In “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the final episode of the iconic classic, M*A*S*H, the pompous doctor portrayed by actor David Ogden Stiers, “Major Charles Emerson Winchester,” gets a sendoff that’s arguably one of the most indelible images in television history. After seven seasons of Winchester trumpeting his own self-importance, sophistication, breeding and surgical skills, like a proud peacock strutting his feathers, this upper-crust scion of a prominent Boston family leaves Korea on a garbage truck.
Such irony is not lost on Ernie Fazio, the former Houston Colt .45 bonus baby who believes he and the other pre-1980, non-vested players are now part of baseball’s garbage heap. A resident of the City of Alamo, where he lives only one block from his friend and neighbor, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, Fazio, who actually does work as a manager at a sanitation company in Hayward, California, and who has spent the better part of the last three decades working in the refuse business for various companies, once sat atop the baseball world. Now, he feels just like disposable garbage. For, like someone taking out the trash, Fazio thinks he has been unfairly tossed out of the game.
Luckily, David Clyde's ex-wife’s family ran a lumber business, and he worked at that job for almost two decades, retiring in 2003. But old slights linger; even now, Clyde is not able to mask his disappointment that MLB hasn’t been able to offer him or any of his comrades a helping hand.
“I think the owners are prepared to drag their feet on this issue for a long time,” he says. “After all, the longer it takes for this to be resolved, the less people they have to pay. Maybe that’s been their strategy all along.”
As for Clyde’s feelings regarding the union, he credits Don Fehr for exerting an almost Svengali-like influence over the players during his run as executive director of the players association.
“I don’t believe today’s players have a clue as to what’s going on and what’s happening to the guys who played before them,” he said. “I don’t think they know anything about our situation. In fact, I think if Fehr had told all the players to walk off a cliff that was 700 feet high up in the air, and told them that, if they did, they’d all get a share of $10 million, I think they’d all walk off that cliff together,” he added.
"There’s no incentive, no rush for the union or the league to do anything for us,” said 63-year-old Jerry Janeski. A successful realtor with First Team Estates, a luxury real estate firm representing high end buyers and sellers in Southern California, Janeski pitched a complete game shutout in his second big league appearance in 1970, when he compiled a 10-17 record for a woeful Chicago White Sox club that went 56-106 that season.
Janeski, who admits he’s done very well for himself since his playing days ended, added that, while he may not need a pension as badly as men such as Mike Colbern, Jimmy Hutto or Ken Wright, “this is about fairness, plain and simple.
“It is outlandish that people who have put their time in are not getting anything for that time,” he continued. “It makes you feel insignificant, like your accomplishments and time in the game weren’t meaningful.” Both the league and the union, he said, need to be held accountable.“My memories, my experiences, I’d never trade anything in the world for them,” said Steve Grilli. However, as priceless as his memories are to him, Grilli is still steamed that he’s not getting a pension. “I paid union dues when I played, and now we’re told that the union doesn’t owe us representation,” he fumed. “I’m a victim of circumstance, all because three decades ago either somebody forgot to write us into that collective bargaining agreement or they didn’t want to write us into the contract at all.
“I feel like I’m just being swept under the carpet,” Grilli continues. “You know, I didn’t make a whole lot of money when I was playing, my first contract in the big leagues was for only $16,500, and that’s because I played in an era when the pendulum was swung in favor of the owners.” Money was so tight that Grilli says he used to siphon off gas from a used car lot just to avoid having to fill up at the pump.
Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lloyd Merritt isn’t expecting a pension from MLB either, but said he’d like to see “all those guys who just came up short of their four years get it first.
“I’d feel better if I knew they were taken care of,” added Merritt.
Originally signed by the Yankees, Merritt says he won 22 games in the Piedmont League one year but wasn’t able to duplicate his minor league success with any consistency after Uncle Sam drafted him. Though he saved seven games and posted a more than respectable 3.31 E.R.A in the 44 games he pitched in 1957, the St. Louis native didn’t make his hometown club out of spring training the following season.
“I was privileged and honored to play the game for that one year,” said the 76-year-old Merritt. “So I feel my service credit is just as good as anyone else’s.”