On this date in 1908, the Pittsburgh Pirates did the unthinkable. They made legendary shortstop Honus Wagner the first-ever 5-figure baseball salary.
In the current state of baseball, a $30,000,000 AAV contract for a premier player is pretty much the norm. In 1908, however, an elite player would be lucky to receive a four-figure contract. That is until the Pittsburgh Pirates did the unthinkable in re-signing shortstop Honus Wagner to a whopping $10,000 deal.
Now, adjusted for inflation, that translates to $280,559.78 in today’s dollars, which actually would put Wagner in today’s top 10% of earners in the US. It is, however, significantly less than the minimum $563,500 salary players received for the 2019 MLB season.
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When you consider the influx of television, radio, and internet dollars baseball receives, it makes a bit of sense. Games weren’t fully broadcasted live until 95-years ago, on this date coincidentally, when WGN broadcasted a Pirates game versus the Chicago Cubs from a perch on the roof of Wrigley Field.
Now, the Pirates weren’t all gun-ho about doling out the money either. Initially, they had offered Wagner a $6,000 ($168,335.87 adjusted for inflation) deal.
Coming off of winning his 5th (of 8) batting title, Wagner understood that being considered, arguably, the best player in baseball made him worth much more than that. So, he threatened to retire from the game altogether.
As a result, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss decided to double Wagner’s salary from $5,000 to $10,000, making Wagner the first MLB player to earn a 5-figure salary.
Honus Wagner would go on to play 10 more seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, making exactly $10,000 in each of his remaining years. An MLB player wouldn’t go on to break the 5-figure threshold until 1949 when Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio received a $100,000 contract by the New York Yankees.
The first million-dollar player wouldn’t arrive until 1980 when Nolan Ryan received a 4-year, $4M deal from the Houston Astros.
It’s fair to say that baseball has come a long way since Wagner