A former Chicago Cub with 237 games under his belt, Carmen Fanzone has been denied benefits accorded other short-term players in the wake of a 1980 rule change.
“When I was there, if people found out you played for the Cubs, you were treated like royalty,” the 78-year-old Fanzone says.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of Major League Baseball and the union representing today’s players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.
Fanzone is among the over 600 retirees who do not receive MLB pensions because of a vesting rules change that occurred in 1980. Prior to that year, a big leaguer needed four years of service to receive a benefit and be permitted to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan. Since then, all that’s needed is 43 game days of service for a pension and one game day of service to be eligible for health coverage.
The problem for men like Fanzone, and former White Sox outfielder Bob “The Macaroni Pony” Coluccio, is that the agreement wasn’t made retroactive. So though he had three and one-half years of service, all Fanzone has been receiving for his time in “The Show” is a yearly stipend that, after taxes, comes to $6,250.
Meanwhile, a vested retiree who played after 1980 can earn up to $225,000.
The late Michael Weiner, the former executive director of the MLBPA, realized that men such as Fanzone had been shortchanged. So he went to bat for them and, in April 2011, the pre-1980 retirees started receiving monies.
Fanzone believes more can be done.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me,” he says. “These days, salaries are going up and up; it’s like the owners are playing with Monopoly money.”
MLB’s revenue has increased 325 percent from 1992, and the league has made $500 million since 2015. What’s more, the value of each of the 30 clubs is up 19 percent from 2016, to $1.54 billion.
Fanzone is especially upset that today’s players aren’t willing to do more for guys like him, who stood on picket lines and went on strike so free agency could be ushered in.
“I thought for sure that when [former Detroit Tigers All-Star] Tony Clark became executive director of the union, he would help us because he was one of us. But he’s turned a blind eye to this issue,” he says. “I just think both the league and union are waiting for all of us to die off so they won’t have this problem anymore.”
A California resident, Fanzone, who suffers from congestive heart failure, went to UCLA Medical Center in July to have a sensor inserted into his pulmonary artery. Fortunately, the procedure was successful.
Acquired in a winter 1970 trade that sent Phil Gaglione to the Boston Red Sox, Fanzone earned a September 1971 call-up to the big club. In 1972, he made the team out of spring training.
Fanzone played in 237 games and collected 132 hits, including 27 doubles and 20 home runs, while driving in 94 and scoring 66 times. And though his career statistics aren’t shabby, he’s probably best remembered for playing “The Star Spangled Banner” on his trumpet before a Father’s Day Game at Wrigley Field on June 18, 1972.
An accomplished performer who also plays the flugelhorn — he was a member of the Baja Maramba Band for two years — Fanzone majored in music while attending Central Michigan University. According to the Sporting News, he even played the trumpet at Wrigley during halftime of Chicago Bears games in 1963 and 1964 when he was in the CMU band.
Fanzone says after Cubs day games he used to frequent such eateries as Papa Milano’s, where he was invited to play his horn. “It was one of my favorite haunts to hang out at,” he recalls.
He still longs for Chicago cuisine. That’s why he regularly places online orders for Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza.
“I’ve got two in my fridge right now,” he says.
Now if he only had that MLB pension.
The above appears in the February 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.