Wilson: Baseball economics, 1971 style

From SABR member Doug Wilson at Doug Wilson’s Baseball Bookshelf on December 23, 2014:

When writing about former professional baseball players, there is one topic that is unavoidable: money. It is a profession after all. The contrast between modern baseball economics and that of the past is stark. From Brooks Robinson making $10,000 in 1960 when he almost led the Orioles to a surprise pennant and finished 3rd in the MVP voting that year (as the third most valuable player in the entire league, according to voters, he was rewarded with a raise to $20,000), to Carlton Fisk making $12,000 in 1972 and then inciting criticism from writers when he had the audacity to ask for $30,000 after winning the Rookie of the Year Award, to Mark Fidrych drawing almost a million fans to ballparks in his 29 starts in 1976 while making $16,000, the numbers former players toiled for is at the same time pitiful and quaint.

Of course, it all changed in 1976 with the advent of free agency.

I recently came across the above issue of Baseball Digest (May, 1971) which listed the highest paid players in baseball at the time. I clearly remember when this issue arrived at our house. My father was a five-striper in the Air Force and we had recently celebrated a pay raise that put him at $800 a month—I used my 4th grade math skills to work that out neatly to $9,600 a year. My brother assured me that in the not-too-distant future we would be a family making 5 digits a year! We would be ten thousand-aires (while not having the charming ring of ‘millionaires,’ the phrase still made me feel important and proud).

And then I got a look at what guys made playing baseball. I guess I had probably always suspected that these men were well-compensated for their great feats on the baseball field, but I had never seen it laid out in such plain terms: Willie Mays made $150,000 a year! For playing baseball? Unbelievable. I immediately decided that I didn’t need to worry too much about homework anymore because, as a future professional baseball player, I would make enough money that trivial things like an education would not be important.

Read the full article here: http://dougwilsonbaseball.blogspot.com/2014/12/baseball-economics-1971-style.html

Originally published: January 15, 2015. Last Updated: January 15, 2015.