From Honus to Greinke: The history of big contracts.
The Diamondbacks made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason when they signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract. This contract was the second-largest total for a pitcher in MLB history—and the annual salary of $34.3 million is the highest of all-time.
There’s no doubt contracts have grown exponentally over the years, especially over the last two decades. How did we get here? Here’s a little walk down contract memory lane.
1908: Honus Wagner forgoes his retirement plans when Pittsburg (that’s how it was spelt back then) Pirates ownership gives him baseball’s first $10,000 salary. This was equivalent to about 240,000 in 2015—less than half of the current $507,000 league minimum.
1922: The Yankees sign Babe Ruth to a contract paying a record-setting $50,000 per season, the equivalent of about $705,000 today. This was the beginning of a 13-season stretch the Bambino was the game’s highest-paid player.
1947: The Pittsburgh Pirates lure Hank Greenberg out of retirement by giving him a $100,000 (about $1 million in 2015) salary for the 1947 season. Greenberg plays the season with the Pirates before retiring for good the following year.
1972: Hank Aaron becomes the first player to make $200,000 in a season. Today, this would be about $1.1 million.
1974: In the midst of a nasty contract dispute with the Oakland A’s, Catfish Hunter signs a record-setting five-year, $3.75 million contract with the Yankees. This becomes the first time in baseball history a contract crosses the $1 million plateau, let alone the multi-million plateau. This is where the Yankees’ reputation as big spenders begins, and it is at this point that contracts grow exponentially.
While this was a record then, Hunter’s contract would be worth just $16.5 million in 2015, or 7.9 percent of Zack Greinke’s deal with the Diamondbacks.
1979: Nolan Ryan becomes the first player to make over $1 million annually when he signs a four-year, $4.5 million contract with the Houston Astros. Ryan’s contract would be worth about $13 million today.
1980: Dave Winfield signs a ten-year $23 million ($66.1 million in 2015 dollars) contract, smashing Nolan Ryan’s contract record for largest contract in baseball history. This begins his long and tumultuous relationship between Winfield and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
1982: The Mets sign George Foster to a five-year, $10 million ($24.5 million in 2015) contract, which makes Foster the first player in baseball history to earn more than $2 million in a season.
1989: Kirby Puckett signs a three-year, $9 million ($17 million in 2015) extension with the Twins, making him the first $3 million annual player in baseball history.
1990: Jose Canseco receives a five-year, $23.5 million ($42.3 million in 2015) contract extension from the A’s, giving him baseball’s first salary north of $4 million.
1991: The Red Sox ink ace Roger Clemens to a four-year, $21.5 million ($37.4 million in 2015) to become the first player to make $5 million per season.
1992: Skinny Barry Bonds signs a record-setting six-year, $43 million ($70.5 million in 2015) contract to join the San Francisco Giants. Ironically, Bonds’ listed weight raised by exactly 43 pounds from his the time he signed the contract until his retirement.
1996: Free agent All-Star Albert Belle signs a five-year, $55 million ($83 million in 2015) contract to become the first player to make $10 million annually.
1998: The Dodgers sign Kevin Brown to baseball’s first $100 million contract, a seven-year, $105 million deal ($152 million in 2015).
2000: A mere two years after Brown’s $105 million contract, all contract records are broken when the Rangers sign Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year, $252 million ($346.8 in 2015) contract. A-Rod spent just three years with the Rangers before they shipped him to New York in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias.
2007: Alex Rodriguez opts out of his old deal and signs a new one for ten years and $275 million ($314 million in 2015). He remains the only player in baseball history to receive two $200 million contracts.
2014: The famously frugal Marlins sign Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract, making him the first $300 million player in baseball.
2015: The Red Sox sign David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract, the largest ever given to a pitcher.
2015: Zack Greinke signs a six-year, $206.5 million contract with the Diamondbacks. The contract’s average annual value of $34.3 million is the highest of any player.