NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major League Baseball and the players' union announced an agreement on Thursday to make belated payments to players who retired before 1980 but did not qualify for a pension.

Under the previous agreement, players who retired between 1947 and 1980 were only eligible for benefits if they completed at least four seasons in the major league. Players who competed after 1980 become eligible as soon as they played one game.

"We felt that this was the right thing to do for these former players who contributed to our game's unparalleled history," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Dan Foster, the chief executive of the players' Alumni Association, also welcomed the agreement.

"Today is a day of celebration and appreciation," he said.

"The payments to these former players not only acknowledge their role in the evolution of the game but also honor the men who developed the great American pastime."

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)