Former MLB pitcher Steve Grilli is one of 500 players who does not get an MLB pension. His son, Jason, will receive one when he retires.
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jason Grilli has pitched in the big leagues since 2000. His father, Steve, is a former MLB pitcher who played parts of four years with the Detroit Tigers (1975-1977) and the Blue Jays (1979). He finished his career with the Baltimore Orioles Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings in 1981.
Whenever the younger Grilli retires, the 40-year old will receive a pension payment whereas his father has yet to qualify for one. The elder Grilli will only receive an annual nonqualified retirement payment of $5,625, and that’s before taxes are taken out.
“I put in 11-years of service in the minor leagues, and two in the majors. I did some scouting after my playing career was done,” said Grilli over the phone in his home in Baldwinsville, New York. “What they are paying is not life altering… it maybe pays my property taxes and groceries,” he jokingly said.
Even though the soon-to-be 68-year old played in the big leagues from 1975-1979, he is one of 500 players from 1947-1979 who does not qualify for a pension as they did not accrue four years of service credit.
“My career ended at the wrong time I guess. If it happened a little earlier, it would of made a difference if I earned it. It’s not considered a pension in my opinion,” he said in regards to the nonqualified payment. “It’s more of a gift,” the former St. Louis Cardinal scout noted.
The unfortunate part about the nonqualified retirement payment is that once a player passes on, the payment is not passed on to a spouse, or a loved one. In this case, when Grilli passes, his wife Kathy, will not be allowed to have the payment.
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The reason behind it is because when the player’s pension fund was established on April 1, 1947, you had to be an active major league roster player on that date to qualify. After 1969, you needed four years to qualify for a pension.
It wasn’t until players who played after 1980 were eligible for health coverage after one game. The player would then be eligible for a pension after 43 game days, and the payment can be passed on to a loved one or beneficiary.
“The way they said it, the pension doesn’t work like that. Any pension you withdraw and if you pass on, it carries over to the player’s spouse. That’s the way pensions are. It doesn’t fit under the marquee of a pension for what I’m getting.”
Grilli did mention that he made one last attempt to qualify for the pension before his career was over.
“To be honest, when I was a minor league pitcher for the Orioles, I gave Hank Peters a call to get him to bring me up one last time. Just to see if I would have earned the pension. He couldn’t do it because it would of opened a big can of worms,” said Grilli, an insurance broker, and owner of A Change of Pace tavern in Syracuse.
Grilli also noted that players in the Negro League who played a year or so were given pensions in 1997.
“Those gentlemen had to be taken care of first. Most of their careers ended before the plan even began,” said Grilli.
According to Douglas Gladstone, author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee, in 1997, the MLB executive council created a payment plan for $7,500-$10,000 to African American players who didn’t play in the majors long enough to qualify for a pension. In order to qualify, they had to either play in the Negro league for at least one season before 1948 or play a combined four years in the Negro league and the major leagues before 1979.
Players who never played in the major leagues were given an option of choosing a pension that totaled $375 per month ($4,500 a year) for life, or $10,000 a year for four years.
“Everything about cba’s and pensions in that book. The lost pensions for former players should be brought to the forefront again,” said Grilli.
A class action lawsuit was taken on behalf of the retired pre-1980 players in October 2003. Alleging that their Title VII rights were violated (prohibits employment discrimination based on age, race, religion, colour, sex).
“They took it to court and it was thrown out since it wasn’t tried on a basis of discrimination. The court suggested they essentially failed to establish a case of discrimination,” said Grilli.
In truth, the Negro League Plans did not show an adverse employment action as both groups were not similarly situated for the same thing.
You would have to wonder what kind of stance MLB and the union have taken. Especially with the new CBA being released this past winter.
“There was a lot of oversight with no one really representing us. It came down to ‘well what about these guys?’ That pretty much fell through the crack. The union got so strong that the players are earning what they get today,”
Even if Grilli did make a return to the majors for one more game, not only would he have earned the pension, but he would have earned a significant amount in pension payments.
“Rough guess would of been somewhere between $20,000-$30,000 US dollars,” said Grilli when asked how much he would have made if he qualified for the pension.
As time goes by, you have to wonder if those players, including Grilli, will qualify for a pension one day.
“I can’t say yes or no because it is out of my hands. The battle cry is to do the right thing and retro activate the pension, and it is a mensical amount of money. Someone like Brooks Robinson or Dave Winfield to pick up this banner and make this litter out in the open, it pretty much says they are not taking care of their own. We are dying off in my case,” said Grilli.
What he meant is that there were originally 1,200 players who did not qualify for the pension and now it’s down to about 500 or so players.
“It’s in the hands of MLB, the union, the alumni assocation, which I’m apart of. But to no avail, the union has to step in and make it a case. They should grandfather that into the next CBA since they have the current one for the next three years,”
The thought of restoring these men back into pension coverage as Grilli mentioned, all three members should at the very least allow the nonqualified payment to the pre-1979 players, and it SHOULD be permitted to be passed onto a spouse or loved one.
Needless to say, Grilli and the other players were in the major leagues at the wrong time. The union needs to man up and pay these gentlemen for their dues.