As the season gets closer the stories of what might happen begin to eclipse the stories from last season, and other incidents that occurred over the long winter. Each season brings with it a new serious of questions, and a few of the same old ones
Questions like, How much is that guy getting?
And the follow-up… You got to be kidding me?
Pretty standard in the world of baseball, the type that occur every season, every year and again the next
It's always been that way, the numbers just get more zero's after them these days, example: let’s start off with the top 10 salaries in Major League Baseball at the end of last season.
Forty percent Yankees, which as we’ll see later is not that surprising, add on top of that Alphonso Soriano and Barry Zito’s 18 million dollars a year contracts inked this winter and you can see that there are quite a few players being paid 8 figure salaries.
Rodriguez $ 21,680,727
Jeter, Derek $ 20,600,000
Giambi, Jason $ 20,428,571
Bagwell, Jeff $ 19,369,019
Bonds, Barry $ 19,331,470
Mussina, $ 19,000,000
Ramirez, $ 18,279,238
Helton, Todd $ 16,600,000
Pettitte, Andy $ 16,428,416
Ordonez, $ 16,200,000
However 34 years ago it was a different story in the game, six figure salaries were the talk of the off season and some were convinced it was the downfall of the game, others were forgetting that the 6 figure salary had already been around for more then 20 years.
Post war prosperity was something felt by most of the sporting world, it’s in that ear that we find the creation of the stable pro basketball circuit, the stronger NFL who was expanding west before stodgy old baseball. In Cleveland the talk that Bob Feller of the Indians would have to take a pay cut, he reportedly made 82 K in 1948, most of it tied to attendance and performance clauses. Also vying for a contract that reflected the good times as well as a ling history of giving was Joe DiMaggio, who was looking for a multi year contract, a feat that in itself would have been odd in that day and age, however rumor had it Joe was also looking to break the $100,000 level. This was big news in a slow off season, lists of all of Joe D’s salaries were listed up to date, starting with his $7,500 in 1936 (.323/.352/.576) to his 1948 salary of $80,000 (.346/.459/.596) the total of his career at that point was $465,250, 35 K less then Jacob Cruz got to bat 128 times for the Reds in 2005. Granted the dollar was different then, a wage of $100,000 had the buying power of $818,867.92 in today’s world.
Or about what the Reds paid Chris Hammond last year.
Anyway back to 1949, Joe didn’t get his two year contract and he didn’t get his 100 K either, he did get above 90 K that year eclipsing the Babes 80 K that was the previous high that Joe had shared in 1948. Instead up the road in Boston the Reds Sox signed potential hold out for an undisclosed amount.
Which we learned later on was the first contract to exceed $100,000 in baseball history, we also learned that he planned on retiring and never becoming a manager.
Ted got his 100 K and that was for awhile the magic number in the game, and it was the domain of the power hitter, still 16 years later the highest paid player in the game was Willie Mays and he was only getting thirty thousand more then Ted was in 1949.
In 1966 the worth of that $130,00 a year was $782,162.66 in today’s dollars, so in essence Willie made less then Ted did 17 years earlier.
The salary issue was beginning to turn, just in that off season salary arbitration became a reality as did the 10-5 rule, this was enough to make older owners like Calvin Griffith sputter, from Chicago came the quote of the off season from Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley,
The drunken sailor brigade was worried about the spiraling salaries the game was producing and of the 753 players who at least came to bat once in 1972 this was the number of them that made over $100,000 a year.
“Were going to have to quit spending money like drunken sailors”
Or about 0.37% of the players in the league:
Top Man? - Dick Allen $250K then Hank Aaron at $200K, Mays, Carleton and Yaz at 165K, Gibson 160K, Frank Robinson 155K. At 150k we see Joe Torre and Billy Williams, Juan Marichal at 140K, Fergy Jenkins, Killebrew and Willie McCovey made 125 K that year and Tom Seaver 120K. At 110 K we see Johnny Bench and Pete Rose of the Reds along with Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Rusty Staub and Ron Santo. The 100K club was Bobby Murcer, Gaylord Perry, Luis Aparicio, Dave McNally, Mickey Lolich, Al Kaline, Claude Osteen and Willie Davis, who was getting paid $100,000.51 that year, with the 51 representing his prediction that he would have 51 steals and 51 home runs in 1973, he had 16 and 17 and was traded after the season ended.
With the introduction of salary arbitration we find the dollars going out to the players increasing every year, and it was in 1979 that we see the first $1,000,000 salary when the Astros signed Texas native Nolan Ryan to the first million dollar contract.
Two years later the Yankees inked Dave Winfield to the first 2 million dollar a year contract, to clear space for him on the roster they dropped Willie McGee off their 40 man roster, the Cardinals picked him up and went to the World Series that year. Despite Phil Wrigley’s worries the game is still going on and the from the looks of last winter the drunkest sailor in all of baseball was Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Here are a few of the salary winners since then
1979 $1,000,000 Nolan Ryan Houston Astros
1981 $2,000,000 Dave Winfield New York Yankees
1985 $2,130,300 Mike Schmidt Philadelphia Phillies
1986 $2,800,000 George Foster New York Mets
1990 $3,000,000 Rickey Henderson Oakland Athletics
1991 $4,700,000 José Canseco Oakland Athletics
1992 $5,800,000 Bobby Bonilla New York Mets
1993 $5,975,000* Ryne Sandberg Chicago Cubs
1995 $9,237,500 Cecil Fielder Detroit Tigers
1997 $10,000,000 Albert Belle Chicago White Sox
1998 $14,936,667 Gary Sheffield Florida Marlins
2000 $15,714,286 Kevin Brown Los Angeles Dodgers
2001 $22,000,000 Alex Rodriguez Texas Rangers
2005 $26,000,000 Alex Rodriguez New York Yankees