Adjusted for inflation, buying power isn’t what it used to be in MLB

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: Yankee exhibit with Babe Ruth photo on display in the lobby for 'Bronx Bombers' Opening Night on Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre on February 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: Yankee exhibit with Babe Ruth photo on display in the lobby for 'Bronx Bombers' Opening Night on Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre on February 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage) /
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Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan signing autographs. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan signing autographs. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images) /

The $1 million plateau

There is some dispute about which player signed the first $1 million per season contract. Some say Pittsburgh’s Dave Parker did so when he signed a five-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates. But the deal was incentive-laden, and Parker never actually earned $1 million in any of his five seasons playing on that contract.

Thus the distinction falls to Nolan Ryan who, following the 1979 season, became a free agent. Ryan signed with the Houston Astros, who paid him $4.5 million over four seasons. He earned $1.125 million in 1980, the contract’s first year. The best available sources indicate that Parker actually earned $775,000 in both 1979 and 1980.

But even Ryan’s breakthrough of the $1 million milestone doesn’t mark the beginning of the acceleration of player salaries. Adjusted for inflation, that $1 million equates to only $3.74 million today.

Who else will earn $3.74 million for playing major league baseball in 2023? Among others, San Diego reliever Luis Garcia ($3.75 million). Garcia earns that on the basis of a 10-season career in various teams’ bullpens, during which he has a 19-24 record, a 4.05 ERA, 11 saves and 424 appearances covering 409 innings of work.

Garcia signed a two-year deal with San Diego in December of 2021. He was 4-6 with a 3.39 ERA and 3 saves in 64 appearances (61 innings) last season. Obviously we have not yet arrived at Nolan Ryan standards.