Peering out his apartment window at the used-car lot across the street, Steve Grilli noticed a 1964 Pontiac Bonneville. It hadn’t been there yesterday and there had to be at least a quarter-tank of gas left in it, Grilli said to his roommate.
It was an afternoon during the summer of 1970. Grilli was a 22-year-old rookie pitcher for the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Tigers of the Class-A Carolina League, making $500 per month plus a McDonalds-sized food budget for road trips. He drove a UPS truck on off-days, laboring through a tenuous financial situation in hope of one day playing Major League Baseball.
So Grilli sneaked over to the lot, siphoned all the fuel he could and saved himself from paying at the pumps for a few more days. This was a regular occurrence during the start of his 10-year career, which included a four-year stint with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs (1978-81) and two-plus seasons with the Detroit Tigers (1975-77) and Toronto Blue Jays (1979)
“In my day, the day of the $100,000 ballplayer for a year, that was a lot,” Grilli said. “My first year was $16,000. I had a good year and it was $21,000 the next.”
But now it’s Grilli, a Baldwinsville resident, being stolen from — oppressed by the same league he longed to be a part of. He and Liverpool native Greg Erardi are two of more than 1,400 Major League Baseball players denied pension after an oversight in the 1980 Collective Bargaining Agreement ratification.
The late Marvin Miller, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, amended the vesting requirement during the 1980 lockout. Previously, players needed four years of Major League service to earn pension. The new regulation would mandate just one day of credit for health benefits and 43 days for retirement allowance.