Skip to content

Adjusted for inflation, Babe Ruth’s highest salary was $1.4 million

Apr 2, 2013, 9:37 AM EST

Ruth Called Shot Baseball

Graham Womack has a fun post over at The Hardball Times today: adjusting Hall of Famers’ top annual salary for inflation. The upshot: until extremely recently, most ballplayers made peanuts. Indeed, that inflation-adjusted $1.4 million for Ruth was actually the most anyone made for decades afterwards. The Sultan of Swat was pretty well-paid based on purchasing power of the time. Those who followed, not so much:

Many baseball greats had to play in the minors for years after they left the majors. It’s unheard of today for Hall of Famers, but players did it regularly in the first half of the 20th century whether it was 42-year-old Nap Lajoie hitting .380 in the International League in 1917 or Iron Man Joe McGinnity (who earned his nickname working in a steel foundry) pitching in the bushes until age 54. Others like Chief Bender and Wagner needed coaching jobs in retirement to escape the realities of the Depression. Grover Cleveland Alexander died alone in a rented room in 1950. While surely his alcoholism impoverished and isolated him, his top salary of $236,860 in 2012 dollars couldn’t have helped matters much.

It’s a fascinating post, not just for the list, but for the many references Womack cites which give a glimpse into the financial realities for even the best players on up through the 1970s.

There was a reason why Marvin Miller was given carte blanche by the players to go after the owners for a bigger piece of the pie. They had been getting crumbs for a century prior.

Latest Posts
  1. Johnny Cueto won’t negotiate extension with Reds past Opening Day

    Dec 22, 2014, 9:32 PM EST

    Johnny Cueto AP AP

    Johnny Cueto is set to become a free agent next offseason, but the Reds have a small window of time to convince their ace to stick around for the long-term.

  2. Phillies sign Kevin Slowey, Sean O’Sullivan, and Chris McGuiness

    Dec 22, 2014, 8:09 PM EST

    phillies logo Getty Images

    All three players received invites to major league spring training.

  3. Report: Dan Haren is “holding out hope” for a trade to the Angels or Padres

    Dec 22, 2014, 6:40 PM EST

    dan haren getty Getty Images

    Dan Haren was traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins in the Dee Gordon deal during this month’s Winter Meetings despite his previous comments that he would rather retire than pitch for a team away from his family in Southern California.

  4. Marco Scutaro needs back surgery, career may be over

    Dec 22, 2014, 5:07 PM EST

    Marco Scutaro Reuters Reuters

    “It’s too soon to know if Scutaro will ever take the field again.”

  5. My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot

    Dec 22, 2014, 4:49 PM EST

    Randy Johnson Dbacks

    I got, like, 17 guys I’d put in. But I’ll pretend I can only pick ten.

  6. Padres re-sign Josh Johnson

    Dec 22, 2014, 2:49 PM EST

    San Diego Padres Photo Day Getty Images

    Another comeback attempt in San Diego.

  7. They’re playing a football game in Marlins Park

    Dec 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EST

    Houston Astros v Miami Marlins Getty Images

    And it looks weird. But then again, everything looks weird there, doesn’t it?

  8. Doc Gooden: “Letter to my Younger Self”

    Dec 22, 2014, 2:08 PM EST

    Doc Gooden

    We could probably all write one of these. But ours would be a lot less useful to our younger selves than Doc Gooden’s is to his younger self.

  9. The Pirates win the bidding for Jung-Ho Kang

    Dec 22, 2014, 12:44 PM EST

    jung-ho kang getty Getty Images

    The Pirates have 30 days to reach an agreement with Kang or else he goes back to his KBO team.

  10. Nationals sign Heath Bell

    Dec 22, 2014, 12:16 PM EST

    heath bell getty Getty Images

    Bell was an All-Star as recently as 2011.

  11. Revolution, expropriation and the Havana Sugar Kings

    Dec 22, 2014, 11:54 AM EST

    Sugar Kings

    The ultimate minor league “where are they now?”

  12. Troy Tulowitzki gets trade rumor updates from the Rockies

    Dec 22, 2014, 10:47 AM EST

    Troy Tulowitzki AP

    “You see what’s going on, but …”

  13. I wish Marshawn Lynch played baseball

    Dec 22, 2014, 10:34 AM EST

    Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.34.03 AM Getty Images

    Who will tell us that they’re “takin’ it one game at a time” now?!

  14. Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins

    Dec 22, 2014, 9:04 AM EST

    Phil Hughes AP

    He’ll be under team control through 2019.

  15. “Baseball love, Cuban style”

    Dec 22, 2014, 8:41 AM EST

    Cuba

    Taped baseballs and Yankees fans.

  16. Wanna buy John Lackey’s House?

    Dec 22, 2014, 7:49 AM EST

    Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 7.38.07 AM

    Understated, it is not.

  17. Padres planning to hang on to their recently-acquired outfielders

    Dec 21, 2014, 11:10 PM EST

    wil myers getty Getty Images

    Wil Myers was rumored to be a potential target for the Phillies in a trade involving Cole Hamels, but it turns out the Padres plan to hang on to him.

  18. Twins sign Wil Ledezma to a minor league deal

    Dec 21, 2014, 10:21 PM EST

    Wil Ledezma Getty Images

    Wil Ledezma will attempt to return to the major leagues with the Twins after signing a minor league deal.

  19. Giants’ training staff preparing an update on Marco Scutaro

    Dec 21, 2014, 9:55 PM EST

    Marco Scutaro Reuters Reuters

    Marco Scutaro’s 2014 season was tarnished by a chronic back ailment. The Giants’ training staff is preparing an update on the 39-year-old and it may not be good news.

Featured video

Cubs shore up rotation with Jon Lester
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. W. Myers (5844)
  2. M. Kemp (3266)
  3. J. Kang (3240)
  4. C. McGehee (3099)
  5. W. Middlebrooks (3070)
  1. J. Upton (3004)
  2. M. Morse (2323)
  3. J. Peavy (2109)
  4. A. Rios (2109)
  5. J. Shields (2056)