Saturday, October 23, 2021

How to reward baseball’s unsung heroes

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For three years, Jack Reed held a rather simple assignment in the Yankees’ organization.

“They were going to rest Mantle as much as they could,” Reed, now 88, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “That’s what my job was: He’d get on base, I ran for him.”

That pretty much tells his story: The outfielder Reed played in 222 major-league games, all for the Yankees, from 1961 through 1963. He went to the plate only 144 times. He started only 18 games. He tallied more career runs (39) than hits (30). 

Of course, that doesn’t actually tell his full story. Reed belongs to a group of ex-ballplayers, unofficially numbering 614, who played in Major League Baseball between 1947 and 1979 and accrued at least 43 days but less than four years of service time.

“For $30,000, I can go to France one year on a vacation and England the next.”

This is the pet cause of Doug Gladstone, a journalist based in the Albany area who became passionate about the matter after interviewing Jim Qualls, the outfielder-second baseman best known for breaking up Tom Seaver’s July 9, 1969 no-hitter attempt with a one-out single for the Cubs, who is part of this group. Gladstone, who wrote a book about this matter, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee,” suggests that each player in this demographic receive a straight $10,000 annually, with a finite window for beneficiaries to receive it after the player’s passing. That would be $6.14 million annually at this moment (Gladstone offered the group’s current count of 614), getting lower throughout time and eventually dwindling to zero. The annuity as it’s designed now will cease as soon as the retired player dies.

Locklear said he currently receives an annual check of $6,000, while Reed said he received a small, unspecified amount. It’s worth contemplating a reassessment of this because these guys are part of the game’s tapestry and history that make it so special.

Jack Reed (27) warms up with Bill ‘Moose’ Skowron (14) in 1962.Getty Images

Reed said that on off days during the season, he often played golf with Mantle, Ralph Terry and Bill Stafford.

All he had to do was call.”

After he finished playing ball (he spent all of 1964 in the Yankees’ minor-league system), he returned to his hometown of Silver City, Miss. and farmed, as his father had. He still lives there, and when I asked him how he was doing with the coronavirus, he said, “I’m dodging it,” although he added, very sadly, that his older brother James Reed caught the disease and died of it at age 94.

As for Locklear, he played for three managers, all of whom took teams to the World Series: Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, John McNamara and Billy Martin. Martin liked him, Locklear said, and during his brief stints with the Yankees in 1976 and 1977 (he spent more time with their Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse), he hung out the most with Ed Figueroa and Carlos May. 

With the Padres, meanwhile, Locklear showed some potential, slashing .321/.378/.439 in 263 plate appearances in 1975. Of those trips to the plate, 49 came as a pinch-hitter. Locklear asked his boss, legendary executive Buzzie Bavasi, why he didn’t get more starting opportunities.

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MLB caves to its problems instead of fixing them

I envision the MLB Commissioner’s Office, as first occupied by…“He said, ‘The National League is going to get the designated hitter, and you’re gonna be my designated hitter for the next 10 years.’”

Well, Bavasi, who helped build the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only championship team, in 1955, was close. The NL finally got the DH last year, albeit it for a one-off, and it probably will implement it for good next year, if not this season as well.

A Native American, Locklear has become a well-known artist in retirement.

I love hearing stories from guys like this who played only a little in the major leagues but came away with so many stories. Maybe you don’t think they deserve any more post-retirement funding than they’re receiving, given their low service time. That’s fair. I just think it merits a discussion, especially when that discussion features the bonus of stories about The Mick playing golf.

Last week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan he late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: In a 2018 episode of “Ray Donovan,” the title character and a police officer watch a baseball game. Which legendary rivals are playing each other in the game?”

The great Dwight Gooden will be hosting a Zoom call for fans, hosted by Bagel Boss, on Feb.

Gooden absolutely loves talking baseball and tells great stories about his playing days.

Your Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees and Red Sox. If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at kdavidoff@nypost.com.

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