In baseball, 21 years is a veritable eternity. Though I clearly remember being a baseball fan 21 years ago, I don’t at all remember thinking about salaries, luxury taxes or minimum payrolls. I just sat back and daydreamed about how great it would be to play on some of those great 1980s teams.
Sure, playing pro ball would have been amazing regardless of pay (and make no mistake, MLB players have done very well financially for most of baseball’s existence), but you have to wonder how many of those late 80s/early 90s stars are bitter that their parents didn’t get busy a few years later.
The following is a 1987 article from The New York Times, which discusses the (then) exorbitant salaries of some of our childhood heroes. While the journalist (longtime NYC great, Murray Chass) doesn’t express an opinion about the numbers one way or another, one can only imagine how this read in a world languishing from Reaganomics.
SIZING UP BASEBALL SALARIES
By MURRAY CHASS
Fifty-seven players began the baseball season assured of earning $1 million or more this year. Sixty-six players of the 663 who were on opening-day major league rosters or the disabled list will earn $62,500, the minimum salary.
It’s nice to know at some point in history, I had a higher salary than Lee Guetterman. And I don’t even have to travel.
Those facts of baseball’s economy have emerged from a study of 1987 salaries conducted by The New York Times. The study also shows that the California Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers have experienced perhaps the most dramatic changes in their payrolls from last year. The Dodgers have soared to the top of the average-salary list with a season-opening average of $579,785 while the Angels have plummeted from fifth at the end of last season to 17th at the start of this one with an average salary of $408,632, just below the major league average of $412,606.
Because those dominant Halos demanded a Hollywood-type paycheck. You know it’s true.
According to salary data obtained from more than two dozen management and player sources, the highest-paid players are Jim Rice of Boston, $2,412,500; Dan Quisenberry of Kansas City, $2,293,509; George Brett of Kansas City, $2,205,000; Eddie Murray of Baltimore, $2,153,000, and Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia, $2,127,333. The presence of Quisenberry and Brett in the top five is the result of the lucrative real estate deals included in their contracts that take effect this season.
Apparently, Kansas City didn’t always reside in Missouri, but rather in a common-sense vacuum, where two Royals could occupy a “highest-paid” list.
The Mets don’t have anyone in the top five, but they have five million-dollar players, which is more than any other team has. The Mets also have four players making the minimum. The Yankees have three players on the million-dollar plateau but none at the bottom rung of the salary scale.
Sadly, every one of those five Mets dropped their salaries on good blow. Can the 1987 Yankees say that? I guess Willie would know.
Five clubs - Seattle, Texas, Montreal, Pittsburgh and San Francisco -have no million-dollar players. Atlanta is the only team besides the Yankees without a player at the minimum salary. Montreal has seven players earning $62,500 and Baltimore six.
No surprises here. Seattle, Montreal, Pittsburgh were never huge spenders. Ever. Texas and ‘Frisco must have been saving up for the then 11-year old A-Rod and 9-year old Zito, respectively. Now this, my friends, is good scouting.
One player listed as making the minimum is Lee Mazzilli of the Mets; that, indeed, is what the Mets are paying him. However, he will receive an additional $537,500 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who released him last year and remain responsible for his guaranteed 1987 salary.
And this, my friends, is poor team finance.
In many instances, season-starting salaries are only a starting point. Incentive bonuses aren’t as prevalent as they once were because clubs are trying to lower their payrolls, but some income nevertheless will rise by the end of the year.
And where in history did this go wrong? I would guess that almost all of the top 100 MLB contracts are mired in incentive-laden bonuses, both cash and material. I think Johan’s new contract allows him to beat up a teammate for every strikeout he throws in September, along with use of the private suite.
In two notable instances, salaries could rise by the All-Star Game break. Lance Parrish of Philadelphia could add $200,000 to his $800,000 salary (thus putting him in the million-dollar class) and Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs could pick up an extra $150,000 over his $500,000 salary if each remains healthy for the first half of the season.
Moises Alou — who was already in his fifth season by 1987 — would make approximately $12 in loose change with this incentive plan.
Some teams’ average salaries will rise, too, when and if they re-sign certain free agents on or about May 1. Included in that group are Tim Raines (Montreal), Ron Guidry (Yankees), Rich Gedman (Boston) and Bob Boone (California). The departure of Boone, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich and Rick Burleson from their roster has had a dramatic effect on the Angels’ economy. In their place are such rookies as Mark McLemore, Devon White and Gus Polidor, and the difference in salaries is reflected in the average salary.
McLemore would be worth a small fortune today, as he was one of the first “super sub” role players to regularly inhabit a major league roster. Plus, he gets props for being the only guy in MLB history to be ejected for modifying his bat with the cap from a Coke bottle. Bravo.
These are the season-opening average salaries of all of the teams: 1, Los Angeles $579,785; 2, Chicago Cubs $576,273; 3, Yankees $562,758; 4, Kansas City $531,552; 5, Atlanta $527,756; 6, Baltimore $523,658; 7, Boston $520,758; 8, Mets $519,429; 9, Philadelphia $488,613; 10, Detroit $486,272; 11, Minnesota $431,926; 12, St. Louis $429,019; 13, Oakland $426,582; 14, Houston $421,796; 15, San Diego $412,000; 16, Toronto $411,687; 17, California $408,632; 18, Chicago White Sox $372,386; 19, Cleveland $361,917; 20, Cincinnati $332,285; 21, San Francisco $309,846; 22, Milwaukee $281,781; 23, Texas $226,755; 24, Pittsburgh $221,380; 25, Montreal $204,740; 26, Seattle $181,580.
Though the Mets were clearly ahead of the Phillies by $32,000, a young Jimmy Rollins boasted that by the end of the season, the Phils would outspend the Amazins. And after the team overpaid Bruce Ruffin and Kent Tekulve, he was right. Is that Jimmy ever wrong?
The Mariners, who have had the lowest payroll the past two years, are expected to have an easy time retaining that distinction this year. Fifteen of their 25 players have salaries under $100,000 while only one is over $500,000. The Expos have 14 players under $100,000 and three over $500,000, with Raines ready to become the fourth. If Raines signs for a $1.6 million salary, which the team has offered, his salary will be greater than the combined salaries of 16 of the 24 players on the opening-day roster.
No one told Raines it was $1.6 million Canadian. He bought a VCR.
The Expos are one of four clubs - Seattle, Texas and Pittsburgh are the others - whose total opening-day payrolls are less than the combined 1987 income ($6,431,805) of the Royals’ three highest-paid players: Quisenberry, Brett and Willie Wilson.
Though I’m not one to follow economic trends, I think it would be effing hilarious if MLB’s current wallet-unfriendly, free-spending ways were due to the loose pockets and indiscretion of the Kansas City Royals. I can’t be alone on this.
I truly wish Chass would follow up this piece today. Why? Because ironically, nearly twenty years after he wrote the above article, Chass asserted his dislike of overused statistics in baseball. According to ol’ Murray, among “certain topics that should be off-limits,” are “statistics mongers promoting VORP and other new-age baseball statistics.” Chass then reiterated that in “their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game,” these “statistics mongers” threaten “to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.
I wonder what Murray would think of Bugs & Cranks.