In 1980, Major League Baseball created a new collective-bargaining agreement which established a new pension plan for its players.
The new plan made it so players would have to serve only 43 days on a big-league roster to be eligible for a lifelong pension, and serve only one day to also receive health benefits. Prior to the 1980 collective-bargaining agreement, players were required to serve four years in the MLB in order to be eligible for a pension and health benefits.
So what happened to those whose big league careers were less than four years prior to 1980? Not a whole lot.
Dave Stenhouse, a Westerly native and Cranston resident, played three years (1962-1964) in the Major Leagues as a pitcher with the Washington Senators. Stenhouse was considered one of the fastest-rising talents in the league, and was the first rookie to ever start an All-Star game on the mound when he took the ball in the 1962 show. The unforgettable game that featured greats such as Mickey Mantle, Leon Wagner, Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente.
Stenhouse’s career was cut short after the 1964 season, when a botched arm surgery ended his ability to pitch at a high level.
Stenhouse was one of over 600 former players that played for less than four years, but more than 43 days, during the 1950’s and 60’s that was not offered a retroactive pension in 1980. Although nonvested employees typically do not receive retroactive pensions, it is not unprecedented, as the MLB created a pension plan for former Negro League players and other veterans who played prior to 1947, the year that the MLB pension fund was created.
In April, 2011, the MLB Players Association announced that those players that fell into the same group as Stenhouse, would receive an annual stipend which amounted to $625 for every 43 days of big league service, with the maximum being $220,000.
Although players were pleased to receive some form of compensation, the estimated amount of money left on the table for some is still troublesome to this day.
“The way that baseball treated the players from the 1950s and 1960s, the way they handled the pension situation, was disgraceful and discriminatory,” said Stenhouse, who is now 85 years of age. “The Major League Baseball commissioner’s office and alumni association have been very helpful, but those who set up the pension plan clearly did not have an understanding of what was going on in the 1950s and 60s. They obviously had no idea what the heck was going on, and if they did, they would’ve done things very differently.”
The frustration that these players are faced with each day goes beyond just not receiving the pay that they feel that they had earned, but also the money that could have been granted to their families as well.
As part of the 2011 deal, these annual stipends will no longer be granted to families once the beneficiary passes away.
“It hurt me financially, not that I’m struggling, but it has prevented me from doing things that I have earned,” said Stenhouse, who went on to coach at Brown following his retirement from pro baseball in 1967. “Another thing is that they cut out our wives. Our wives went through a lot while raising our kids, so for them to be left off is shameful.”
Despite not getting what they feel is their fair due, the players from this era, including Stenhouse, look to continue to shed light on the debacle and hope to see changes made going forward.
“I have no idea why they excluded us, the conditions that we played under were much different. But, I guarantee that if current players were made aware of our struggle, they would be interested and want to help.” said Stenhouse. “I’ve heard this situation be referred to as a scandal, and that’s what it is.”