1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I received my Master’s degree in Journalism from Boston University in 1982, and was bouncing around newseeklies and dailies for a time. But I’ve always been a huge sports fan. Fact is, my first journalism job was on a now defunct newspaper, The Newburgh Evening News, where I did start out on the sports beat. I fancied myself as a young Oscar Madison who, of course, was the character memorably portrayed by the late Walter Matthau in the film version of “The Odd Couple.”
2) Tell us about your book.
With regards to my book, it features a foreword written by the Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist, Dave Marash. A true story, A Bitter Cup of Coffee is about a group of former big-league ballplayers denied pensions as a result of the failure of both the league and the union to retroactively amend the vesting requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980. As you may know, prior to that year, ballplayers had to have four years service credit to earn an annuity and medical benefits. Since 1980, however, all you have needed is one day of service credit to be able to qualify to purchase health insurance and 43 days of service credit for a pension.
3) What was your motivation in writing this book?
The genesis of the book started subsequent to me publishing an article about the famous “Adam’s Ribs” episode of M*A*S*H in The Chicago Sun Times. I was one of the last reporters to speak with the comedic legend and creative force behind that iconic show, Larry Gelbart, before he passed away, so I was feeling pretty full of myself when the article came out. Well, my wife called me on it one evening. She said, ‘So hotshot, what are you going to do for an encore?’ Well, I hadn’t really thought about it. But then last year, as every Cubs and Mets fan remembers, was the 40th anniversary of what folks in New York still call “The Imperfect Game.” That was the night of July 9, 1969 when a little known rookie named Jimmy Qualls broke up Tom Seaver’s no-hitter / perfect game with one out in the top of the ninth inning. And of course the Mets franchise has never had a no-hitter or perfect game pitched for it in all their 48 year existence.
4) What was your experience writing this piece?
Well, I thought a story on Qualls would be a great piece for Baseball Digest. And after the magazine commissioned me to write it, I spoke to Jimmy and he casually, very innocently, mentioned that he wasn’t getting a pension. Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I happen to work for a public retirement system in New York, so I know a little bit about what it takes to become vested, or qualify for a pension. And he certainly didn’t meet the four year threshold you needed when he played to be eligible for a retirement annuity. And that’s how the whole project took off. I honestly believe this story has resonated, and will continue to resonate, with people because, at some point in all of our lives, we’ve all felt the pain and sting of victimization. We’ve all felt that somebody else got the breaks that we perceive should have gone our way, or that somebody or some group is getting ahead or receiving better treatment than us. In a nutshell, this story is about an injustice and an inequity that needs to be remedied. I am certainly not the most religious person in the world, but I like to think I’ve practiced Zechariah 8:16 (“the world stands on three things: on truth, on justice and on peace…Execute truth, justice and peace within your gates…when justice is done, truth is achieved and peace is established.”) on a daily basis.
Sometimes I often think that, like Don Quixote, I’m tiliting at windmills in my efforts to help these ballplayers. But you know what? I just got my first AARP card, and I’d hate to be treated as shabbily as these men have been when I’m old and grey and on golden pond. As hokey as this sounds, all I wanted to try to do was tip the scales of justice back into a level playing field so that these men could get the compensation I and a lot of other folks believe they’re deserving of.
5) How has the book been received?
I’m sure neither the league nor the players union is thrilled that I wrote this book. And they’ve never told me what they’ve thought, because frankly I’m sure they don’t want to validate it. The critical reaction has been wonderful. I’ve received glowing reviews and notices, the book has been called everything from “courageous” and “an eye opener” to “an important read” and “a chilling narrative.” But it’s the reactions from the affected players themselves that means the most to me. Not to sound too melodramatic, but I get emails and calls from the players and their wives and/ or their widows all the time, and you can hear the tears through the phone receiver. And it’s all very heartfelt, all very touching, and I’ m tremendously appreciative and grateful.
Here’s, in part, what the Midwest Book Review had to say about the book in its official review, which was published in May:
A wealth of interviews with former players, including heart-touching stories of the hard times some of them have endured, peppers this thoughtful and timely account, which gains especial relevance in light of the current debate about the state of health care in America.
And here’s what Edward F. Coyle, the executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said about the book:
Mr. Gladstone does an excellent job of weaving these players’ individual stories into a book that is also a social cause. He should be commended for continuing to look out for these men.
I have no idea if I’ve got another book in me, but my wife would like it if I switched gears and tried my hand at children’s literature the next time, if there is a next time. I don’t know how you segue neatly from nonfiction to kiddie lit, but I’m keeping my options open. When these men finally do get their monies, I suppose I’d like to put out a special edition of the book called, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; The Extra Innings Version.”
Thank you to Doug. And Good Luck!
And Let Us Say…Amen.