Major League Baseball agreed yesterday to create a charitable program that will grant monthly payments to an estimated 27 former Negro League players who were left out of a previous compensation plan, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the offer.
The new program will provide the players either $833.33 a month for four years or $375 a month for life, according to sources. The first option would continue paying a surviving spouse for the full four years in the event of a player's death. To qualify, players must have played at least one game in at least four seasons prior to 1958.
A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who argued on behalf of the players in a March meting with Commissioner Bud Selig, confirmed yesterday that an agreement was reached. He said Nelson would discuss the specifics of the deal Monday morning with Bob Mitchell, the players' unofficial leader, in Tampa and that the specifics likely would be released publicly after the meeting.
Major League Baseball spokesmen did not return messages left last night.
The previous plan for Negro League veterans, created in 1997, granted a lifetime benefit of $10,000 a year ($833.33 a month) to players with a combined four years of service in Major League Baseball or the Negro Leagues prior to 1947, when Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. But many Major League teams remained segregated well into the 1950s; the Boston Red Sox became the last team to integrate in 1959.
A group of former players who met the four-year requirement but didn't start their careers until after 1947 has agitated for some sort of compensation since the creation of the original plan, arguing they were denied a full opportunity to play in the 1950s and thus qualify for a Major League pension. The effort attracted Nelson's support in 2001 and gained momentum on March 10 of this year, when Selig pledged to deliver an initial proposal to Nelson's office within a month.
Mitchell, himself a former player, said he spoke with nearly all the 27 players yesterday and received their support for Major League Baseball's latest proposal.
"Under the circumstances, I'll say it like this; the strife is over, the battle is done," said Mitchell, 71. "Based on the length of the time I've been doing this, the expenses out of my pocket from doing this, I've been feeling a little stressed. It's good that we're getting to the climax of this thing. I'm very happy for the guys to be able to realize this, because it was a long struggle on my part, and it was a lot of patience on their part, waiting with hope for this to happen. Now it looks like it's going to happen, and I just praise the Lord for it."
Letters from Major League Baseball announcing the proposal are expected to be mailed to the initial list of 27 players early next week, a source said.
Several players have been reluctant to respond to such announcements in the past, not trusting the offer of assistance. But many of the players have struggled with medical bills and declining health in recent years and have been hoping for any sort of agreement.
"I'm sure it will help a lot of us -- we're all on fixed incomes now," said the Rev. Hank Mason of Richmond, who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1951 to 1954. "The fight is over, I guess. You're not waiting in anticipation any more; you know what you're going to get, and that's it . . . . They don't really have to give you anything. They could have said the hell with it. I'm glad they didn't."