THIS DAY IN SPORTS: Say hey—pretty good money back then


This Day In Sports…February 20, 1963:

Centerfielder Willie Mays signs a contract with the San Francisco Giants that will pay him $105,000 for the 1963 season, making him baseball’s highest-salaried player. I did this math on Jackie Robinson recently. Here it is for Mays: in today’s dollars, that milestone salary would be $1,058,000. The highest-paid MLB player today (not counting Shohei Ohtani’s unconventional contract) is Mike Trout of the L.A. Angels, who will make more than $35,800,000 this year.The “Say Hey Kid,” who will be 93 years old this May, surely just shakes his head.

With the new contract, the Giants were rewarding Mays for leading the team to the 1962 National League pennant, their first since moving to San Francisco in 1958 (it would be 27 years before they’d get another). Mays led the NL in 1962 with 49 homers, and he drove in 141 runs. One at-bat captured what he meant to the Giants that year. They had chased the rival L.A. Dodgers in the NL race the entire month of September, needing a win in the final game of the regular season to finally catch the Dodgers and force a playoff. The Giants beat Houston 1-0 on an eighth-inning solo home run…by Willie Mays.

While the Giants invested in Mays, there was another team that only wished it had that vision. According to baseball historian Bill James, the Boston Braves began scouting Mays when he was 15 years old. “The Braves head of scouting, Harry Jenkins, watched Mays play many times, and raved about him often,” writes James. “But they lost him in a dispute over $2,500 when two of his assistant scouts, sent to cross-check, doubted that Mays was worth $10,000. If the Braves had signed him they would have had Mays, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn on their Milwaukee squad from 1954 through 1965.”

But it’s still mind-boggling that Mays’ top salary in his storied career was just $165,000—in his final two seasons with the Giants and New York Mets in 1972 and 1973. We go again to the calculator:in today’s dollars, that would be $1,146,000. What if a player of Mays’ caliber was on the market today? Would he make more than Mike Trout? I’ll let you decide.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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