Ted Was a Salary Champ, Too

Generations of Bostonians yet unborn will argue whether Ted Williams' 4-1/2 years in the military cost him a chance at Babe Ruth's career home run record. The missed time may have cost Ted another mark of The Babe's: the longest tenure as Major League Baseball's highest-paid player.

Although salary figures from Williams' era are hard to find, from the best available evidence no one outearned Ted during the final twelve seasons of his career. In 1949 Williams and Joe DiMaggio both received raises to $100,000, the de facto salary cap for more than a decade. DiMaggio's retirement after the 1951 season left Ted alone at the top of the salary ladder.

Williams stayed there until his retirement after the 1960 season. Only Babe Ruth, who outearned everyone else from 1922 through 1934, ever held the Most Valued Player title for longer. Williams' reign was helped by the early retirements of high-salaried contemporaries such as Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner, and by his NL counterpart Stan Musial's willingness to play for $80,000/year through most of the 1950s. Musial didn't reach six figures until 1958, the year Ted's salary rose to $125,000.

Ted took a substantial pay cut in 1960 -- but so did Stan, who also had an off year in 1959. Their successors as the majors' most glamorous sluggers, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, didn't reach the $100,000 mark until 1963.

These figures don't seem so impressive now that the 25th man on a major league roster is guaranteed $200,000/year. The sidebar, which converts Williams' reported annual salaries into 2002 dollars, shows that during his career, Williams earned the equivalent of about $10,800,000 in 2002 dollars. That sounds better, but still inadequate for a man of Williams' accomplishments.

To put Williams' salary into better perspective, through most of the 1950s Williams received about one-fourth of the entire Red Sox payroll. That's significantly more than Alex Rodriguez' share of the 2002 Texas Rangers' payroll.

And teams had much less to spend in Ted Williams' era. From 1958 to 1960, the last three seasons of Williams' career, the average Red Sox ticket cost just $1.76 and the team drew slightly over a million fans per year. That meant gate receipts of about $1.8 million/year, compared to $90 million in 2001. Local media money rose from $500,000 in 1960 to $33 million in 2001, while the Sox' share of MLB's national TV contract soared from $200,000 to about $15 million.

One of the most telling numbers about Williams' era isn't .406, or .344, or 521. It's 10,454 -- the number of fans who rattled around Fenway Park during what everyone knew would be Ted Williams' last home game. A meaningless midseason game now draws three times as many fans than came to see the last appearance of the greatest player in franchise history.

Think about that the next time you hear someone proclaim that "baseball is dying." Ted Williams may be mortal, but the game he loved even more than fishing will survive even Bud Selig.

Ted Williams' Salaries (Unofficial)

Year Salary Inflation-Adjusted Salary
1939 $6,500 $84,000
1940 $12,000 $154,000
1941 $20,000 $244,000
1942 $35,000 $385,000
1943-45 Military service  
1946 $50,000 $460,000
1947 $75,000 $603,000
1948 $90,000 $670,000
1949 $100,000 $753,000
1950 $100,000 $744,000
1951 $100,000 $690,000
1952 $100,000 $677,000
1953 $100,000 $672,000
1954 $100,000 $667,000
1955 $100,000 $669,000
1956 $100,000 $659,000
1957 $100,000 $638,000
1958 $125,000 $776,000
1959 $125,000 $770,000
1960 $90,000 $545,000

Copyright © 2002 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the July 2002 special Ted Williams tribute issue of Boston Baseball.

Back to Doug's Boston Baseball column index

Back to Doug's Business of Baseball menu

To roadsidephotos.sabr.org main menu