Who wouldn’t love to make a Major League Baseball player’s salary? The average salary is right around $4 million. (They also get about $100 in daily meal money.) During the offseason, most MLB players focus on family, relaxing, staying in shape…or getting endorsement deals.
But it wasn’t that way in the past.
In 1947, for instance, the average baseball player earned $5,000 a year—the average salary for the everyday American worker at that time was $3,500. That’s why players often had to work ordinary jobs—or start second careers—to make ends meet and hopefully cash in on their fame.
Here’s a look at some of the odd second jobs Major League players used to take when they weren’t playing ball.
Jackie Robinson won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 and in the offseason went to work at Sunset Appliances in Queens to supplement his income. The owner was quoted as saying, “He’s a natural salesman, with a natural modesty that appeals to buyers.” The year before, Robinson went on a vaudeville-type tour talking about baseball to audiences around the country, earning easier income.
Willie Mays and Willie McCovey (’60s Giants) sold cars in San Francisco…although you have to believe it was simply their names that would attract curious customers to the dealership, who would then be “sold” the latest models by real car salesmen.
Jim Palmer starred on the mound in the 1966 World Series. But just a week later, he was selling suits in a department store in downtown Baltimore called Hamburgers, earning $150 a week, which he said was “enough to pay for groceries, hot water and electricity.” As his fame grew, he did TV commercials for men’s hair cream and underwear.
played on some of the greatest Yankee teams of all time, yet he had to find work when the seasons ended. One year, he was hired by a restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis to put on a tuxedo and greet customers. He also sold hardware at a Sears and Roebuck store. After he won his first American League MVP in 1951, he sold suits at a store in New Jersey, teaming up with Yankee second baseman Phil Rizzuto. When he met the owners of the Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink company, he talked them into letting him do ads for the drink. He became a vice president there eventually.
Waite Hoyt, an American League pitcher in the ’20s and ’30s, had the nickname “The Merry Mortician.” During the offseason, he’d work in a funeral home owned by his father-in-law. At night, he’d be a vaudeville comedian, working with famous names of the day, such as Jack Benny.
Roy Campanella, the famous Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, had started a chicken farm before he played in the Majors. While a Dodger with Brooklyn, he opened Roy Campanella Choice Wines and Liquors in Harlem, where he worked every day between seasons. He was leaving the store one night in 1958 when he crashed his car, becoming permanently disabled.
Richie Hebner, an NL infielder in the ’70s, would shovel the ball to second and third to get outs. When the season was over, he’d pick up a shovel and dig graves at the cemetery his family owned in Massachusetts. A Minor League team once promoted “Gravedigger” Richie Hebner Bobblehead Night.
Babe Ruth was the biggest baseball star of his era and earned a good salary, but it wasn’t enough for his appetite. During the off seasons, he looked for ways to turn fame into more money. One way was to star in a 1920 movie called Headin’ Home, about a country boy who goes on to become a baseball star. But the Babe was no “natural” on the screen. There’s an online quote from a movie review site that says his acting “was as wooden as his bats.”
Here is a list of more offseason jobs of former Major League players:
Eddie Mathews owned his own construction firm.
Bob Buhl had an appliance dealership.
Warren Spahn worked on his cattle ranch.
Vic Wertz had a beer distributorship.
Gary Bell worked for a photographer, taking pictures of schoolchildren.
Billy Pierce worked in his father’s pharmacy.
Joe Nuxhall was a salesman for a trucking company.
Smoky Burgess ran a gas station.
Stan Musial had a bowling alley and restaurants to look after.
Jim Brosnan was a writer for a Chicago ad agency.
Sal Maglie owned a liquor store in New York.