March 2 in baseball history-MONEY MONEY MONEY

1927 | NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK • Babe Ruth became the highest paid player in the major leagues on this date in 1927. The New York Yankees announced that the 32-year old Bambino will earn $70,000 per season for the next three years.

Seventy-thousand dollars a year in 1927 translates to about $1,000,000 in today’s dollars. Not a huge amount compared to today’s salaries, but that was before free agency when a player was the property of a team till the end of his career. The only way he could put on another uniform was if he were traded or released.

Major League Baseball salary records compiled by economist Michael J. Haupert of the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse show Ruth was also the highest paid player of the 1930’s. He earned $80,000 in 1930 and 1931.

Below is Haupert’s list of the highest annual salaries per decade, as can best be determined. Haupert says records of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are “tenuous,” but illustrate how salaries have changed:

1870’s (Al Spaulding) $4,000
1880’s (Fred Dunlap, Buck Ewing) $5,000
1890’s (Hardy Richardson) $4,000
1900’s (Nap Lajoie) $9,000
1910’s (Ty Cobb) $20,000
1920’s (Babe Ruth) $70,000
1930’s (Babe Ruth) $80,000
1940’s (Joe DiMaggio) $100,000
1950’s (Joe DiMaggio) $100,000
1960’s (Willie Mays) $135,000
1970’s (Rod Carew) $800,000
1980’s (Orel Hershiser/Frank Viola) $2,766,667
1990’s (Gary Sheffield) $14,936,667
2000’s (Alex Rodriguez) $33,000,000
2010’s (Alex Rodriguez) $33,000,000

Contributing sources:
“MLB’s Annual Salary Leaders, 1874-2012,” by Michael Haupert 
“Ruth gets 3-year contract; $210,000,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1927

The Dawn of Free-agency

FEBRUARY 4, 1976 | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – Do you think Alex Rodriguez knows who Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith are? He and every other ballplayer of today should tip their hats to the two pitchers who haven’t played in decades. On this date in 1976 a federal judge in Kansas City upheld a decision allowing McNally and Messersmith to hawk their wares to the highest bitter. They could bargain with which ever team they chose. They were free-agents.

With rare exceptions, players hadn’t been free agents since pretty much the beginning of the modern era in the late 1800s. When owners started raking in dough they realized that if players could sell their talents to the highest bidder salaries would skyrocket. So they instituted a reserve clause in contracts; even when a contract ended, and just about all of them were for one year only, a player’s fate remained with that team. The only recourse a dissatisfied player had was to hold out, not play. The only way he played for a different team is if he got traded.

Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) and Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Players’ Union President Marvin Miller directing, decided to challenge the reserve clause. They played the 1975 season, their option years, without contracts, the thinking being when the option year lapsed the reserve clause ceased to exist. The owners’ position was that the reserve clause just kept renewing itself. The parties went to arbitration and arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of the players. Major League Baseball appealed, thus today’s ruling. We’ve had free-agency ever since and salaries have… skyrocketed.

Contributing sources:
Associated Press (AP), February 5, 1976, Kansas City, Missouri
More on the reserve clause