Skip to content

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

Apr 2, 2013, 9:37 AM EDT

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. White Sox aren’t calling up top pick Carlos Rodon

    Sep 2, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT

    carlos rodon ap AP

    MLB.com’s Scott Merkin wrote last month that there was a “better-than-average” chance of left-hander Carlos Rodon — who was selected third overall in this year’s draft — joining the White Sox as a September callup. But it’s not going to happen.

  2. Diamondbacks activate A.J. Pollock and Chris Owings

    Sep 2, 2014, 6:32 PM EDT

    diamondbacks logo

    Chris Owings and A.J. Pollock are back with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday after lengthy disabled list stints.

  3. Carlos Gomez diagnosed with sprained wrist

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:50 PM EDT

    Carlos Gomez AP

    It’s particularly rough timing, as Milwaukee hosts a four-game series with St. Louis beginning Thursday.

  4. Michael Wacha to start Thursday for the Cardinals

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT

    Michael Wacha Getty Getty Images

    Michael Wacha’s recovery from a shoulder injury has gone so well that the Cardinals just announced he’ll come off the disabled list to start Thursday against the Brewers.

  5. Masahiro Tanaka cleared to resume throwing program

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT

    Masahiro Tanaka AP AP

    Before being shut down in mid-July the 25-year-old rookie from Japan went 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 18 starts, including a 135/19 K/BB ratio in 129 innings.

  6. Anthony Rizzo’s MRI reveals a back strain

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT

    anthony rizzo getty Getty Images

    If it weren’t for expanded rosters for September, he’d probably be on the DL.

  7. Brandon Morrow rejoins the Blue Jays as a reliever

    Sep 2, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Brandon Morrow AP

    Morrow has been exclusively a starter for Toronto since 2010, including what looked at the time like a breakout season as a starter in 2012.

  8. Yankees add Chris Young to September roster

    Sep 2, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    chris young getty Getty Images

    Young flopped with the Mets on a one-year, $7.25 million deal.

  9. HBT Daily: Bo Porter is fired. Who’s next?

    Sep 2, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    Not too many managers seem to be on the hot seat. Part of that is because being a manager today is very different than it was back in the day.

  10. Indians activate Ryan Raburn from the disabled list

    Sep 2, 2014, 2:51 PM EDT

    Ryan Raburn AP

    Raburn struggled mightily before going on the DL, hitting .173 in 70 games after playing well enough in a part-time role last season that Cleveland handed him a two-year contract extension.

  11. Baseball’s lost treasures

    Sep 2, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT

    Treasure

    From a baseball to a slip of paper to a giant statue of the biggest baseball star who ever lived.

  12. Twins ask fans which brand of luxury car they are, don’t realize they’re a wreck

    Sep 2, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT

    my mother the car

    Please keep in mind that the Twins are currently in last place at 60-77 following three consecutive 95-loss seasons and only the Astros have fewer total wins since 2011.

  13. Pirates recall Gregory Polanco from Triple-A

    Sep 2, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT

    gregory polanco getty Getty Images

    Polanco went 4-for-26 (.153) during his brief demotion and was in a nasty two-month slump before being sent down, hitting just .204 with a .564 in his last 40 games.

  14. Blue Jays shut down Brett Lawrie for the season

    Sep 2, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    brett lawrie getty Getty Images

    Toronto transferred infielder Brett Lawrie from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list, which means he won’t be eligible to return to the active roster before the season ends.

  15. Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young odds have been taken off the board

    Sep 2, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Clayton Kershaw Clayton Kershaw

    Gambling on baseball is dumb. But Kershaw for the Cy Young Award is a pretty safe bet.

  16. Phillies activate Mike Adams from the 60-day disabled list

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT

    Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Getty Images

    Adams has thrown just 42 total innings for the Phillies with a month remaining in a two-year, $12 million contract.

  17. Every night soon to be zombie night at Progressive Field

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

    Progressive Field

    Or: meanwhile in weird concessions . . .

  18. Neftali Feliz: “When I take too many days off my arm doesn’t feel too good”

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

    Neftali Feliz Getty Getty Images

    Neftali Feliz has regained the Rangers’ closer role, but not his old velocity.

Featured video

Bo Porter just first casualty around MLB
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Soler (3472)
  2. R. Castillo (2960)
  3. A. Rizzo (2807)
  4. A. Dunn (2768)
  5. M. Cabrera (2736)
  1. Y. Molina (2698)
  2. J. Ellsbury (2398)
  3. B. Posey (2363)
  4. M. Wacha (2315)
  5. D. Pedroia (2251)