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Exhibition Baseball Americana

“Powerball.” Sports Illustrated magazine, December 18, 2000. General Collections, Library of Congress (110.00.00)

Jackpots and Paydays

As Curt Flood pursued his lawsuit, Marvin Miller, head of the players’ union, won the players the right to arbitration in settling contract disputes. When an arbitrator ruled in 1975 that the reserve clause could not control players for life, the momentous decision soon opened the Floodgates, as it were, to free agency. Multi-million-dollar contracts became routine, but even the most jaded observers were shocked in 2000 when the Texas Rangers offered Alex Rodríguez, shown here, a ten-year, $252 million deal.

A Sampling of Annual Salary Leaders

Al Spalding, Chicago White Stockings$4,0001876
Paul Cook, Louisville Colonels$2,0001891
Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers$15,0001914
Babe Ruth, New York Yankees$80,0001930
Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees$100,0001949
Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants$105,0001963
Hank Aaron, Milwaukee Brewers$240,0001975*
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia Phillies$560,0001976
Nolan Ryan, Houston Astros$1,000,0001980
Albert Belle, Chicago White Sox$10,000,0001997
Alex Rodríguez, Texas Rangers$22,000,0002001
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels$34,000,0002018

*The free agency era began in 1975.
These figures are actual salaries not adjusted for inflation.