Baseball's Take Home Leaders
Major League Baseball takes the field for another season of hard hitting numbers. The league is now worth $36 Bil, its wealthiest team is valued at $3.4 Bil and its highest paid athlete is salaried at $33 Mil.
Not surprisingly, the perennial pinstriped New York Yankees are the game’s richest team, worth nearly three times the $1.2 Bil average value of a baseball franchise. The Los Angeles Dodgers land second at $2.5 Bil, while the Tampa Bay Rays drop last at $650 Mil.
More compelling than just the raw, out-of-the-ball-park figures is how the numbers evolved. Shipbuilder George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $8.8 Mil and turned the dormant pastime business into a gold minting, entertainment dynamo.
Fueled by the onset of free agency and lucrative TV contracts to sustain a ballooning payroll, the hard-charging entrepreneur exploited NY’s densely populated market and spent big on marquee players like Reggie Jackson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Dave Winfield.
Fans filled the stadium, TV viewership grew and baseball capitalism took off.
The “reserve clause” which had historically pinned down players to their teams and kept remunerations in line was gone by the mid-1970’s.
For the first time, baseball’s highest salary more than doubled from one year to the next- Hank Aaron’s $240,000 take home in 1976 with the Milwaukee Brewers was overtaken in 1977 by Mike Schmidt’s $560,000 pay with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Three years later, Nolan Ryan quadrupled his numbers when he signed the first $1.0 Mil per season contract with the Houston Astros in 1980.
Even before the advent of free agency and cable revenue streams, baseball did not hesitate to pay a premium for talented sluggers. Joe DiMaggio was the first to hit the $100,000 threshold in 1949; Dick Allen reached $200,000 in 1973.
The figures translate to slightly over $1.0 Mil today.
But it was legendary home run king Babe Ruth who ruled the salary bracket for thirteen consecutive seasons from 1922-34, the most of any player in the sport’s history.
At his peak in 1930-31, the Sultan of Swat was making $80,000, or 2.4x more than the second highest player.
Seventy years after Ruth, another home run machine would dominate the dollar charts for twelve seasons. In 2001, Alex Rodriquez startled the baseball world when he inked a 10-year, $257 Mil contract with the Texas Rangers; it was renegotiated to $275 Mil in 2008 when he hit for the Yankees.
Six years on in 2014, Giancarlo Stanton landed the richest contract in sports history with a 13-year, $325 Mil deal with the Florida Marlins.
We wonder how George Steinbrenner would react today.
Other articles enjoyed: The Worst Years In Baseball, A Bronx Kid Takes Aim At The Babe, Jim Bouton & Ball Four, Reggie Jackson: Mr. October, A 42-Year Old Rookie Takes The Mound, Baseball & Fidel Castro
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