Money Milestones in Baseball History

March 21, 2019

Baseball season is about ready to start, and some people are about to get very rich: the people who play it. Here’s a look back on some important money milestones in the national pastime.

First to earn $10,000

While some records say the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Honus Wagner earned a whopping five figures as early as 1907, baseball’s first confirmed $10,000 man is Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. The Detroit Tigers paid their star $10,000 for the 1913 season (up from $9,000 the year before). Adjusting for inflation, that’s around $255,000, well under half of Major League Baseball’s $555,000 minimum salary.

First to earn $50,000

In 1920, Babe Ruth joined the New York Yankees after a decent run with the Boston Red Sox. Right away in NYC, Ruth started to show the numbers that would rank him among the best — he led the league in home runs twice (with 54 and 59, setting the record and then beating it) and leading the league in both runs and RBIs. The Yankees compensated him thusly, more than doubling his salary to $50,000 in 1922.

First to earn $100,000

In 1941, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio made baseball history when he got a hit in an astounding 56 straight games. He didn’t play from 1943 through 1945 to serve in World War II, but he came back in a big way, leading the league in home runs and RBIs in 1948. To make sure he stuck around in 1949, the New York Yankees made him the first $100,000 earner in baseball history.

First millionaire

Nolan Ryan is in the conversation for “greatest pitcher of all time.” The Hall of Famer pitched for 27 years, winning 324 games and striking out 5,714 batters — more than anyone else. In 1980, he went into the record books as the first million-dollar man in the big leagues. After a stint with the California Angels, he started a nine-year run with the Houston Astros, bringing home a cool $1 million a year.

$400 million

In March 2019, Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout signed a 12-year contract extension worth $431 million. That’s not only the wealthiest contract ever in baseball, it’s the biggest contract in professional sports history. Let’s break it down: That’s about $36 million a year…or $221,700 a game…or roughly $44,000 for every time Trout goes up to bat. Put another way, $431 million could buy Mike Trout around 48 million pounds of trout.