The minimum salary for a Major League Baseball player is $480,000.
If you’re a corporate CEO or an investment banker that’s chump change, but the rest of us could probably manage to scrape by on a half-million bucks for 7 or 8 months’ work. That’s the minimum, remember; the average MLB salary this year is $3,095,183.
It hasn’t always been this lucrative to be a ballplayer, of course. Just to give you an idea of how things have changed, the Major League minimum in 1973 was $15,000, and the average salary was a little over twice that amount. Only a relative handful of superstars made what was considered big money — over $100,000.
That meant that until fairly recently, most professional athletes have had other jobs during the off-season to supplement their incomes. Even Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who is generally considered to be the first player to make a million dollars a season (1979), had a series of other jobs during his baseball career: One year he worked as an air-conditioning installer (1968).
New York Yankee legends Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra, back-to-back American League Most Valuable Players in 1950 and 1951, were employed during the winter by a Newark department store, where they sold men’s suits.
Richie Hebner, a third baseman who spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a gravedigger at a cemetery operated by his father and brother. Another third baseman of the same vintage (1970s) was a trumpet player. Because Carmen Fanzone was with the Cubs before Wrigley Field had lights, he would occasionally take gigs at Chicago jazz clubs, performing at night after playing baseball during the day.
It wasn’t just baseball players who had other occupations. Basketball’s Dave Bing was a seven-time NBA All-Star during a career that spanned the mid-’60s to the late-’70s. He went to work as a teller in a Detroit bank, moving up the ladder there; following his retirement from basketball he established his own business. Bing is currently the mayor of Detroit.
Professional football player Bill McColl studied medicine at the University of Chicago when he wasn’t playing defensive end and tight end for the Bears in the 1950s. He eventually became an orthopedic surgeon.
Another football player who hit the books during the off-season was NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page. While with the Vikings, he attended law school at the University of Minnesota. Zoom forward a few decades: Alan Page is now an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Then there was the unusual off-season job of baseball pitcher Gene Conley: he played basketball. Or maybe he was an NBA center and forward who played baseball in the off-season. Either way, he’s still the only athlete to be a World Series champ (Milwaukee Braves, 1957) and an NBA champ (Boston Celtics, 1959-61).
For those who are now saying, “Hey, what about Bo Jackson?”, I didn’t forget him. Bo was the first All-Star in two sports (football and baseball). Of course, since he was a full-time athlete with no off-season, he never got the chance to rotate tires or stock shelves or wait tables. So — secretly Bo probably envies us, don’t you think?