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Even if you’re not a sports fan, you probably heard about the mind-boggling amounts of money now being paid to Major League Baseball players, especially the superstars.
In recent weeks, several players have signed contracts for much more than anyone would have guessed few short years ago, even when factoring in cost of living and inflation.
Bryce Harper, who played for the Washington Nationals from 2012-18, became a free agent after last season and signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres, and Mike Trout signed a 12-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels for $426.5 million — an average annual salary of $35.5 million over that period.
As an extra perk, Trout will also receive a suite of diamond club seats for his friends and family to use for Angels home games, probably included so no one would think the Angels were cheapskates.
These amounts, while almost comical, are the real thing and even lower-end players have gotten in on the cash bonanza.
The average salary for a major-leaguer is now up to $4.52 million with the minimum salary now at $555,000 per year, meaning the worst player in the league gets that amount even if he sits on the bench.
To help understand the difference in earlier baseball salaries and what players are being paid today we’ll use as an example my uncle, Leon “Red” Treadway, who played for the New York Giants in 1944-45.
Uncle Red played minor-league ball for the Wilson Tobs of Class B Coastal Plain League in 1940-41 and had a batting average of .319 in 1941.
He climbed the minor-league ladder, reaching the majors as starting centerfielder in 1944 with the Giants, the team that later moved to San Francisco.
In his rookie season, Treadway had 170 plate appearances and batted .241 — maybe not hall of fame numbers, but not bad, either.
After the season when it was time to talk with management about his 1945 contract, Uncle Red said there was no negotiating like today, and players had no agents.
It was more of a case of the team telling each player how much he was being offered on a “take it or leave it” basis.
Red said they told him since he had a good year in 1944, they would reward him with a contract that included a pay raise.
When they named a figure of $6,000 for the year, he said he almost fell over but tried not act too excited.
“I couldn’t believe it was that much,” he told me many years later. “I thought about making all that money just for playing a game that I loved. I would probably have played for free if they had asked me to.”
The highest salaries being paid in the majors that year went to Lou Boudreau of the Cleveland Indians and Joe Cronin of the Boston Red Sox, each of whom received a whopping $24,000. To Treadway, that must have sounded like a billion dollars.
According to him, none of the other players from that earlier era became wealthy playing baseball — and that includes such superstars as Mickey Mantle, Ted Musial, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks.
For example, when future hall-of-famer Mantle broke in with the New York Yankees in 1951, they were so high on him they offered him a whopping $7,500 per year.
Mantle ended up playing his entire career with the Yankees from 1951-68 — and no wonder, with the amount of money they were throwing his way.
For being named American League Most Valuable Player in both 1956 and 1957, he was rewarded by being paid $33,000 in 1956 and $58,000 in 1957.
When Stan “The Man” Musial, rated one of the greatest players of all time, made it to the majors in 1941, he was given a healthy contract of $2,400. Musial played his entire 1941-63 career for the St. Louis Cardinals.
By 1951, he did make it up to $80,000 per year, although that had slipped to $65,000 a year by 1963, his last year in the league.
Uncle Red said while money was important to pay the bills, most players of that era followed the philosophy of going to the stadium each day ready to play and to have a little fun while doing it.
The biggest reason for today’s monster salaries is not as much the results of higher ticket prices at the gate as it is because of the television revenue teams receive.
While the players’ salaries are astronomical and almost inconceivable, the fact remains that teams could not pay the money if they did not have it to begin with.
Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.