NOVEMBER 25, 1895 | YOUNGSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA • A ballplayer by the name of Frank Spruiell May was born on this date in 1895. What’s so interesting about Jakie May, as he was called? Well, during the course of his 14-year major league baseball career he struck out Babe Ruth twice during the 1932 World Series while pitching for the Chicago Cubs. But I bring him up mainly for comparison of salaries-there’s no comparison.
Jakie May was a dependable left-handed journeyman relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Cubs from 1917 to 1932. He appeared in 410 games, won 72 and lost 95. Salary figures back in the day for guys not named Ruth are hard to come by, but May probably made around $70,000 for his entire career. Don’t even ask if Jakie May had to get a job when his playing days were over. He had to get a job every off-season, as did just about every other ballplayer not named Ruth.
Let’s compare May to a left-handed journeyman pitcher of the 21st Century. How about Alan Embree? He played 16 years with a number of teams, retiring in 2009.
Embree appeared in 882 games (though about half as many innings as Jakie May) with a record of 39 wins and 45 losses. Embree was paid an average of over $2-million dollars each year over the last decade if his career. He made over $22-million in his career. That’s 314 times greater than what Jakie May made in his career. Certainly costs of everything have gone up. The average home price in 1930 was about $7,000 compared to $211,000 when Alan Embree played. That’s about a 30-fold jump – significant, but no where near 314-fold.
Needless to say, while neither pitcher was ever a candidate for the Hall of Fame, Alan Embree will probably never have to work again. Jakie May never stopped working.
Raleigh News & Observer, “When baseball really was a game and nothing more,” by Dennis Rogers, October 11, 1994
MLB salary leaders, 1874-2012 (SABR)
Baseball in the 1930s
Special thanks to Kirk Kruger of Raleigh, NC for sending me press clippings about his grandfather, Jakie May.