Frank Ernaga crosses home plate in the first inning of a May 24, 1957 game after hitting a home run during his first turn at bat in the major leagues. Photo submitted

Simply playing for the love of the game

Lassen County is home to two former Major League Baseball players: Chicago White Sox alumnus Nyls Nyman and Chicago Cubs alumnus Frank Ernaga. However, neither alumnus is receiving pension for their time on their MLB teams.

The reasoning behind the lack of pension for either player is that both men served their time prior to 1980.

The Major League Baseball pension fund was initially established in 1947. Upon initial establishment, the fund applied only to players who were on an active MLB roster. The rules stipulated that in order to receive benefits from the fund, a player must play five years.

In 1969, the sentence was reduced to four years in order to qualify for benefits from the fund.

However, in 1981, players initiated a strike to protest the pension requirements. Corporate meetings and an incomplete season finally resulted in amended terms of the pension fund; players were then eligible for health benefits after only one day of service and they were eligible for pension after 43 days of service.

Frank Ernaga played for the Chicago Cubs during parts of the 1957 and 1957 seasons. Photo submitted

The terms were widely accepted throughout the MLB community, but the proposal excluded players who played prior to 1980.

However, despite the controversial topic stirring emotions throughout the nation, neither Nyman nor Ernaga find the matter truly upsetting.

Both men continue to feel a great appreciation toward the MLB Players’ Association as well as the MLB Alumni Association.

Their experiences with their respective teams were memorable because of their love of the game rather than the financial benefits.

In 2002, a class action lawsuit was filed against Major League Baseball by three former players who retired between 1947 and 1979 with less than the required amount needed to earn a pension. The suit demanded MLB to treat pre-1980 players with the same benefits received by the post-1980 players.

Though many members of the MLB fan base were in support of the benefits to follow a successful lawsuit, the case was dismissed.

In response to the situation, however, the MLB Players’ Association agreed to provide payments to former players despite their lack of legal obligation to do so.

The payments were based upon quarters served and had a maximum value of $10,000 per year for two years.

In a recent interview, Douglas Gladstone, author of the 2010 book “A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” mentioned that the payments made to retirees were a step in the right direction, but there were still many who still feel displeased about the situation.

Nyman and Ernaga are not part of the displeased group.

Nyman explained his gratitude toward the MLB Alumni Association as it has helped him stay involved in the major league world.

He said, “The Players’ Alumni Association made a concerted effort to make all former players a part of the fraternity.”

Nyman went on to say that the association has extended programs to include all former MLB players. Whether the programs involve youth teaching, stadium involvement or fundraising, Nyman has always felt welcome.

Regarding the pension issue, Nyman said, “The stipend is a nice gesture. They don’t have to do it, but it shows a sense of comradery. They haven’t forgotten us.”

Ernaga feels similarly. He explained that the back pay was based upon quarters served, so he ultimately received $6,000, which equaled out to an additional year’s pay from MLB.

Ernaga fell in love with the game at a young age and was recruited by UCLA in 1950 after playing for the Susanville Merchants.

After playing a season at UCLA, Ernaga’s love of the game was transferred to his free time while he served in the military.

Upon his return to the United States, Ernaga rejoined the UCLA team for another season and was eventually recruited by the Chicago Cubs.

During his first major league game on May 24, 1957, Ernaga hit a homerun and followed with a triple. He is reportedly the only Cub to accomplish this feat and did so against Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.

He spent his time with the Cubs as an outfielder during parts of the 1957 and 1958 seasons. He appeared in 29 games, scored nine runs and drove in seven.

He was then shipped throughout the United States before settling in Charlotte, North Carolina in July of 1959 and finished out the season with 13 homeruns.

MLB then offered Ernaga a position as playing manager in Elmira, New York, but Ernaga declined the offer. He then moved back to Susanville to raise his family without regrets.

Ernaga said, “Everything just fell into place for me.”

Being a player in MLB was an experience Ernaga enjoyed to the fullest for the sake of the game rather than the money.

“I always loved sports,” Ernaga stated. “I got to do everything in my life that was great.”

Though the debate of MLB retiree pension is still in discussion throughout the nation, the local retirees remind the community of the value of life beyond a paycheck.