Blessitt is among an estimated 179 former pro baseball players who weren’t on a major-league roster long enough to qualify for a pension.
A fundraiser has been launched to help Ike Blessitt, a former Detroit Tiger whose struggles were highlighted in a recent Metro Times story.
The GoFundMe campaign seeks to raise $50,000 for Blessitt, who is among an estimated 179 former professional baseball players who weren’t on a major-league roster long enough to qualify for a pension or health care.
As of Monday afternoon, $7,750 had been raised.
The fundraiser got a bit of a boost Monday after rock star Jack White’s baseball company Warstic shared the fundraiser on its social media pages.
Prior to 1980, players weren’t eligible for benefits unless they played for four years. But that changed in 1980, when the players union negotiated a new contract with Major League Baseball that allowed players with at least one day of service to receive medical benefits and players with at least 43 days of service to get a pension. But the pact wasn’t retroactive.
In 2011, pre-1980 players with more than 43 days on the active roster began receiving a modest annual stipend.
Blessitt, who paid union dues at the time, was on the roster for just one month.
Blessitt said he was yanked from the roster in 1973 after confronting then-Tigers manager Billy Martin for hanging out with an underage girl at the Leland House hotel in Detroit.
Blessitt never made it back to the big leagues but played baseball in Mexico for about 15 years before returning home to Detroit, where he volunteers and continues to give batting lessons to teenagers.
Blessitt was active on the Navin Field Grounds Crew, a group of volunteers who tended the field at the site of Tiger Stadium after it was demolished, and the Hamtramck Stadium Grounds Crew, which helped revive the former Negro League ballpark and field where Blessitt played in high school.
“His major-league career didn’t last that long, but baseball has been his entire life. He has been a big part of the game,” Tom Derry, founder of both grounds crews, tells Metro Times. “He would show up and do what he could to help us out. He was a big supporter of ours. Our grounds crew is our family, and Ike is part of our family.”