From SABR member Bill Ryczek at The National Pastime Museum on August 3, 2015:
The Red Sox’ signing of 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada for a total of $63 million brings back memories of the big bonuses given out before the free agent draft was instituted in 1965. In the pre-draft era, all prospects, not just those outside the United States, were able to sign with the highest bidder. During the 1950s and early 1960s, competition for untried youngsters reached such a frenzied level that Major League executives became desperate for a way to save them from themselves. First, they instituted a rule that any player receiving a bonus greater than $4,000 had to spend two full seasons on the Major League roster. When that proved ineffective, the owners resorted to a draft that allocated exclusive negotiating rights to each player.
The Red Sox took a big gamble on Moncada, who has never played professionally in the United States. How will he fare against the best players in the world while adjusting to a foreign culture? Will he mature physically or has he reached his peak? The answers are unknown, and in the 1950s, baseball executives discovered that teenage phenoms often became professional washouts, leaving them poorer but not necessarily wiser.
In 1951, when Joe DiMaggio’s and Ted Williams’ $100,000 salaries were the highest in baseball, the Cleveland Indians gave an 18-year-old left-handed pitcher named Billy Joe Davidson a $100,000 bonus contract (some estimates put it as high as $150,000). Davidson was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and at 210 pounds was bigger than most Major League pitchers. He could throw hard, averaging more than 18 strikeouts a game in high school, and he pitched 11 no-hitters in high school, American Legion, and semipro games. In one American Legion no-hitter, he struck out 25. Indians General Manager Hank Greenberg compared Davidson to Bob Feller, who had starred as a teenager more than a decade earlier.
Originally published: August 3, 2015. Last Updated: August 3, 2015.