MLBPAA turns 40, names Thome president

February 23rd, 2022

Jim Thome’s connection to our great game runs deep.

His passion for baseball began as a child, was cultivated through adulthood and carried him to a Hall of Fame career. Even in retirement, the sport remains an important part of his life.

Former MLB players like Thome don’t stop caring about the game once they retire -- they just transition to new roles. And the Hall of Famer’s next role could be the biggest and most important of his professional career.

The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and one of its first big moves was naming Thome as the organization’s new president. Thome replaces Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who had served in the role since 1989.

“Brooks Robinson has done a tremendous job for so many years and I am very fortunate to be in the fraternity with him in Cooperstown,” Thome said. “With what Brooks has done with his honesty, integrity and leadership skills for the MLBPAA, I am very fortunate that I will be able to lean on him as well and ask him questions. To be the president is a great honor and it’s very humbling.”

Established in 1982 and based in Colorado Springs, Colo., the MLBPAA is a nonprofit organization created to promote the game, raise money for charity, inspire and educate youth through positive sports images and protect the dignity of the game through former players.

One of the organization’s missions is to provide an opportunity for players to succeed off the field once their playing days are over. The MLBPAA -- which consists of former and current players, umpires, managers, coaches, front office personnel and fans -- has more than 9,500 members, including 6,500 alumni and active players.

“We’ve come a long way in the 40 years that we have been around,” said MLBPAA COO Geoff Hixson. “Without the commitment and buy-in from former players, there’s no chance it would have carried on this far and been this successful.”

Since its inception, the MLBPAA has raised more than $75 million for charities, and it is a vital tool for alumni players to become more involved in charity and community philanthropy. Part of the reason the MLBPAA has succeeded is because it has listened to its membership and evolved with the times.

“We are very proud that it has been here for 40 years and proud that it was an organic and natural progression of growth. A lot of people wanted to make it happen and a lot of people wanted to see it successful,” said MLBPAA CEO Dan Foster. “We understand that the mission is to promote the sport of baseball, help charities raise money and serve the unique needs of the players and that’s what has made it so exciting.”

“I think one of the things that I'm most prideful in is the respect that we've gained within the baseball family,” Foster continued. “We are relevant to not only former players, but to the game and to current players.”

It’s easy to see why the MLBPAA has emerged as one of the most important and impactful organizations in the game. Among the initiatives that have helped shape the landscape of the sport are the Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic Series and the Coaches Clinic program.

“We've been running these clinics for a long time, and I think the grassroots approach to teaching the game to the next generation is the overarching goal,” Hixson said. “The kids have a chance to make a connection between yesterday and today, and that’s why the game continues to be as successful as it is.”

The Legends for Youth Baseball Clinic Series gives kids the opportunity to learn the basics of the game from current and former MLB players. There are 185 free clinics that will impact more than 16,000 children scheduled for 2022. More than 900 alumni are scheduled to participate.

“I love the youth clinic part because at the end of the day, it is about our young kids and educating them with great information to be able to grow,” Thome said. “Any time you can pass on information to our youth, and talk about the game’s integrity and how to play, it is a good thing.”

In addition to the United States, these clinics have been held in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain, the United Kingdom, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela.

“We're trying to provide a positive baseball experience, and our guys know how to make it fun for the kids for a couple hours,” Foster said. “There are a lot of smiles out there.”

Additionally, the MLBPAA has scheduled more than 50 free coaches clinics for 2022. More than 175 alumni and 1,000 coaches are expected to participate in those clinics.

The MLBPAA also offers a Career Transition Program and a Career Development Summit to help its members adjust to life off of the field. There are special events such as charitable fundraisers, along with pension and healthcare assistance programs.

“The transition is difficult from being a current player to being a former player,” Foster said. “All of a sudden, you're integrated into the real world. Some guys handle it well and some guys don't. So, helping them through that process is an important program.”

The approach has helped the MLBPAA thrive for 40 years.

“When they take the uniform off, we're the ones that are going to look out for them and support them as they leave the game.” Hixson said. “The alumni are always here, and we are not going anywhere. We are their voice in all things baseball.”