In the wake of the Bryce Harper lunacy, today a blog post about two players that were the highest paid players in their days. Regarding the money they got, none could stand in the shadow of Harper’s $330 million.
On this day in 1927, a certain Yankee player became the highest paid player ever as the Yankees signed him to a $70,000 (per year) contract extension for the following three years. This player had talks with Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert and asked for $100,000. Of course, you know who this player is: Babe Ruth, a.k.a. the Sultan of Swat, a.k.a. the Great Bambino. In 1930, the Yankees signed him to a three-year extension of $80,000 for the first two years and $75,000 for the final year.
Even though Ruth asked for $100,000 per year, he never got it. That “honor” was for Hank Greenberg, the slugging first baseman, who spent the biggest chunk of his career with the Detroit Tigers. After the 1946 season, the Tigers and Greenberg had a lengthy dispute about a contract extension. When Greenberg stated that he’d rather retire than to play for less, the Tigers sold his contract to the Pirates. To keep him with the club instead of retiring, the Pirates paid him $100,000 although that amount is subject of some dispute.
Ruth, the biggest star in baseball in his days, eventually finished his great career with the lowly Boston Braves after the Yankees traded him to Boston’s NL team. Despite a good start with the Braves as he drove in all Boston’s runs in a 4-2 win over the New York Giants, his numbers went South quickly.
Since it was Ruth’s wish to become a Major League manager and the Braves’ owner Emil Fuchs had promised him that job, he stayed with the team. But as soon as he realized that Fuchs only had hired him as a gate attraction, Ruth asked for his release which was granted on June 2nd. As no teams were interested in signing him, he eventually retired in 1937. Once in a while, Ruth appeared in exhibition games, where he still drew large crowds. The Dodgers had noticed this and hired him as a first base coach, letting him know that he would not get a managerial position. After Dodgers’ manager Burleigh Grimes stepped down at the end of the season, the Dodgers’ hired Leo “the Lip” Durocher as their manager. For Ruth, this was the sign to leave baseball for good as he would never work in any capacity in the game again.
Another player that earned the tag of the highest paid player was Ryne Sandberg. The second baseman of the Chicago Cubs signed a four-year contract worth $7.1 million per season. The All-Star suddenly retired during the 1994 season as his numbers stayed behind. With his average at a career-low .238 and having recorded only fifty-three hits in fifty-seven games. In his book “Second to Home” Sandberg explained his sudden retirement: “The reason I retired is simple: I lost the desire that got me ready to play on an everyday basis for so many years. Without it, I didn’t think I could perform at the same level I had in the past, and I didn’t want to play at a level less than what was expected of me by my teammates, coaches, ownership, and most of all, myself.”
But eventually, blood was thicker than water, as Sandberg turned back to the game in 1996, spending two more years with the Cubs. When he retired after the 1997 season, his lifetime batting average stood at .285 with 277 home runs.