Highest Paid Players Of The Last Three Decades

It's no secret that baseball player salaries have exploded over the last two decades, but just how much? With some help from the USA Today Salary Database, let's look at the game's highest paid players from last season, ten seasons ago, and twenty seasons ago…

2010

  1. Alex Rodriguez– $32MM
  2. CC Sabathia - $23MM
  3. Derek Jeter - $22.6MM
  4. Mark Teixeira - $20.625MM
  5. Johan Santana - $20.145MM
  6. Miguel Cabrera - $20MM
  7. Carlos Beltran - $19.402MM
  8. Ryan Howard, Carlos Lee & Alfonso Soriano - $19MM
  9. Carlos Zambrano - $18.875MM
  10. John Lackey - $18.7MM

Four Yankees occupy the top spots, and six New York players are in the top seven. Ichiro Suzuki, Barry Zito, Torii Hunter, and Manny Ramirez were the only other players to pull down more than $18MM last season.

2000

  1. Kevin Brown – $15.714MM
  2. Randy Johnson – $13.6MM
  3. Albert Belle – $13MM
  4. Bernie Williams – $12.357MM
  5. Larry Walker – $12.143MM
  6. Mike Piazza – $12.071MM
  7. David Cone – $12MM
  8. Pedro Martinez – $11.5MM
  9. Mo Vaughn – $11.167MM
  10. Sammy Sosa – $11MM

Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, Raul Mondesi, and Jeter make up the rest of the eight-figure club.

1990

  1. Robin Yount – $3.2MM
  2. Kirby Puckett – $2.817MM
  3. Roger Clemens & Paul Molitor – $2.6MM
  4. Eddie Murray – $2.514MM
  5. Don Mattingly – $2.5MM
  6. Will Clark & Rickey Henderson – $2.25MM
  7. Tom Browning, Mark Davis & Teddy Higuera – $2.125MM
  8. Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Kent Hrbek & Jack Morris – $2.1MM
  9. Pedro Guerrero & Kevin Mitchell – $2.083MM
  10. Mark Gubicza – $2.066MM

Tim Raines wasn't far off the list at $2.055MM, and at least six other players earned no less than $2MM that season. 

The top ten salaries in the game have nearly doubled over the last ten years, and they've increased ten-fold over the last 20 years. Albert Pujols could very well land the first contract with a $30MM average annual value next winter; how long will it be before we see a $40MM a year player, maybe ten years? Based on the recent inflation, it could be sooner.


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98 Comments on "Highest Paid Players Of The Last Three Decades"


4 years 4 months ago

Gah! Even when you adjust for inflation, these numbers are staggering. Yount would be making less than $6 million today.

Donskoy
4 years 4 months ago

All the people reading this are obviously baseball fans and we all love and support most of our sport’s players, but these salaries are just getting ridiculous.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

what do you think happens to the money if it doesn’t go to the players? it doesn’t go back to the fans, rest assured

Donskoy
4 years 4 months ago

I mean more ridiculous in a good and bad way. Good for the players (and the league/owners because they’re making this much money). I’d compare it to playing a videogame, thinking you did good but then seeing the high score.

Ferrariman
4 years 4 months ago

then you realize you did even better!

top_prospect_aw
4 years 4 months ago

I disagree. If money doesn’t go to the players, ticket prices will remain more reasonably priced for the fans.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

think about that for another minute

top_prospect_aw
4 years 4 months ago

Not sure what that means. I’m not saying owners will drastically reduce ticket prices, but I do believe they won’t increase as quickly. When Kevin Brown was given his infamous contract with the Dodgers, ticket prices were immediately raised 50 cents a piece to support it. Think about this: the only revenue element teams can immediately control is ticket prices. TV contracts are set for years and other revenues come from winning and hand me downs. If oversized contracts aren’t given to players, teams won’t be reactionary to increase ticket prices for the fans.

James Ringold
4 years 3 months ago

You are wrong. Period. Ticket prices are set at the ideal point for maximizing revenue. That is all. That’s like saying if Wal-Mart was able to pay it’s staff less they’d price products lower. No. A team is a business, they price their products such that they generate the ideal point of revenue (so that if they raised prices by 1 cent they’d lose more customers than they’d make up with that extra cent of revenue). If they weren’t paying it out to player’s it’d just go into their pocket.

East Coast Bias
4 years 4 months ago

ooh, I love it when you talk dirty!

FrankTheFunkasaurusRex
4 years 4 months ago

to be completely fair, a big portion of players’ salary would go to agents/agencies and taxes. Do players even get 80% of the reported salaries? serious question.

4 years 4 months ago

Not a chance. They get taxed at like, 45% in that bracket.

vtadave
4 years 4 months ago

Highest federal tax bracket is 35%, but yeah, if they live somewhere like NY or CA, a lot of that income is taxed at the rate you state.

wickedkevin
4 years 4 months ago

So 35% tax, 5% to agents, then state income taxes come into play. What else?

pft2
4 years 4 months ago

I believe players set up charitable foundations to reduce the amount of tax they have to pay, and while they only have to pay a relatively small percentage of the assets each year to charity, the investment income is untaxed, and the assets are protected from the death tax. Something like that, not an expert here, but the point is I doubt players pay what you think they do in taxes.

4 years 4 months ago

Like most rich people they find ways around taxes.

Dustroia15
4 years 4 months ago

Obviously you don’t know how taxes work. Giving money to charity does not leave the rich with more money in their pockets, more money goes to the charity, less to the government.

You could do the same thing, you don’t have to be rich.

FrankTheFunkasaurusRex
4 years 4 months ago

its all because of the Washington Nationals

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 4 months ago

Honorable mention goes to Vernon Wells, who will make $23mil in 2011.

Thanks again Reagins, sincerely, all Jays fans.

vonhayesdays
4 years 4 months ago

serious jedi mind trick their, passed on Crawford for nearly same money they now owe Vernon

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

HE’S NOT ON THE LIST IT DOESN’T MATTER EVERYBODY SHUTUP

– supertony

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

we didn’t even actually acquire wells

– arte moreno

0bsessions
4 years 4 months ago

THE AAV OF HIS CONTRACT IS CLOSER TO EIGHTEEN MILLION I DON’T CARE IF THE ANGELS DIDN’T GET THE CHEAP YEARS THAT IS THE AAV!!!

4 years 4 months ago

But then they gave a ludicrous contract to Jose Bautista after ONE GOOD YEAR! Part of the reason that contracts are out of control is that teams give contracts like these to players that don’t deserve it. The players that do “deserve” it (if it’s possible to deserve 30 million a year) say “I’m twice the player that guy is” and they ask for the moon. It’s all out of control.

4 years 4 months ago

I hope the Yankees go 10 under .500.

MB923
4 years 4 months ago

Don’t worry, it will happen again 1 year, but probably not this year lol

bonestock94
4 years 4 months ago

Get more realistic hopes, dudeman

YanksFanSince78
4 years 4 months ago

Why? The blame should obviously go to those “wild and crazy” spending mid western teams of the 90’s.

See Morris, Higuera, Yount, Hrbek, Browning, Puckett, Molitor, Gubicza and Davis. They put all this wildness into motion. :)

wickedkevin
4 years 4 months ago

The problem with stats like this is that they only show the one side. It’s all supply and demand. Baseball is making more money than it did in 1990 and attendance is much higher than it was in 1990. More money goes into the game, tv contracts go up, players get paid more. Millions of people tuned into the Yankees for Arod and millions tune in for Albert, so they get paid for what they bring in.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

Highest-Lowest Franchise Revenues 1990:

1. Yankees – $98MM
2. Mets – $81.1MM
3. Dodgers – $64.4MM
30. Mariners – $34.0MM

Highest-Lowest Franchise Revenues 2000:

1. Yankees – $192.4MM
2. Mets – $162.0MM
3. Braves – $145.5MM
30. Expos – $53.9MM

Highest-Lowest Franchise Revenues 2010:

1. Yankees – $441MM
2. Red Sox – $266MM
3. Mets – $268MM
30. Expos – $145MM

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

that’s about a 400% increase in revenues across the board from 1990-2010. top player salaries have increased about 1000%

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

league minimum was $100k in 1990. it’s just over $400k now, so that’s perfectly in-step with the increase in revenues

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

average salary in 1990 was $578,930. in 2009 it was $2,996,106. that’s more like a 500% increase

k i’m done now

FrankTheFunkasaurusRex
4 years 4 months ago

the pirates make a quarter of the yankees’ revenue. is their payroll more or less than a quarter of the yankee’s payroll?

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

better question: how did the wilpons f up $268MM

previous three years of mets revenue: $261MM, $235MM, $217MM

Lunchbox45
4 years 4 months ago

maybe they funded charlie sheen?

wickedkevin
4 years 4 months ago

Nah, he’s WINNING.

MaineSox
4 years 4 months ago

Less. It’s about 18% of the Yankees payroll.

wickedkevin
4 years 4 months ago

I love you for posting this. I feel 100% that this should be posted along with the original data.

East Coast Bias
4 years 4 months ago

$268m > $266m, fool!

A few things jump out.

1. NY Markets have almost doubled their revenue twice in two decades.
2. Boston leapt to the top 3 during this past decade because of their championships, or vice versa? Chicken or egg…
3. The highest revenue team in 1990 is still a lot lower than the current lowest revenue team.
4. Teams like the Marlins must be pocketing a ridiculous amount of $ given their payroll.
5. Other stuff.

Good post.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

“$268m > $266m, fool! ”

not in mets dollars =D

“2. Boston leapt to the top 3 during this past decade because of their championships, or vice versa? Chicken or egg…”

they didn’t win one until 2004 and in 2003 their revenue was $190MM. in 2005 it was $201MM, so

“Teams like the Marlins must be pocketing a ridiculous amount of $ given their payroll.”

they brought in $144MM lasy year and payroll was $47MM. there are other expenses of course, but that’s a about $100MM left over. the yankees by comparison (just for example) had about $225MM left over

East Coast Bias
4 years 4 months ago

Keep in mind that this is not counting for the luxury tax and revenue sharing, which teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are losing money on, and teams like the Marlins are gaining money…which, again, given their 47m payroll, is going directly into the owner’s pocket as profit.

The disparity between percentage of money being funneled back into the team’s system is astounding!

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

yea, i don’t have any idea about those numbers. the latest figure i could find was from 2005 when the marlins received $31MM from revenue sharing. no doubt they’re living well in florida

elmedius
4 years 4 months ago

can someone explain to me how the sox are #2 on the 2010 list when it looks like the mets made $2 million more than they did?

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

the list from which these figures were taken was ordered by overall franchise value. the mets reported slightly more than the red sox in revenue, but the red sox franchise was valued at $870MM – the mets at $858MM

the mets value has changed dramatically since then, i imagine. and for funsies: the yankees value at the time was estimated at 1.6B

elmedius
4 years 4 months ago

thanks, i figured it was something like that. ive seen them listed like that before so i knew it wasnt a typo, i just couldnt remember what it was.

4 years 4 months ago

Where ya getting these numbers? I’ve found some different ones.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

forbes via bizofbaseball

fitz
4 years 4 months ago

Those top 4 guys all have something in common I just can’t put my finger on it.

MB923
4 years 4 months ago

All have won a World Series? :p

fitz
4 years 4 months ago

Yeah that was it, thanks!

FrankTheFunkasaurusRex
4 years 4 months ago

none of them have souls?

CaseyBlakeDeWitt
4 years 4 months ago

I didn’t know the Yankees had any gingers

pft2
4 years 4 months ago

Would like to see how these numbers compare with MLB revenues for the year and the mean salary. My sense is that top salaries are keeping pace with MLB revenue growth, but that there may be a growing income inequality as the mean may not be keeping up.

In any event, the Red Sox may be adding 2 players to the list next year in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Cotts has Soriano and lackey at 18 million BTW. Lackeys drops to 15.75 million in 2011 so is off the list.

ugotrpk3113
4 years 4 months ago

John… Lackey?

*pukes*

Dustroia15
4 years 4 months ago

Also puking

TheHitman23
4 years 4 months ago

Robin Yount at 3.2 MM. Chump change these days. Some of the crappiest players get paid more than this salary. It’s really amazing how the game has evolved.

bonestock94
4 years 4 months ago

I really thought there were more players in the 20’s

4 years 4 months ago

I find it appalling that in a metter of just 20 years MLB salaries have have increased 10 fold. Anyone else getting that kind of love at their job?

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

anyone pay your boss to watch you do your job?

Lunchbox45
4 years 4 months ago

what does his comment have to do with strippers?

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

it got a rise out of me

woadude
4 years 4 months ago

Called Union my good man, a wonderful way to keep up with the rising cost of everything, Collective Bargaining Agreement is a beautiful thing that as of now people in Wisconsin are going to fight to the death for, and trust me, it is a fight worth winning.

optionn
4 years 4 months ago

Unions enrich their members wonderfully well, but the rest of society has to pay for it. I don’t begrudge the baseball union 1 bit because the players make the game and without the players nobody makes anything. If the owners agree to the contract then the player deserves it.

The government unions is a different story- these jobs are just too damn well off when its the public that pays for them. The government doesn’t have any negotiating leverage with a union. Its too easy to just give in to whatever the government union wants. So in short, 32 million for 12 months of Arod is cool. But 100k to a government slug who cries about how bad he/she has it is not cool.

woadude
4 years 4 months ago

That sounds so far off, first of all, we aren’t slugs, its the people who don’t belong to a CBA and can’t afford gas prices that cries and to ME that is not cool.

Blue387
4 years 4 months ago

Back in 1960, the late Duke Snider earned $40,000 for one year with the Dodgers. Adjusted for inflation, it would be $286,538.26 in 2009.

MB923
4 years 4 months ago

Sad how there are some hitters now who make that per At Bat

Lunchbox45
4 years 4 months ago

Arod would get paid about 55,000 per ab if he gets 600 abs.

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 4 months ago

It’s amazing that you don’t hear about players from the 70’s or even 80’s going bankrupt more often.

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

ryne madoff

YanksFanSince78
4 years 4 months ago

I think ppl who compare what player A made in the 70’svs what player B makes today have the whole concept confused. If you made $70,000 back in 1970 you can purchase a brand new 4 bedroom suburban house and a brand new caddy, outright w/no financing, each year and still have plenty left over.

The one’s that DO deserve some sypathy are the journeymen types or those who had their career cut short at an early age and didn’t have a pension plan or proper financial planners to make the most of what they did earn.

If you were an Arod of the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s you probably retired comfortable and your kids were well taken care of unless you were reckless w/ your money.

The divide between player and owner has decreased but the gulf between “joe shmoo” and a mlb star is still very wide regardless of what era you look at.

Encarnacion's Parrot
4 years 4 months ago

Using the Duke Snider example, $286,538.26 doesn’t get you very far today compared to what MLB players are making now. Salaries have inflated at a much higher rate than the economy.

Looking it up, most pro athletes, even today, went/go bankrupt from poor investments – some are actually quite hilarious. Others are screwed by Scott Boras like Johnny Damon or Carlos Pena, with the Stanford Securities scheme.

woadude
4 years 4 months ago

286,000 a year? that’s a good problem to have when you research what the average joe is making, you will see that he could of bought anything he ever wanted with that kind of scratch.

0bsessions
4 years 4 months ago

I saw an article a few months ago going on and on about how hard it is to live on a $250,000 income.

I spent the next six hours vomitting. I wish I had those kind of troubles.

woadude
4 years 4 months ago

exactly, I mean where can I sign up to show you that 250,000 a year is a lot of money, when the average mortgage is around 1500 a month, you times that by 12, and if you have a nice new car its about 500 a month, you times that by 12, food unless your a pig is at about 100 a week, you times that by 52, and that just right there is 29,200 a year, pretty average income right? so where the hell do you spend the other damn near 200,000? (enter alcohol joke here)

YanksFanSince78
4 years 4 months ago

Bread was a nickle back then. What’s your point? I guarantee you at $300,000 the DUke wasn’t working any off-season jobs.

$2547887
4 years 4 months ago

The Yankees had the 4 highest paid players in baseball last season. If they had signed Cliff Lee they would have the 5 highest paid this coming season. Eventually they will have 9 of the top ten highest paid players in baseball, unless they sign Albert Pujols in which case they will eventually have the top ten highest paid players in baseball. How do they not win the World Series every season with such a distinct advantage? It’s pathetic.

Anthony Cunningham
4 years 4 months ago

It would be interesting to do the same kind of analysis with the price of seats in places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. You couldn’t even rely on the face value since in the case of a place like Fenway, if you haven’t season tickets, you are very unlikely to be able to buy a decent seat from the Sox. StubHub prices are way higher. Of course, reseller prices have no effect on MLB revenues, but my point is that everything about baseball has gotten way more expensive. As a kid in the early 70s, I could get grandstand tickets in Yankee Stadium for $1.50 or so. Dem were dah days.

Dustroia15
4 years 4 months ago

Sox tickets with a $50 face value sold for as little as $.01 on StubHub last year. Sounds crazy but there were some April games literally given away as game time approached. Most of the season you could easily find tickets at face value if you just waited until 24 hours until game time.

With AGonz and Crawford I expect this to change dramatically in 2011.

0bsessions
4 years 4 months ago

100% correct. Unfortunately, it’s a massive pain for people outside of the metro area, or worse, outside of the state. If you can’t get tickets on day of release (Basically virtual waiting room), the closer it gets to the game, the easier it gets to get seats.

I’ve never paid over face value for tickets, but I live about two miles from Fenway, so I have the luxury of snagging day of game tickets on craigslist from some guy whose friend can’t make it (Likewise, I’ve sold tickets the same way) looking to just not waste too much money. It’s not so convenient for a guy bringing his family down from Vermont to see a game, as the kids don’t generally take kindly to “well, I know you were pumped to see Big Papi, but the guy was charging 200% of face value!”

Luv Free Curly Fries
4 years 4 months ago

If the numbers continue at this pace for another 30 years I’ll eat my hat. I can’t see a $240M/year player.

Lunchbox45
4 years 4 months ago

It won’t continue at this pace, it can’t .

there’s been a regression of late, barry zito, vernon wells, soriano etc have made GM’s think twice about 100+ million dollar contracts..

Emphasis has been put back in drafting and development.. and I like it

notsureifsrs
4 years 4 months ago

i don’t see the problem

– b. bernanke

Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I’ll be pumped if another 30 years things are going that well . . . It can’t possibly continue on this pace for even another 10 years in my opinion . . . This is a baseball site, so I don’t want to dive too deeply into any non-related subjects . . .

optionn
4 years 4 months ago

The owners pass on the costs of these players to the fans eventually. The TV deals are monstrosity deals and the players take a huge piece of that pie. The owners make a pittance compared to the highly paid players.

rmhuff
4 years 4 months ago

Ummmm, Barry Bonds made $22M in 2005. Why isn’t he on the list?
—————
Nevermind, looking at the actual 2010 season and not the 2001-2010 decade. My bad.

4 years 4 months ago

Because he is a lying cheating skell.