A Major League Pension Error

Baseball should do right by those who played before 1980.

By Mike Stenhouse
June 12, 2018 7:02 p.m. ET

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I will soon start receiving a pension from Major League Baseball. Yet my dad, who racked up more active-roster time in the big leagues, is ineligible for a pension. The league should change that this year.
Before 1980, a ballplayer needed four years of big-league service to be eligible for pension status. The post-1980 collective-bargaining agreement allowed eligibility for a lifelong pension after only 43 game days on a Major League roster. The current minimum benefit is $34,000 a year; the maximum is $220,000.
In the 1980s, I played parts of five seasons with the Montreal Expos, Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox, accumulating 2½ years of roster status. My dad, who started the 1962 All-Star Game as a rookie pitcher for the Washington Senators, accumulated three years of roster duty. The new standards cover me, but my dad and other living ex-big leaguers from his era aren’t covered.

Photo: istock/getty images
While it isn’t standard for nonvested employees to be retroactively included in a pension system, it also isn’t unprecedented. Major League Baseball has previously extended pension status to other groups of former players. In the late 1990s the league created a pension plan for onetime Negro Leaguers and other veterans who retired before 1947—the year the pension fund was established.
Recognizing that guys like my dad had drawn the short straw, the organization and the players union agreed in 2011 to provide retirees who played between 1947 and 1979 with a “stipend” based on their roster time. Allowing for a sizable New York City income-tax bite, my dad’s stipend comes to about $5,500 a year. The gesture was welcome, but inadequate.

Consider the incongruity: A more recent retiree than my dad, who might have pitched only a handful of career innings, qualifies for a full pension and lifetime health-care coverage. That retiree’s spouse will receive his pension when he dies. When my dad, who pitched almost 400 career innings, eventually passes on, his stipend goes with him. My mother won’t receive a nickel.
Many former players from my father’s era who don’t have pensions have suffered bankruptcy or home foreclosure. Some are so poor they can’t afford health insurance. My parents’ personally invested retirement funds are dwindling. They are in their 80s now. What will they get by on when they reach their 90s?
This situation can only be rectified if the Players Association chooses to stand up for its own retirees. The league has enjoyed 15 consecutive years of rising revenue, thanks to skyrocketing income from the sale of digital and television media rights. Last year Major League Baseball pulled in more than $10 billion for the first time. It’s safe to say the national pastime is in good financial shape.
It’s getting late in the game for this dwindling cohort of retirees, who gave the best years of their lives to the game we all love. They only want the pension they feel they have earned. Baseball can afford to be generous to them.
Mr. Stenhouse was a Major League Baseball player from 1982-86 and is CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.
Appeared in the June 13, 2018, print edition.

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