The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Pitcher and Broadcaster

15 March 2010

Douglas J. Gladstone tells the story of pensions denied to former MLB players

A new book by journalist Douglas J. Gladstone, A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How the MLB and Players Association Threw 874 Retirees A Curve, tells the story of hundreds of former big-league baseball players who were 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. 

Prior to that year, ballplayers had to have four years service credit to earn an annuity and medical benefits. Since 1980, however, all they have needed is one day of service credit for health insurance and 43 days of service credit for a pension.

Gladstone began working on this book after interviewing former players about the golden age of baseball. In the course of an interview with Jimmy Qualls, he stumbled upon the story of 847 players who were not included in the pension and benefits plan for former major leaguers. He recalls the moment that this book was conceived:
Admittedly, I never really paid much attention to the business side of baseball. These days, of course, it’s pretty hard to ignore that aspect of the sport. So, last June, when I was interviewing the former Chicago Cub, Jimmy Qualls, for a Baseball Digest story that was ultimately published in September 2009, and he casually mentioned that he wasn’t receiving a pension, being the inquisitive type, I asked him why. When he explained the reasons why he wasn’t, I knew I had the makings of a story that had to be told.
Nellie, who turns 82 today, is among the 847 players who don't receive pensions for their service on the baseball diamond. Gladstone interviewed him last year, and his story is featured in the final chapter of A Bitter Cup of Coffee. 

03 March 2010

Bob Prince, “The Gunner”

No history of Pirates baseball could be written without lauding Bob Prince, “the Voice of the Pirates,” or, as he was also known, “the Gunner.” No one dominated Pirates baseball more than this larger-than-life Pittsburgh media personality. The son of a career U.S. Army officer, Bob was widely traveled and worldly wise even in his teen years. He studied law, attending Harvard, Oklahoma, and Stanford with limited success, confessing he loved the social scene much more than books. Jack Henry, a Pittsburgh raconteur, described Prince’s college resume best: “Bob Prince’s diploma has more fingerprints on it than Elizabeth Taylor’s ass!” 

Everyone will agree that his talents would have been wasted in a courtroom. He was made for radio and baseball. I was fortunate to spend nine years working beside him. Our relationship, like the roller coaster ride at Kennywood Park, was all ups and downs, but never dull.

Prince gave the word “personality” a distinctiveness rarely seen in those days. He wore wild, flashy sports coats and a demeanor to match. You always knew when Bob was in the room. During his broadcasts you had no problem figuring out whether the Pirates were winning or losing. You either loved him or hated him, but you listened. Prince was well aware of the mixed audience response. Once, as he was leaving the press room to begin a broadcast, he shouted out for all to hear, “Gotta go to the radio booth. Twenty thousand listeners are getting ready to turn me off.”

Bob started his Pirates broadcasting career in 1948 under the tutelage of Rosey Rosewell, who began doing Pirate broadcasts in 1936. In those early days, baseball radio broadcasts were not done live since the owners feared fan attendance (and revenues) would drop. How wrong they were; radio broadcasts actually created more fans. 

Games were “recreated” in a studio by using the information sent from the site of the game over the Western Union wire ticker tape. By using sound effects--and the listeners’ imaginations--announcers created the illusion of  broadcasting the game live from the ballpark. 

One of the great advantages of not being at the park was that it gave the announcer the freedom to control the flow of the game by staying a half or a full inning behind the game descriptions coming off the ticker tape. It became obligatory for announcers to fill the slow or dead periods in every game. The good announcers did this by telling stories while still keeping the listener involved in the flow of the game. Rosewell was a wonderful storyteller, on and off the air, and also wrote and published poems. 

Bob Prince did not write poetry, but was his equal or better as a storyteller and master of ceremonies....

The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Baseball Pitcher and Broadcaster