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Mudville: June 19, 2024 6:26 am PDT

Mac Scarce

"I just wonder if today’s players knew of our situation and what we did in the 1970s, maybe there is someone out there who would listen to us.”

Major League Baseball, like all major sports, has a great propensity for sweeping negativity under the rug and usually the media is complicit. That’s especially true when it comes to the biggest “journalistic” personalities you’ll see these days on social media, traditional media, or major podcasts.

If there’s a topic that’s uncomfortable to cover or something that makes a reporter think he or she may have their access restricted, there’s a less than zero chance you’ll be hearing about it. And if a reporter is one of those virtue-signaling social media busybodies, there’s even less of a chance of them covering the tough topics with any real substance.

Such is the case with approximately 500 elderly, pensionless former major leaguers who have been fighting for a pension for decades. They’re not only taking on a Major League Baseball Players Union who won’t listen to them, but they’re also fighting an uphill battle just to get reporters to tell their stories.

Former Phillies reliever Mac Scarce is one of those former players and he joins us this week for Spitballin’.

Doug Gladstone, author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve, brought this situation to the attention of BallNine three years ago and we have been telling these players’ stories ever since.

The whole situation is complex, but Gladstone’s book spells it all out clearly. We dove into it at BallNine as well.

Aside from a blurb, Tweet, or quick article here or there, no other national journalists will commit to any real coverage of this situation. Most recently, Gladstone, Scarce, and a team of others have written to Time magazine Editor-in-Chief Sam Jacobs to consider using his far reach to help these retirees. The response, as usual, has been nothing but crickets.

Journalism is indeed dead.

Scarce isn’t defined as simply being a pensionless former ballplayer though. A member of both the Florida State University and Manatee Junior College Halls of Fame, Scarce pitched in 159 games over five seasons before he was done in by arm troubles. The lefty reliever led the Phillies in saves in 1972 and ’73 before being sent to the Mets as part of the package that brought Tug McGraw to Philadelphia.

Prior to that, Scarce was a pioneer at Florida State as a closer, a role that few schools took advantage of back then. His 18 saves in 1971 and 30 career saves at Florida State were NCAA records at the time.

He has some great tales from the diamond and some strong opinions on his fellow pensionless former major leaguers, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Mac Scarce.        

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Scarce! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the MLBPA and the pensionless players, but let’s talk about your baseball life first. What was baseball like for you growing up as a kid?

I started in Little League at about nine or ten years old. I loved baseball, but growing up in Virginia there wasn’t a lot of exposure back then. The only time you got to see a baseball game was Saturday afternoon with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese. I collected baseball cards though and baseball was my favorite sport. I started out as a first baseman and then they moved me to pitcher. I went from Pony League to Colt League to American Legion. Growing up in Richmond, we had a AAA team and most of my time there, they were a Yankees affiliate. I saw some guys go through there like Mel Stottlemyre, Tom Tresh, Jesse Gonder, and Deron Johnson. I did well in high school and was offered a baseball scholarship to go to Manatee Junior College in Bradenton, Florida. After that, I went on to Florida State University to continue my baseball career at a great program.

Yes, you did more than continue your career. You were a pioneer relief pitcher at a time when they weren’t used like they are today. Can you talk about your experience at Florida State?

In college, I did nothing but relief. My junior year there were four or five of us from Manatee who had scholarships to Florida State, including John Grubb. They already had a great nucleus, so we had a terrific team and went like 49-9. We went to the College World Series, but we lost to Southern Cal in the final game. It was a 15-inning game and we lost 2-1. Southern Cal had Jim Barr and Dave Kingman. I had a pretty good tournament, but I still get teased by my friends. They’ll say, “Mac, I don’t know what everyone is raving about, you got the loss in that final game!” I pitched like 6 2/3 innings in relief, but got a blister on my finger. I retired about 15 in a row at one point. My senior year, we lost in the regional tournament, but I pitched well enough to get drafted. It was a terrific experience. Jack Stallings was our coach at the time.

You’re actually in the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame. What do you think about being enshrined among all of those great athletes who came through FSU?

I think I was just the sixth baseball player to be inducted into their hall of fame. It is pretty cool to say that in 1985, I was inducted into the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame. It’s a great honor just to be involved in that institution and to be inducted into their hall of fame is something I am quite proud of. I am actually inducted into the Manatee Junior College Hall of Fame and also my high school hall of fame too. Three halls of fame; pretty neat!

We do get that pittance from the Commissioner’s office, but that’s a drop in the bucket. Don’t get me wrong, it is appreciated very much, I just don’t understand why they’re ignoring us.

That’s incredible. Not many people could say that. You really only played two partial minor league seasons before being called up to the majors. But one of those seasons, Jim Bunning was your manager! What was it like playing for Jim Bunning?

In Spring Training of 1972, the owners had a lockout at the end of Spring Training. I was the 26th guy at big league camp. It was a few days before the season started and I was still with the big club when the lockout happened. After sitting around for a few days, they sent me to Eugene, Oregon to play with the AAA team in the Pacific Coast League. I had been sitting around for about a week. Andy Seminick was the manager and he put me on the 10-day disabled list so I could pitch myself back into shape. When the big club found out I was on the disabled list, they didn’t want me sitting around, so they sent me down to AA to pitch. It was in Reading, Pennsylvania in the Eastern League and the manager was Jim Bunning.

Jim Bunning was a no-nonsense guy. It was his first year managing and if he didn’t think you were a prospect, he would tell you. During the game, stuff would happen and he would talk into a recorder so he could address it later. I showed up my first day and they were in the sixth inning of a game. After that game, they were getting on a bus to go to Three Rivers, Canada on a 10-day road trip. I didn’t pitch until the last day of the road trip.

How did you do after having all that time off?

The first hitter I faced was the opposing pitcher. My catcher for Reading was Harry Saferight. Believe it or not, Harry had been my catcher at Manatee Junior College and Florida State too! He caught me for four years in college and really knew me. He knew if I needed to throw a strike, I could get my slider over at any time. I went 3-2 on the pitcher and me and Harry both knew I was throwing a slider. Well, I missed and walked the pitcher on a 3-2 slider. By the time Saferight threw the ball back to me, Bunning was standing on the mound in my face. I remember his exact words, “Hey dad, don’t you know this is a real game? What are you doing throwing a pitcher a breaking ball three-and-two?”

Harry Saferight and I still keep in touch and hang out with a lot of the guys we played with at FSU and when I tell that story, I usually add that my response was, “Well, I don’t know why you’re getting on me, Harry was the one who called it!” I really didn’t say that, but everyone gets a kick out of it, so I throw that in there. Bunning was a no-nonsense guy, though. He was good for the game. There was no middle of the road on Jim Bunning; you either liked him or hated his guts. But I liked him. He let me pitch.

You got called up in July of 1972. What was it like making that jump to the majors?

Like anyone, I was thrilled to death. It was so excited calling my parents and telling them. I pitched quite well for Bunning when I was in AA. I pitched 39 innings and gave up just two earned runs. Then I got called up to the majors in July. I was shocked. I didn’t realize how well I had pitched. With Philly though, they were gonna give everyone a chance. They weren’t too good. Catching and left-handed pitching are the two fastest ways to the majors. We were on the road in New Haven, Connecticut and Jim Bunning called me in. He just said, “Well Mac, they called you up. You leave tomorrow. I told them not to put you into a close game right away.” I went to Philly the next day and what did they do? Put me right into a tie game in the eighth inning against the Dodgers. Willie Davis hit a home run off me and I faced Frank Robinson and Steve Garvey. It was pretty intimidating.

Was it tough making the adjustment with so little experience in the minors?

When I was in the minors, I could throw my slider and never throw it over the plate and these guys would swing. In A ball, they’re coming out of the dugout swinging. The higher you go, the more disciplined hitters become. The highest I had been was AA and I still didn’t have to throw a strike and they’d swing. I had a good slider before I hurt my arm. The first hitter I faced in the majors was Wes Parker. I threw my sliders and instead of it being 0-2, it was 2-0 because he wasn’t swinging. I remember thinking, “Oh no. What am I in for now? This is totally different than the minor leagues.” I learned that these hitters were really disciplined and some of them wouldn’t even swing until they had two strikes. It was a totally different ballgame. Another glaring difference was the infield defense. When I first came up, a ball would get hit and I’d think, “Oh well, there goes a base hit.” Then Larry Bowa would just pick it in the hole and throw it on over to first.

Your rookie year was 1972, which was that incredible season Steve Carlton had. The Phillies went 59-97 that year, but Carlton went 27-10. What was it like being on the same staff and watching one of the best pitching seasons in major league history?

When Steve Carlton pitched, we were the best team in the league. When Carlton wasn’t pitching, we were the worst. It’s just that simple. The guy was totally unhittable. He had 30 complete games that year. He just overmatched hitters, and I’m talking good hitters. You should have seen what he did to guys like Willie Stargell and Al Oliver. Willie Stargell once said hitting Steve Carlton was like eating soup with a fork; it can’t be done. I saved one of Carlton’s games that year, which was one of the highlights of my career.

It was in Cincinnati and the score was 4-3 in the ninth. Carlton was just totally out of gas. I came in with the tying run on third and winning run on first with no outs. The first hitter I faced was Pete Rose and he hit a weak grounder to second and Denny Doyle threw the runner out at home. I had runners at first and second, but they moved up on a wild pitch and I still had just one out. I struck out Bobby Tolan and Joe Morgan to end the game. That was Carlton’s 21st win and kept a streak of his going. Carlton had a bad rap, but that was unwarranted. The reporters were writing stuff that he wasn’t saying, so he said, “Forget it, I’m just not gonna talk to them anymore.” He was a great teammate.

Switching gears to a topic that isn’t as pleasant but deserves more attention than it has gotten, I wanted to talk about your pension situation. You’re part of a group of players who are without a pension for whom we have been advocating at BallNine. Let’s start with just your initial thoughts on the situation. 

It’s nice that someone is carrying the torch for us. Nobody is really listening to us about it. Personally, I think we have gotten a raw deal. I dare say that if there were more present-day players that knew what was going on and recognized for what we did from the get-go, how we have been cheated, that someone would show some interest and go to bat for us. Most of the players today don’t even need a pension. If they only knew what we went through in the 1970s. They’re standing on our shoulders now as far as creating lockouts or going on strike. Back then, the minimum salary was like $13,000 and we stuck it on the line to improve that. The brilliance of Marvin Miller created all of what the game has become today. But when the bargaining was over in 1980, he realized the mistake he had made not including the previous players. He admitted to that. We should be under the same plan as everyone else, but Tony Clark and his cronies could care less and we’re the ones who put him in the position he is in.

We recently sent letters to Sam Jacobs, the Editor-in-Chief of Time magazine to ask if he could cover our situation, but from what I understand, those letters have fallen on deaf ears. We do what we can do. When this all started, there were over 1,000 of us. Now it’s down around 500 because so many have passed away.

How would players’ lives have changed if they were included in the pension system?

The main way is financial. You hear a lot of stories about former players who are destitute or don’t have insurance. For me, I’m 74 and I’m still working. I have had my own mortgage company, a one-man mortgage company, for 33 years. Right now, the mortgage business is terrible because there are no loans. I am still having to work to make ends meet and I’m sure there are a lot of people doing the same thing. I would be curious to know what my pension would be if I was vested. The financial part of it would be the main way things would change for us, but also when we passed away, our wives would have an inheritance from it. For vested players, that’s what happens for a certain number of years after a [vested player] dies, then it sunsets after a period of time. That would mean a lot to have something like that in place.

Major League Baseball wouldn’t feel it a bit. That’s what I don’t understand. If it would put them in some kind of financial bind, that’s one thing. But Major League Baseball is flush and for them to not even want to listen to our plight and try to accommodate us is wrong. We do get that pittance from the Commissioner’s office, but that’s a drop in the bucket. Don’t get me wrong, it is appreciated very much, I just don’t understand why they’re ignoring us. It wouldn’t cost anyone anything to help us. You could probably take one [modern] player’s one-year salary and put it in a pool and that could fund us for the rest of our lives. That’s how insignificant it would be to them.  But they’re not in the least bit interested in helping us.

It’s such a shame and I just hope at some point, your stories find their way to the right people. We’ll keep telling your stories for sure. If you had Tony Clark’s ear for a few minutes, what would be your message to him?

I would be diplomatic about it, but I would like to ask him for an explanation for his reasons to not even listen to our plight. I would like to cite some examples of what some of the guys in our group are going through. I would like to make him aware of some of the tough times former players are facing at this point in our lives. I would like to tell him how important and significant it would be for us to get a pension. I wouldn’t want to piss anybody off, but I would like to understand the reason why we’re being ignored and try to find a way to discuss it with him to try to change their minds. They could do it in a heartbeat. It would be a drop in the bucket. There are so many ways they could fund it. I just wonder if today’s players knew of our situation and what we did in the 1970s, maybe there is someone out there who would listen to us.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

Comments
  • JWR

    It is a shame that MLB and the union are doing nothing about this. Given what a good starting pitcher gets paid these days, they could take that same amount and make decent pension payments to the 500 guys out there who stood for the union in its early days.

    March 26, 2024
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