receive pensions from MLB?
But on July 19, 1955, Birrer famously clubbed two three-run homers and had six RBI of his own in a game against the Orioles.
Birrer would be just a blip on the baseball radar if it weren't for that game.
Regrettably, as a result of the failure of both the league and the MLBPA to retroactively amend the vesting requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980, he is among a group of some 900 former big leaguers denied pensions and medical benefits.
Prior to 1980, ballplayers had to have four years service credit to earn a pension and medical benefits. Since 1980, only one day of service credit for health insurance and 43 days of service credit for a pension is required.
Now that's what I call a sweetheart of a deal.
Because of the advocacy of men such as former pitchers David Clyde—arguably the Stephen Strasburg of his generation—and Gary Neibauer, as well as myself, on April 21, 2011 both MLB and the MLBPA announced with much fanfare that all these inactive, non-vested men like Babe Birrer, all of whom played between 1947 and 1979, would receive up to $10,000 per year. It depends on their length of service credit as compensation for their contributions to the national pastime.
Under the formula used to calculate an eligible retiree's life annuity payment (they're not really pensions, so they can't be passed on to a loved one or designated beneficiary when the man passes) they would receive $625 for every quarter of service (roughly 43 game days) he had, up to 16 quarters or four years.
So, assuming a man like Babe Birrer was on a major league roster for 462 game days (a season was 154 games long back when he played) he'd be eligible for $7,500 a year, minus taxes.
The league didn't even have the courtesy to send these men W-4P forms so they could decide how much withholding deductions to take out. Birrer would probably have a net of $6K.
Not bad for a guy who just turned 83. And this payment plan was extended last November until 2016.
Most of these men received their first payments last August; they got their second checks this past February.
But not Birrer. He's gotten nada, nyet. bupkis. A big fat zero.
According to his daughter, who is his legal guardian and power of attorney, Birrer has never received any payments from the league. Which doesn't surprise me too much.
After all, an ex-Washington Senator outfielder named Roberto Ortiz is on the list of men the league is attempting to pay, and he's been dead for more than four decades.
Check it out for yourself if you don't believe me. He's buried in Flagler Memorial Park in Florida.
Heck, even the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, the supposed advocacy group for men like Birrer that is based in Colorado Springs, doesn't acknowledge that Birrer played baseball.
Go ahead, call 'em if you want to hear that straight from the horse's mouth. The executive director's name is Dan Foster.
Of course, the real tragedy is that men like Birrer, Neibauer and Clyde are the ones who endured all the labor stoppages and went without paychecks, who stood on picket lines, all so that players today can score the lucrative contracts that they now get every winter.
You think that Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, to name but a few, don't owe these guys some major gratitude?
Jeez, the average pension as of 2006 was $32,000 per year. And today's minimum salary went up 16 percent this year alone, from $416,000 to $480,000.
And here is Babe Birrer's family trying to get, at most, a measly $6,000 out of MLB which, as you probably are aware, is an $8 billion industry.
Something's wrong here. Horribly wrong. I mean, what do you think? Do you think this is right?
As a certain 19-year-old All-Star would say, "that's a clown question, bro."
Doug Gladstone is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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