This Day in Baseball: Babe Breaks the Bank

On this day in 1927, Babe Ruth signed a $70,000 contract, becoming the highest paid player in league history.  Ruth had sought to become baseball’s first six-figure player, but settled on a deal with Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert below his asking price.  The contract guaranteed Ruth’s salary for three years.

In the three years of the contract, I think it is safe to say the Yankees got their money’s worth.  Ruth broke his own league record with 60 home runs in 1927, part of the famed Murderer’s Row lineup, and then followed that up with 54 and 46 home run seasons to finish out the contract.  The Yankees won the World Series in 1927 and 1928.

Ruth’s next contract would draw even more attention, as he received a raise to $80,000 in 1930.  At the time, President Herbert Hoover made only $75,000.  Ruth drew some criticism, but handled it as only he could.

“What the hell has Hoover got to do with it?” Besides, I had a better year than he did.”

Baseball and professional sports contracts in general have come a long way since the 1930’s.  We have reached a point where even the league minimum in all of the four major leagues far exceeds the President’s annual compensation.  I do understand the distaste associated with an athlete making more than the President, especially in the height of the Great Depression.

By my estimation, though, Ruth did have a better year than Hoover.

The fine folks at Baseball Almanac dug up this great graphic from the Sporting News circa 1932 breaking down Babe’s yearly salary.


I went a little further to see if I could determine how Ruth’s earnings stack up in today’s dollars.

ruth 2014 salary

Historical salary data compiled by Doug Pappas and the Society for American Baseball Research

Pretty crazy that arguably the greatest power hitter of all-time would have earned slightly less than $16 million over his entire career.  Guys like Brian McCann are earning more than that in a single season these days for crying out loud (although you have to believe that some of McCann’s salary comes as compensation for being baseball’s biggest enforcer of “The Unwritten Rules” and honorary chief of the Fun Police).

Sports salaries have exploded exponentially.  I can hardly imagine what a player like Ruth would be worth today.  My guess is that he would have stood a chance at becoming the first $40 million player in the history of baseball.

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