Bullet Bob Reynolds and the MLB Pension

May 13, 2024 at 4:07 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Bob and Lorna Reynolds
Photos courtesy of Bob and Lorna Reynolds

...by Douglas J. Gladstone

Back in 2009, journalist Douglas J. Gladstone was interviewing Jimmy Qualls, the former Chicago Cub who memorably broke up Tom Seaver's attempt to pitch a perfect game on July 9, 1969, for a "Baseball Digest" story he was working on. Qualls casually and nonchalantly mentioned that he wasn’t getting a pension. "I thought that sorta weird since MLB salaries were even obscene back then," recalls Doug. He decided to investigate. "The more I looked into the situation, the more shocked I was to learn how the league and union were taking advantage of these old guys, many of whom went on strike so that today’s players can make the monies they’re getting." Gladstone's book, "Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve” is the result of that investigation. Below, read about a Washingtonian who is amongst those hundreds of retired ballplayers affected by the situation.

Ocean Shores’ “Bullet” Bob Reynolds celebrated his 77th birthday this past January. That is a lot of trips around the sun for anyone, but Reynolds has made a lot of stops along the way.

A first-round pick for the San Francisco Giants in 1966 when he was selected 17th overall in the amateur draft that year, Reynolds debuted with the expansion Montreal Expos three years later. He also had stints with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers in 1971, the Baltimore Orioles from 1972 to 1975 and finished his MLB career with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians in 1975. 

Mind you, that is not counting all his minor-league stops in places such as Toledo, Ohio; Rochester, New York; Amarillo Texas, Evansville, Indiana and Twin Falls, Idaho. He even left this country to play with Japan’s Taiyo Whales in 1977 and the Mexico City Reds in 1978.

Being well traveled doesn’t necessarily make someone financially secure, however. Despite all his stops, Reynolds fell an achingly close 34 days shy of a pension. That is why he is one of 517 retirees being hosed out of pensions by the league and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), which is the union that represents both current players and minor leaguers. 

All the men like Reynolds receive are yearly non-qualified retirement stipends of $718.75 for every 43 game days they were on an active MLB roster, up to a maximum payment of $11,500.

These days, the minimum salary for the 26th man riding the pines is $740,000.

By comparison, prior to his breakout season with the Orioles, in 1973, when he appeared in 42 games and had a sterling Earned Run Average of 1.95, Reynolds reportedly earned just $13,500 playing in “The Show” in 1972.

Meanwhile, the maximum IRS pension limit these days is $275,000. The annual stipend Reynolds gets is worth approximately $9,000 per year. And that's before taxes are taken out.

Neither MLB nor the MLBPA want to retroactively restore the non-vested men like Reynolds into pension coverage. And to make matters worse, the bone Bullet Bob is being thrown each year cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary, such as his second wife, Lorna, or any of his six children.

Is this fair? Of course not. The executive director of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, refuses to go to bat for the men like Reynolds who, more than two decades ago, told a Seattle newspaper that he was frustrated he wasn’t receiving a MLB pension.

He may be frustrated, but Bullet doesn't let a lot of things get to him. Together since 1977, Bob and Lorna are devoted to themselves and others. On their Facebook page last Thanksgiving, for instance, the couple posted that they "are thankful for nights that turn into mornings, friends that turned into family and dreams that turned into reality."

Most of all, the couple enjoy each other’s company. Bob says he and Lorna love listening to music from back in the day. “We also love our daily car rides, exploring all the coast has to offer,” continues Bob. “Our favorite spot is the North Jetty, especially when the pelicans arrive.”

In wishing Bob a happy birthday last year, one of his children wrote on their Facebook page that Bob is "a perfect Papa Bear with no judgements, lots of patience and lots of understanding."

But he still can't understand this: unions are supposed to help hard working women and men in this country get a fair shake in life. Why doesn't the MLBPA understand that?

In my opinion, it’s about time the national pastime appreciates what good and decent men like Reynolds have given the sport and remedy this injustice once and for all.

According to the author, other Washingtonians affected by the same circumstance include:

Jim Ollom of Everett

Eric Wilkins of Everett

Joe McIntosh of Mercer Island

Jim Barbieri of Spokane Valley

Aaron Pointer of Tacoma

Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & the Players’ Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve.” @gladstonewriter

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