Aaron Pointer Feels Forgotten As Baseball Returns to Work

Every spring for the past few years, Aaron Pointer climbed the steep driveway, took a short walk down the street, and opened the mailbox to find a letter from Major League Baseball. Each time, he ponders the long struggle for that little recognition as he makes his way back to his home, where the Tacoma Narrows Bridge looks out over the water. And then she tore the envelope, revealing a check for nearly $900 and a letter explaining how that payment wasn’t guaranteed to continue next year.

In 1961, Pointer became the last American professional baseball player to hit better than .400 all season. Sixty-one years later, this is his MLB pension.

“I just laugh when I see the check,” said Pointer, 79, in a phone call at his home in Tacoma, Washington. with taxes. Barely enough to go out to dinner.”

In 1972, Pointer retired from professional baseball after a 12-season career playing 40 games in three seasons at the major league level. At the time of his retirement, MLB players needed four years of service to qualify for a pension. In 1980, after a brief strike with no missed matches, a new workers’ agreement lowered that threshold considerably. Since then, players have been eligible for health benefits after playing a game in the majors and have been eligible for a pension after 43 days on a major league roster.

But for retirees, these new benefits were not applied retroactively. A group of more than 600 players, including Pointer, has been behind for over three decades.

In 2011, the commissioner’s office and Major League Baseball Players Association acceptance applying a retirement formula to those players who were previously expelled. Players may be eligible to receive a maximum of $10,000 per year. For his contribution to baseball, Pointer’s pension comes to $1,200 a year before taxes.

He spent the last months wondering if this check would come. In December, MLB owners voted unanimously to lock players out after the 2016 collective bargaining agreement expired. Pointer watched some of the news on TV – the owners wanted the season to be extended and the players wanted the league’s revenue to increase – but tended to shut it down after a few minutes. He never hears of anyone voicing his concerns for retired players like him and wonders if they’ve been forgotten – again.

I hope the players will think of us,” he said. “In my experience, the problem is the people in Major League Baseball who control the purse strings. They think they don’t have the money for us, but that’s not true. They could pay—if they care.”

On Thursday, after 99 days of capricious negotiations, the team owners and players association agreed on a new CBA. The deal is said to include better pay for young players, incentives for increased competition between teams, and incentives for an expanded playoff, among other provisions. Two sources, who requested anonymity due to the uncertain nature of the deal, told The New York Times that payouts for this group of pre-1980 players were increased by 15 percent and will continue for another five years.

“We are pleased to join the MLBPA to continue to support these retired players,” MLB said in a statement. Said.

When informed of the deal, Pointer was undecided. He appreciated the consideration of players like him, but wondered why it took so long. “It’s a good move and I’m glad they remember us,” he said. “Although it could and should have happened earlier. Many men who have died will not benefit, but it does help those who are still alive. It’s just a shame: This should have happened years ago.”

For Pointer, the protracted war erased many of his fondest memories of playing baseball.

Born to a pair of pastors in Oakland, California, Pointer played basketball at the University of San Francisco before his high school baseball coach tied him to a new MLB team in Houston – the Colt .45s. (She and her siblings grew up singing in the church choir, and her sisters — pointer sisters – Became a Grammy-winning R&B group.)

Houston awarded the 19-year-old Pointer a $10,000 signing bonus before sending him to North Carolina to play for the Class D Salisbury Braves. He was the only black player on the team.

Pointer faced discrimination in the Deep South he had never experienced before – he was forced to sleep in separate hotels and eat in separate restaurants from his white teammates. It was the same summer that Freedom Riders began their demonstration for integration, and Pointer felt intimately the power of the movement.

In a year where his league batting average was .256, Pointer made it to .402. After all these years, no one else at any level of American professional baseball has matched him in a full season. (Gary Redus hit .462 for the Billings Mustangs in a short rookie ball season in the Pioneer League in 1978, and few players have hit better than .400 in the AAA Mexican League.)

“I still get calls about my baseball career,” Pointer said, “and I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished. But I’m not talking about hitting .400 anymore. Everything that’s happened between me and Major League Baseball is something I’d rather avoid if I could. It’s unfortunate that I don’t feel that way, but that’s the way it is.”

After retiring from baseball, Pointer found a more solid footing in another corner of professional sports – football refereeing. He became the first Black referee at the Pac-10 conference in 1978 and served as the NFL chief lineman from 1987 to 2003. He directed a match after his sisters sang the national anthem. He was on the field in 1994 when his son Deron made his first NFL catch in a preseason game in Pittsburgh. After completion, Deron jumped off the field and passed the ball to his father.

For 17 years as an NFL referee, Pointer said he raises about $50,000 a year in retirement benefits. Under the new MLB formula, Pointer will receive approximately $1,380 a year (excluding taxes). While he understands that his NFL career has lasted four times as long as his MLB career, he doesn’t understand that this equates to nearly 40 times the annual earnings.

But he said at least now he could take his wife, Leona, out to dinner once more every year. “We don’t have the luxury of bringing guests, but at least Leona and I can go out,” he said, and laughed. “This is some progress.”

There’s one more change in plans for this year’s check for Pointer: He’ll be driving to pick it up. “For an almost 80-year-old man, it’s no longer an easy walk,” he said. “I’ll probably just jump in my car, get it, put it in the bank, and get on with my life.”

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