Considering inflation, which MLB player had or will have more value: Babe Ruth in the early 1920s or Codi Heuer today?
Silly question, right? In the early 1920s, the Babe was busy redefining how the entire game was played. In 1921, he hit 59 home runs, a total that was more than hit by five American League teams.
Between 1920 and 1924, he led the AL in home runs, RBI, runs scored and on base average four times each, and in slugging average every year. For those days, he was paid like it too. In 1922, he signed a new contract with the Yankees making him the first player in history to receive the astonishing sum of $50,000.
Looking strictly at his record, Heuer pales by comparison. In part-time work across two seasons, he’s made 86 relief appearances covering fewer than 100 innings with a 3.56 career ERA.
For his full professional life, Heuer has generated just 1.4 WAR with just 2.7 Win Probability Added. Not surprisingly, then he will make only a few bucks over the major league minimum, $750,000, to pitch out of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen in 2023.
The Babe only needed eight weeks between July 26 and September 22, 1922 to generate as much WPA as Heuer has produced for his career to date. And except for that record-breaking $50,000 contract, 1922 was one of Ruth’s few bad seasons.
Money, however, is the one area where a non-descript contemporary reliever such as Heuer can stand toe-to-toe with the Babe. Because, you see, adjusted for inflation, the record $50,000 contract Ruth played for in 1922 works out to just $762,000 in today’s economy. Financially, then, that makes Heuer (and virtually every other player not working for the $720,000 minimum) the Babe’s equal.
Value, obviously, has been an adjustable commodity in MLB since the days of Babe Ruth.
This winter’s mega-signings of such players as Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Jacob deGrom to contracts well into nine figures has planted the concept that the game has entered a new era of hyper inflation.
The reality is not quite so simple. The fact is that measured on an annualized basis values really began hyper-increasing a quarter-century ago. What’s driving the larger dollar amounts today isn’t inflation or the annual value but the numbers of years added on to recent contracts: nine years for Judge, 11 years for Bogaerts, and 14 years for Fernando Tatis Jr.