In his eight-year career in the big leagues, Belleville, Illinois native T.J. Mathews recorded 32 wins and 16 saves in 362 games. In the 435 and one-third innings he pitched, he compiled a lifetime Earned Run Average of 3.82.
He gets a pension from Major League Baseball (MLB).
Mathews is the second member of his family to play in “The Show.” His father, Columbia, Illinois’ Nelson Elmer Mathews was a former outfielder who spent parts of four seasons with the Cubs (1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963) and finished his career playing for the Kansas City Athletics (1964-1965).
In 306 lifetime games, the 77-year-old Mathews came up to bat 978 times, collected 218 hits, including 39 doubles, 14 triples and 22 home runs, scored 93 runs and drove in an additional 98 runs.
Unlike his son, a vested MLB retiree who was famously traded to the Oakland Athletics from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1997 deal that brought Mark McGwire to St. Louis – Nelson Mathews does not receive a MLB pension.
The elder Mathews’ doesn’t receive a traditional pension because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. Nelson Mathews and 640 other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between 1947 – 1979 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.
Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary.
In brief, for every quarter of service a man had accrued, he’d get $625. Four quarters (one year) totaled $2,500. Sixteen quarters (four years) amounts to the maximum, $10,000. And that payment, which Michael Weiner, the late executive director of the union representing current players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), is widely credited with having spearheaded in April 2011, is before taxes are taken out.
By contrast, the maximum allowable pension a retired MLB player who is vested can make is $220,000.
The nonqualified retirement payment cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary. So when he passes – and we hope that won’t occur for a very long time – Nelson Mathews’ 74-year-old wife, Joan, won’t get a plug nickel for the time he played the game. These men are not eligible to buy into the league’s umbrella health insurance plan, either.
Nelson Mathews is part of a small fraternity of men who played MLB whose sons also played our national pastime. According to Baseball-Almanac.com, over 200 father-and-son combinations have made it to the Major League level. Ken and Ken Griffey, Jr and Bob, Aaron and Bret Boone, are arguably the most famous.
But unlike the Griffeys and the Boones, each of whom was fortunate enough to play after 1980, Nelson Mathews, Steve Grilli (father of Jason), Hank Webb (father of Ryan) and Dave Stenhouse (father of Mike) are being denied pensions.
Neither the league nor the union want to do anything more to help these men other than the bone they threw them in 2011.
Like father, like son? Not when it comes to baseball pensions.