Baseball fans know all kinds of records and statistics, more than the fans in most other sports. But, surprisingly few fans know the facts when it comes to knowing which players set records and made history when it came to signing a record-breaking salary.
Here’s a quiz, and historical perspective, on the milestone salaries in baseball history. The questions include:
1. Who was the first player to earn more than the President of the United States?
2. Who were the first players to make $25K, $50K, and $100K.
3. Which player was the first to break the magic $1 million mark in annual salary?
4. Who has signed the biggest contract, in terms of total dollars?
5. Who was nicknamed “the $6 million man”?
6. Who makes the most money in 2018?
Big money, for back then.
In 1913, one of the greatest player ever became the first to make a five-figure annual baseball salary when he signed a contract that paid him $2,000 a month. In his first season in 1906, he made $1,500…and that was for the entire year. So, his $2,000/month contract earned him $12,000 for the whole year, although some sources say it was $10,000.
The player was The Detroit Tiger’s Ty Cobb, who seven years later in 1921, stunned the baseball world by signing a contract for upwards of $25,000 to become player/manager for the Tigers, the first to reach that mark.
($25,000 in 1921 = $350,000 in 2018)
Who was the first player to earn $50K annually?
In 1922, Babe Ruth signed a contract for $52,000, doubling Cobb’s salary and becoming the first player to make $50,000 a year. He’d hit 59 home runs in ’21 and dominated the game. He was worth it and remained the highest paid player in the game until he retired in 1934. His highest point was $80,000 in 1930.
($50,000 in 1922 = $750,000 in 2018)
Who broke the 4100,000 a year mark?
Ruth doubled Cobb’s ’21 salary in 1922, breaking the $50,000 mark; it would take 27 years for someone to double that and hit the $100K mark. That would be another New York Yankee, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. He signed a $100,000 a year contract in 1949.
($100,000 in 1949 = $1M in 2018)
Who broke the $500,000 a year mark?
Imagine all the great Hall of Fame players in baseball during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Of course, salaries in general continued to rise, and the great players commanded more. In 1977, one infielder was the first to make over $500,000 a year, earning $561,500 (other sources put between $540,000 and $$560,000).
It was Mike Schmidt, third baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. Was he worth it? Indeed. Some of the eventual Hall of Famer’s best seasons were still to come.
($561,500 in 1977 = $2.3MM in 2018)
Who was the first player to make $1 million a year?
Hint: It’s a pitcher, and it was just two years after Schmidt broke the $500,000 barrier. In 1979, he was making $200,000 with the Angels; the next season, he was making $1,125,000 a year (almost four times more!) becoming the first player to go over $1 million. Already a veteran, he went on to pitch 14 more seasons…and 27 over all.
That all happened when Nolan Ryan signed a four-year contract with the Houston Astros before the 1980 season.
($1MM in 1979 = $3.5MM in 2018)
Who reached the $10 million-a-year mark first?
In 1995, this American League outfielder star became the first player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in a single season. He also finished tied for the AL lead with 52 doubles, 126 RBIs and 121 runs, and helped lead his team, the Indians to the Fall Classic. The following year, he signed with the Chicago White Sox for 5 years at $55MM deal.
That’s how Albert Belle became the first player to pass the $10MM/year mark.
($11MM in 1996 = $17MM in 2018)
Who first reached the $20 million/year milestone…and the $30 million, too?
Here’s the answer: It is the same man who first signed a $200 million contract—actually, $252 million, in Texas in the year 2000. It is the same player who, three years later with a different team (and due to the restructuring of his contract), earned $33 million in 2009, becoming the first to break the $30 million annual salary.
It is Alex Rodriguez, who has earned more money playing baseball than anyone in history.
($252MM in 2000 = $368MM in 2018)
Other notable facts:
Who signed the biggest contact ever?
In 2014, Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins. It was, and is, the richest contract in baseball history.
Who currently makes the most money per season?
In 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw will earn more than $35.5 million. That’s based on a big contract he signed in 2014. Who’s second? Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who’s pulling in a little more $34 million annually.
Who was referred to as “the $6 million man”?
It was Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs, when he signed a contract extension in 1992. (Just so you know, there was a popular TV show in the 1970s about a bionic “Six Million Dollar
Man.” Sandberg’s contract averaged out to more than $7 million, but he was the first to jump the $6 million threshold…and the sportswriters couldn’t wait to use the reference.
Who was the first to earn more than the U.S. President?
In 1930, Babe Ruth earned a salary of $80,000, more than the $75,000 earned by then U.S. President Herbert Hoover. According to the website Quoteinvestigator.com, when Ruth was asked if he thought he deserved to be making more than the President, he said, “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year than he did.”
Resources: baseball-reference.com/leaders/leaders/salaries; nytimes.com/1992/03/03/sports/sandberg-becomes-highest-paid; .upi.com/Archives/1981/12/21/Mike-Schmidt; spotrac.com/mlb/los-angeles-dodgers/clayton-kershaw; nytimes.com/1992/03/03/sports/sandberg; baseball-reference.com/leaders/leaders/salaries