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. Martin Maldonado literally hit the cover off of a baseball

    Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT

    Martin Maldonado Martin Maldonado

    One of baseball’s older cliches came true on Friday night thanks to Martin Maldonado.

  2. Blue Jays activate Jose Reyes, place Adam Lind on the disabled list

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT

    Jose Reyes Jose Reyes

    The Blue Jays get a shortstop back, but lose their designated hitter.

  3. Jeff Samardzija says he wants a big-money contract to help future players

    Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT

    Jeff Samardzija Jeff Samardzija

    Jeff Samardzija unselfishly wants to get paid. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

  4. White Sox place Donnie Veal on outright waivers

    Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT

    Donnie Veal Donnie Veal

    After consistent battles with his control, Donnie Veal ran out of chances with the White Sox.

  5. Jason Bartlett will retire after 10 years in the big leagues

    Apr 18, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT

    San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates San Diego Padres v Pittsburgh Pirates

    Jason Bartlett will call it quits after playing shortstop in the big leagues over ten seasons.

  6. Update: Luis Avilan loses Aaron Harang’s no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning

    Apr 18, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT

    Aaron Harang Aaron Harang

    One of the most unlikely pitchers to throw a no-hitter is working on a no-hitter.

  7. Brewers sign Jeremy Jeffress to a minor league deal

    Apr 18, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT

    Jeremy Jeffress Jeremy Jeffress

    The Brewers got their first round pick from the 2006 draft back.

  8. Diamondbacks activate Cody Ross from the disabled list

    Apr 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT

    Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day

    The Diamondbacks will get some power back in their lineup as Cody Ross returns.

  9. Red Sox designate Ryan Roberts for assignment, call up Brock Holt

    Apr 18, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT

    Ryan Roberts Ryan Roberts

    Ryan Roberts wasn’t hitting; Brock Holt was, so the Red Sox decided to make a change with Will Middlebrooks still recovering from an injury.

  10. Pirates acquire Ike Davis in a trade with the Mets

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT

    Ike Davis Ike Davis

    The Pirates and Mets each address their problems with an Ike Davis trade.

  11. Hanley Ramirez back in the Dodgers’ lineup Friday

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT

    Hanley Ramirez Hanley Ramirez

    Hanley Ramirez only spent one day out of the lineup after being hit in the hand with a fastball.

  12. Manny Machado could start a rehab assignment next week

    Apr 18, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT

    Manny Machado Manny Machado

    Manny Machado could soon take the next step towards returning to third base for the Orioles.

  13. A’s sign Sean Doolittle to long-term extension

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:48 PM EDT

    Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Getty Images

    Left-hander Sean Doolittle and the A’s have agreed to a long-term contract that runs through at least 2018, with team options for 2019 and 2020.

  14. Watch a chicken play baseball

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT

    00980665.JPG

    Don’t look at me that way. It’s late afternoon on a Friday that a lot of people have off work. There’s a Reds-Cubs game one. Motivation is kinda hard to come by. Besides, this is kinda mesmerizing.

  15. Rangers shut down Tanner Scheppers

    Apr 18, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

    tanner scheppers getty Getty Images

    This morning I wrote about how the Rangers had to be considering removing Tanner Scheppers from the rotation given his awful performance through four starts and now they’ve placed him on the disabled list with elbow inflammation.

  16. Hisashi Iwakuma cleared to begin rehab assignment

    Apr 18, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT

    iwakuma getty Getty Images

    Out since February with a strained tendon in his middle finger, Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma threw a simulated game today without any problems and has been cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment.

  17. HBT Daily: PuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuig

    Apr 18, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    Also: PuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuigPuig.

  18. Bo Porter to his blundering baserunner: “Do you think you’re invisible?”

    Apr 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Bo Porter AP

    Bo Porter does not mince words when a TOOTBLAN happens.

Featured video

This was 'the perfect baseball game'
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. S. Kazmir (5072)
  2. G. Springer (3514)
  3. K. Uehara (3335)
  4. M. Machado (3055)
  5. D. Pedroia (2859)
  1. J. Chavez (2665)
  2. H. Ramirez (2640)
  3. J. Reyes (2562)
  4. T. Walker (2553)
  5. C. Granderson (2407)