Povich Rewind: Rising Payrolls


Povich Rewind: Rising Payrolls
Mar 1, 2019

With Bryce Harper leaving the Washington Nationals for the Philadelphia Phillies after agreeing to a 13-year, $330 million contract, we’re rewinding Shirley Povich’s 1926 column that reported baseball owners’ reluctance to pay “rising” salaries to stars, including Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who was seeking $50,000 a year from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Roger Hornsby has departed from St Louis, and with him has departed the period of plenty for big league ball players. The Hornsby case is but another of the succession of moves by major league club owners to retrench themselves in the business of conducting high-grade baseball on an economic basis.

The transformation has been gradual and subtle, but pronounced. The ball players once again have been reduced to their former status as the employees of baseball, mere chattels to be sold or traded at the will of the magnates, to be directed and paid like the humblest clerks at the discretion of the club owners.

Since the close of the 1926 season the magnates, by wholesale dis-charges of managers and the release of stars, have sounded the demise of the reign of the ball players and the retrogression toward the days when five-figured salaries were a rarity and long-term contracts unknown.

Baseball, buffing along in the self-same easy manner that marked the game since the organization of the American League in 1900 received its first injection of frenzied finance in 1920 when New York’s two colonels, Ruppert and Houston, of the Yankees, proceeded to buy the leagues pennant by purchasing outright at fancy figures the stars of the Boston Red Sox

Babe Ruth, Sam Jones, Walter Hoyt, Joe Bush, Herb Pennock, Evertt Scott and Wally Schang were involved in the deals that transferred a pennant-winning team in Boston to Father Knickerbocker’s children in the Bronx.

Ruppert and Houston were the first to pay the high salaries to their ball players. The one objective of a big leaguer was to play for a New York team. Other magnates were forced to meet the competition of the Yankees or the Giants and high salaries soon became general. With them the demands of the ballplayer increased.

Efforts of the club owners to build or buy pennant-winning teams contributed to the frenzy of the finance of the game. Soon the ball players were dictating their own terms virtually and usually carried their points. For a span of years New York clubs with their prodigious checkbooks held the upper hand and witnessed three intercity world’s series.

First hint of the concerted move of the magnates to pull an end to the high salaries of ballplayers came with the resignation of Tris Speaker as manager of the Cleveland Indians. Previously Ty Cobb has resigned as pilot of the Tigers for reasons considered personal and Eddie Collins had ben released outright by President Comiskey of the White Sox. Speaker’s departure from the game so close upon the heels of Cobb and Collins carried much significance. Three high salaries were topped off major league rosters.

Hornsby’s case, engineered by President Breadon of the Cardinals was the most apparent and open display of the new attitude of the club owners since the close of the1926 season. Hornsby was made a flat proposition of signing up at $50,000 or be traded. He refused and was traded and the deal proved the most sensational in recent years.

Even the man, who led his team to a league pennant and then to the world’s series championship was not to flaunt the power of the club owners _ not in their present attitude toward high salaries and long-term contracts. Hornsby, firm in the belief that he was too valuable a player to be disposed of, was rudely disillusioned. Breadon merely went a step farther than was the case of other club owners and made good his threat. Hornsby’s case is certain to live long in the memories of the ball players. If a star like the former manager of the Cardinals could not demand his price and receive, then there is small chance that the rank and file of the ball players can continue to make their petty demands and see them fulfilled.

The club owners after a period of docile obeisance are again in control of the situation. They have undermined the belief of the invincibility of the stars of the game by simple method of relieving them from duty and by mutual agreement of the magnates seeing these stars with their heavy salaries slip out of the pastime.

Only by working in agreement could the magnates affect the transformation and that they have worked in perfect accord is attested by the fact that Cobb, of Detriot. Speaker, of Cleveland, Sisler, of St. Louis, and Mckechnie, of the Pirates, have either been released out-right or relegated to the ranks minus the huge salaries and with their demands stifled by the firm action of the club owners.

Dec. 22, 1926

Homepage image: Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby from the Leslie Jones Collection

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