Player Salaries Envy of Laborers

This article was written by James Elfers

This article was published in 1986 Baseball Research Journal

Complaints about high salaries of baseball players are nothing new. During the Wilmington Quick steps’ brief stay in the Union Association in 1884, their players were paid between $85 and $325 a month. This was at a time when, as the Wilmington Morning News reported, “a hard working laborer was satisfied with $30 a month.”

The Quicksteps’ salaries were relatively high at the start of the 1884 Eastern League season, but they had to be increased after the team joined the U.A. This was because there was no reserve clause tying the players to a team.

To keep the team’s best pitcher and hitter, “The Only” Nolan, from jumping to the Philadelphia Phillies, Wilmington club president John T. West, a saloon keeper and tobacco store owner, raised the player’s salary to $325 a month. Nolan had signed originally for $125 a month and then was raised to $180 after getting off to a good start against Eastern League opposition.

The salaries of other Wilmington players, as shown in the September 16 issue of the Wilmington Morning News, were: Tom Lynch, of, $175; Charlie Bastian, 2b, $175; Henry Myers, ss, $166; Bill McCloskey, of, $160; Oyster Burns, ss, $150; Jimmy Say, 3b, $150; Tony Cusick, c, $150; John Cullen, of, $150; John Murphy, p, $150; Jersey Bakely, p, $150; George Fisher, of, $150; Dennis Casey, p, $135; Redleg Snyder, ib, $120; Daniel Casey, of, $85.

“The salary list of the players alone amounted to between $1,300 and $1,400 (a month),” the paper stated. “Which added to the manager’s salary, the expense of hiring attendants and keeping the grounds in order made the amount to be furnished monthly very formidable.”