- The highest-paid player in Major League Baseball in 2019 makes $42 million more than the highest-paid player in 1960.
- Alex Rodriguez leads the pack with 11 years as the highest-paid player in baseball since 1960.
- Former American League outfielder Albert Belle was the first player to receive $10 million per year in the MLB.
- Max Scherzer is the highest-paid player of 2019 with $42.1 million.
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The highest-paid player in Major League Baseball in 2019 makes $42 million more than the highest-paid player in 1960.
As the MLB has grown since its founding in 1903, so have the contracts, reaching sky high sums this past offseason with the signings of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and the re-signing of Mike Trout by the Los Angeles Angels.
1960-65 Willie Mays – $80,000-$105,000
Willie Mays is considered to be one the greatest players of all time, and possibly the best five-tool player to ever play the game. Nicknamed “The Say Hey Kid”, Mays won two NL MVP awards and hit 660 home runs in his 22-year career.
He played most of his years with the New York/San Francisco Giants and ended his career with the New York Mets.
*The Society of American Baseball Research lists that Mickey Mantle tied Mays in 1962 with $90,000 as the highest-paid player.
1966 Sandy Koufax – $130,000
Sandy Koufax spent 12 seasons in the MLB with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.
One of the greatest pitchers in baseball, Koufax was a six-time All-Star and three-time unanimous Cy Young Award winner. He also won the NL Triple Crown three consecutive seasons by leading the NL in wins, strikeouts, and ERA.
Koufax’s career was cut short due to arthritis in his elbow when he was 30 years old. He was the youngest player ever to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame at 36 in 1972.
1967-70 Willie Mays – $125,000-$135,000
Willie Mays hit over 50 home runs in 1955 and 1965, had eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons, and won 12 Gold Glove Awards in his career.
He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
1971-72 Carl Yastrzemski – $167,000
Carl Yastrzemski played for 23 seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He helped lead the team to the 1967 AL pennant for the first time in over two decades, earning him the AL MVP Award.
The 18-time All-Star also won the Triple Crown that year – a feat that was not accomplished again until Miguel Cabrera in 2012.
Yastrzemski is the all-time leader in career RBIs, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases, and games played for the Red Sox. He also is part of the 3,000 hit club and was the first AL player in the club to amass over 400 home runs.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
1973-74 Dick Allen – $200,000-$250,000
Dick Allen was one of the top offensive players of the 1960s and early 70s. Allen won the 1972 NL Rookie of the Year Award and AL MVP Award.
He was an All-Star seven times in his 15-year career. Allen’s era was considered to have low offensive production, but his .534 career slugging percentage ranks among the top.
Allen also had a brief music career during his time with the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1960s. He sang with a doo-wop group called the Ebonistics.
1975-76 Hank Aaron – $240,000
Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, most with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves in the NL.
He hit 755 career home runs, which was the MLB record for 33 years until Barry Bonds broke it. Aaron still holds the records for RBIs (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856).
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali called Aaron, “The only man I idolize more than myself.”
Aaron is currently the senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves.
1977-78 Mike Schmidt – $560,000
Mike Schmidt started and ended his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was a 12-time All-Star and three-time NL MVP during his 17-year career, which spanned 1972-1989.
Schmidt accumulated 548 home runs and 1,595 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and is considered to be one of the best third basemen of all time.
1979 Rod Carew – $800,000
Rod Carew spent his career with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels. He was never a power hitter but formed himself into a consistent contact hitter. He had 3,053 hits – only 92 were home runs.
Carew was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
1980 Nolan Ryan – $1 million
Nolan Ryan had a record 27-year career, during which he pitched for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers.
He hit 100 mph consistently on the mound and maintained his velocity even as he entered the later years of his career. He also recorded 5,714 career strikeouts, which stands as the MLB record by 839 strikeouts over Randy Johnson in second place.
Ryan had seven no-hitters. He is one of only three players whose number was retired by at least three teams – the Angels, Astros, and Rangers. He never won a Cy Young Award or pitched a perfect game.
In 1999, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
1981 Dave Winfield – $1.4 million
Dave Winfield was drafted as a pitcher by the San Diego Padres but quickly converted into a right-fielder because of his powerful hitting.
Before his baseball career, Winfield was one of six players to be drafted by three different sports. He was selected No. 4 overall by the Padres, drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Stars, as well as the Minnesota Vikings despite never playing college football.
During Winfield’s time with the New York Yankees, he had a feud with team owner George Steinbrenner since the day of his signing. Steinbrenner told the New York Times in 1985, “Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May.”
Winfield finally rid himself of the “Mr. May” title in the 1992 World Series when he had the game-winning hit for the Toronto Blue Jays over the Atlanta Braves.
1982-85 Mike Schmidt – $1.5-$2.1 million
Mike Schmidt was known for having an unusual batting stance. He turned his back toward the pitcher and shifted as he waited for the pitch. He also stood far back in the batter’s box, making it hard for pitchers to jam him inside.
1986 George Foster – $2.8 million
George Foster was in the league from 1969 to 1986. He was a key piece of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976. He won an MVP Award in 1977 and Silver Slugger Award in 1981.
1987 Mike Schmidt – $2.13 million
Since retiring from the game in 1989, Mike Schmidt has taken part in various activities post-baseball, including coaching, philanthropy work, and broadcasting.
His philanthropy work mainly involves raising money for cystic fibrosis foundations. He began hosting the Mike Schmidt Winner’s Circle Invitational at Old Bahama Bay in West End, Grand Bahama Island in 2001, which has raised over $1.5 million for cystic fibrosis.
Schmidt also released a wine called Mike Schmidt 548 Zinfandel in 2008 for his 548 career home runs, with proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
*The Society for American Baseball Research lists Jim Rice as the highest-paid player with $2-$2.4 million during 1986-87.
1988 Ozzie Smith – $2.34 million
Ozzie Smith earned the nickname “The Wizard” for his defense. He recorded 8,375 career and 1,590 double plays.
Smith won the NL Golden Glove Award at shortstop for 13 consecutive seasons. He was a 15-time All-Star and also won the NL Silver Slugger Award in 1987. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.
1989 Orel Hershiser – $2.8 million
- Wikimedia Commons
Orel Hershiser earned only a dollar more than Frank Viola to be the highest-paid player in 1989.
Hershiser’s most successful season was in 1988. He set the major league record for consecutive scoreless innings with 59. He was named the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP in 1988 when the Los Angeles Dodgers won the championship. He was also awarded the NL Cy Young Award and an NL Gold Glove Award.
1990 Robin Yount – $3.2 million
Robin Yount played the entirety of his 20-year career as a shortstop and center fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. He entered the major leagues at 18 years old and was an early proponent of weight training, which helped build him into a power hitter.
Yount was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 and is considered one of the most versatile players in history.
1991 Darryl Strawberry – $3.8 million
Darryl Strawberry was an eight-time All-Star from 1984-1991 and four-time World Series champion – once with the New York Mets and three times with the New York Yankees.
Strawberry is one of five MLB players to hit two pinch-hit grand slams in the same season. He did so in 1998 with the Yankees.
1992-94 Bobby Bonilla – $6.2-$6.3 million
- Getty Images
Bobby Bonilla was a six-time All-Star and won three Silver Slugger Awards in his 16 years in baseball.
He has become even more famously known because of “Bobby Bonilla Day,” which comes every July 1. The day marks a deal Bonilla made with the Mets when the team released him before the 2000 season while still owing him $5.9 million. Since 2011, Bonilla has received payments to fulfill the money owed and will continue to be paid every July 1 until 2035 for a season he didn’t play.
1995-96 Cecil Fielder – $9.2-$9.3 million
- Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Cecil Fielder won the 1996 World Series with the New York Yankees. He was a key player in the team’s victory and won the Babe Ruth Award for most outstanding performance in the postseason.
He is the father of Prince Fielder. The two are the first father and son to both have 50 home runs in an MLB season.
1997 Albert Belle – $10 million
Albert Belle became the only player to ever hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season in 1995.
He batted .295 in his career and is one of six players to have nine consecutive 100-RBI seasons.
1998 Gary Sheffield – $14.9 million
- Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Gary Sheffield is the nephew of former MLB pitcher Dwight Gooden.
Sheffield was known for his swing, which had speed and control. He had 80 strikeouts only twice in 22 seasons despite 509 career home runs. He was the first and only player to reach that 500 home run milestone as a New York Met.
1999 Albert Belle – $11.95 million
Albert Belle was the first player to receive $10 million per year in the MLB.
His five-year, $55 million contract with the Chicago White Sox allowed him to demand to remain one of the three highest players in baseball. He invoked the clause in 1998 and was released, becoming an immediate free agent.
He then signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles to again become the highest-paid player, but his career was cut short at age 34 due to degenerative hip osteoarthritis. He remained on the Orioles 40-man roster for the next three years due to another condition of his insurance policy and the team was reimbursed for much of what remained on his contract.
2000 Kevin Brown – $15.7 million
Kevin Brown led the AL in wins once and the NL in ERA twice during his 19-year career. He relied on movement and velocity in his starts.
During the 1997 National League Championship Series as a member of the Florida Marlins, Brown pitched a complete Game 6 after five days fighting the flu to help the team reach the World Series. The team went on to win the championship against the Cleveland Indians.
2001-03 Alex Rodriguez – $22 million
- Getty Images
Alex Rodriguez had one of the most decorated, and controversial, careers in the MLB.
He is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time with a .295 career batting average, 696 home runs, 2,000 RBIs, 3,115 hits, and 329 stolen bases.
2004 Manny Ramirez – $22.5 million
- Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez played in 12 All-Star Games, including eleven that were consecutive. He had 29 postseason home runs, which is the most by a player in MLB history.
Ramirez, while known for his productive pace, was also known for his quirky and fun behavior. These moments became known as “Manny Moments” or “Manny Being Manny.”
Ramirez also tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, which ultimately forced him to retire. He had attempted a comeback, but never made it back to the MLB level, playing for various minor league teams.
2005-06 Alex Rodriguez – $21.7-$26 million
Rodriguez was a 14-time All-Star. He won the award for AL MVP three times, two Golden Glove Awards, and ten Silver Slugger Awards.
He also holds the record for most career grand slams with 25.
2007 Jason Giambi – $23.4 million
Jason Giambi is another player who utilized PEDs during baseball’s steroid era.
Giambi began his career with the Oakland Athletics and was named AL MVP in 2000. He eventually signed with the Yankees in 2001, much to the anger of A’s fans. One fan hit him with a beer can in 2005 on his way back to the dugout.
Giambi was a five-time All-Star, led the AL in walks for four seasons, and won two Silver Slugger Awards.
2008-13 Alex Rodriguez – $28-$33 million
- Christopher Pasatieri/Getty
Rodriguez faced controversy in his career, including criticism over steroid use. He was suspended for 211 games in August 2013 due to his connection with the Biogenesis scandal. He appealed the suspension, and it was reduced to 162 games.
Rodriguez has now built his career in broadcast as a part of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
2014 Zack Greinke – $26 million
- Norm Hall/Getty
Zack Greinke made his MLB debut in 2004. He missed most of the 2006 season as he dealt with depression and anxiety.
In 2007, he returned as a relief pitcher and then a starting pitcher in 2008, becoming one of the top pitchers in the game. He won the American League CY Young Award after leading the league in ERA.
Greinke received his fifth consecutive Golden Glove Award after the 2018 season and is currently on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
2015-17 Clayton Kershaw – $32.6-$35.6 million
Lefty Clayton Kershaw made his major league debut in 2008 after only one full season in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. He’s been with the team since.
Kershaw ranks lowest among starters with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched in ERA and walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). He has three Cy Young Awards and has been described as the best pitcher in baseball.
Kershaw is also an active volunteer off the field, receiving the Roberto Clemente Award ad the Branch Rickey Award. He and his wife, Ellen, launched “Kershaw’s Challenge” and raised money to build an orphanage in Zambia with the book “Arise.”
2018 Mike Trout – $34 million
- Sean M. Haffey/Getty
Mike Trout made his debut in 2011 but cemented himself in the Los Angeles Angels lineup in 2012 – when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award unanimously. The eight-time All-Star is largely considered to be one of the best players currently in the MLB.
Praised for his work ethic and personality on and off the field, Trout signed a 12-year, $426 million contract with the Angels, which was the richest contract in North American sports’ history.
Trout received the AL MVP Award in 2014 and 2016 and is a six-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
2019 Max Scherzer – $42.1 million
Max Scherzer also made his MLB debut in 2008. Like Kershaw, Scherzer has had a successful career thus far.
Scherzer retired 13 hitters in relief during his MLB debut, which set the record for most consecutive hitters retired in a relief appearance. He won his first Cy Young Award in 2013 after beginning the season 19-1. He also pitched two no-hitters in 2015, becoming only the sixth player to do so.
In 2019, Scherzer recorded his 2,500th strikeout. He started a game on June 19 with a broken nose, striking out 10 in a 2-0 Washington Nationals victory.