1919 American League salaries

This article is an excerpt from “Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox.”

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White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte

In Eight Men Out, author Eliot Asinof wrote about the 1919 Chicago White Sox: “Many players of less status got almost twice as much on other teams. … (Charles Comiskey’s) ballplayers were the best and were paid as poorly as the worst.” This passage sums up the entire foundation of Asinof’s thesis: Low salaries and poor treatment by management are now widely considered to be the driving forces behind the White Sox players’ decision to fix the 1919 World Series. But the actual salary numbers tell a very different story. The White Sox were not among the worst-paid teams in baseball; in fact, they were one of the highest paid.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, holds a collection of thousands of organizational contract cards that were provided to the Hall by Major League Baseball in 2002. As researcher Bob Hoie notes, these cards, which go back to the 1912 season, “contain salary, bonus payments, and any modifications to the standard contract covering each season (of a player’s career).” Although many other numbers have been tossed around by historians in the past, we can now say with certainty how much the Black Sox players were paid – and how much their teammates and peers were paid, too. The comparison helps shed light on whether any of the Chicago players had a legitimate reason to grumble about their salaries, at least any more than other teams around the league.

Hoie, with the help of fellow researcher Mike Haupert, analyzed the contract cards for a landmark 2012 article in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game on major-league salaries in 1919. Hoie discovered that the 1919 White Sox had one of the highest team payrolls in the major leagues; at $88,461, it was more than $10,000 higher than that of the National League champion Reds’ $76,870, which would have ranked sixth in the American League.

As has been well documented, the White Sox team payroll was extremely top-heavy and the player with the biggest bankroll was future Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins. Collins’s $15,000 salary placed him number 2 among American League players behind only Ty Cobb at $20,000. The college-educated Collins, nicknamed “Cocky” and for good reason, wasn’t well liked by some of his teammates. Perhaps this included a sense of jealousy at his high salary. Indeed, Collins’s salary was nearly double that of anyone else on the team. But that wasn’t unusual in 1919: In Detroit, Cobb was making three times as much as any other Tiger and Cleveland’s Tris Speaker ($13,125) was also making twice as much as the next-highest-paid Indian.

But even if Collins’s salary was out of line with those of the rest of the team, the other White Sox stars were paid comparatively well, according to the Hall of Fame contract cards. Four other Chicago players ranked among the top 20 highest-paid players in the American League, including World Series fixers Eddie Cicotte ($8,000, number 8 in the AL), Buck Weaver ($7,250, number 11), and Shoeless Joe Jackson ($6,000, number 15). Another future Hall of Famer, catcher Ray Schalk, was the 13th-highest-paid player in the league at $7,083.

Eddie Cicotte’s salary deserves a closer look. The White Sox ace earned $8,000 in 1919 – which included a $5,000 base salary and a $3,000 performance bonus that Hoie says was a carryover from his 1918 contract (but unrelated to the mythical bonus “promised” to Cicotte if he won 30 games; that story is discussed elsewhere in this book). That also doesn’t include an additional $2,000 signing bonus paid to Cicotte before the start of the 1918 season, for a total compensation of $15,000 in 1918 and ’19. When he signed his contract, Cicotte had only one truly outstanding season (1917) to his credit. But he was the second-highest-paid pitcher in baseball behind the Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson, who had a much stronger track record. To put this in comparison, Eliot Asinof reported in Eight Men Out that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Dutch Ruether was “getting almost double (Cicotte’s) figure.” Ruether, whose sterling 1.82 ERA in 1919 matched Cicotte’s regular-season figure, was actually making $2,340. Talk about underpaid!

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White Sox owner Charles Comiskey

The rest of the players who would later be banned in the Black Sox Scandal had little reason to squawk about salaries, either, at least compared with other players at their positions and experience level — and especially coming off a 1918 season in which the White Sox finished in sixth place. For instance, Chick Gandil’s $3,500 salary was fifth-highest among AL first baseman, and the four players ahead of him were far superior in talent: George Sisler (Browns), Stuffy McInnis (Red Sox), Wally Pipp (Yankees), and Joe Judge (Senators). Happy Felsch, an emerging star center fielder, might have felt disgruntled that Cobb and Speaker were making so much more than his $3,750, but he had only four seasons under his belt entering 1919. The only other center fielders with higher salaries, Clyde Milan (Senators) and Amos Strunk (Red Sox), had been in the league since 1907 and ’08, respectively.

Now that we have accurate salary information for all players in 1919, it’s hard to make the case that the Chicago White Sox were underpaid. There were many reasons that the eight Black Sox might have agreed to fix the World Series, but it wasn’t because they were being paid so much less than other major leaguers of equal or lesser talent.

Eliot Asinof, along with many writers before and after him, long insisted that the White Sox had the best talent and the worst payroll. But that claim just doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny. With few exceptions, owner Charles Comiskey – long portrayed as a greedy miser and a villain in the Black Sox story – paid salaries that were comparable, and in many cases even favorable, to the rest of the league. The numbers bear that out.

American League Opening Day team payrolls, 1919

  1. Boston Red Sox, $93,475
  2. New York Yankees, $91,330
  3. Chicago White Sox, $88,461
  4. Detroit Tigers, $81,433
  5. Cleveland Indians, $78,913
  6. St. Louis Browns, $63,000
  7. Washington Senators, $63,000
  8. Philadelphia A’s, $42,000

(Note: These figures are Opening Day payrolls and do not include any performance bonuses paid later in the season. According to Hoie, if you include total salary payouts plus earned bonuses at the end of the season, the White Sox ended up with the top payroll in the major leagues for 1919, $10,000 more than the Red Sox, who began dumping salaries as soon as it became apparent they weren’t going to repeat as AL champions.)

Top American League player salaries in 1919

  1. Ty Cobb, DET, $20,000
  2. Eddie Collins, CHW, $15,000
  3. Tris Speaker, CLE, $13,125
  4. Frank Baker*, NYY, $11,583
  5. Babe Ruth, BOS, $10,000
  6. Walter Johnson, WSH, $9,500
  7. Harry Hooper, BOS, $9,000
  8. Eddie Cicotte**, CHW, $8,000
  9. Carl Mays, BOS/NYY, $8,000
  10. Roger Peckinpaugh, NYY, $7,500
  11. Buck Weaver, CHW, $7,250
  12. George Sisler, SLB, $7,200
  13. Ray Schalk, CHW, $7,083
  14. Dutch Leonard, DET, $6,500
  15. Del Pratt, NYY, $6,185
  16. Joe Jackson***, CHW, $6,000
  17. Bob Shawkey, NYY, $6,000
  18. Ernie Shore, NYY, $6,000
  19. Ray Chapman, CLE, $6,000
  20. Donie Bush, DET, $5,500

 

American League player salaries in 1919, by position

First base

  1. George Sisler, SLB, $7,200
  2. Stuffy McInnis, BOS, $5,000
  3. Wally Pipp, NYY, $5,000
  4. Joe Judge, WSH, $3,675
  5. Chick Gandil, CHW, $3,500
  6. Harry Heilmann, DET, $3,500
  7. George Burns, PHA, $2,625
  8. Doc Johnston, CLE, $2,500

Second base

  1. Eddie Collins, CHW, $15,000
  2. Del Pratt, NYY, $6,185
  3. Jack Barry, BOS, $4,500
  4. Dave Shean, BOS, $4,000
  5. Joe Gedeon, SLB, $3,675
  6. Bill Wambsganss, CLE, $3,500
  7. Ralph Young, DET, $3,500
  8. Hal Janvrin, WSH, $2,625
  9. Whitey Witt, PHA, $2,362

Shortstop

  1. Roger Peckinpaugh, NYY, $7,500
  2. Ray Chapman, CLE, $6,000
  3. Donie Bush, DET, $5,500
  4. Everett Scott, BOS, $5,000
  5. Howie Shanks, WSH, $3,400
  6. Swede Risberg, CHW, $3,250
  7. Wally Gerber, SLB, $2,365
  8. Joe Dugan, PHA, $2,100

Third base

  1. Frank Baker, NYY, $11,583
  2. Buck Weaver, CHW, $7,250
  3. Larry Gardner, CLE, $5,000
  4. Ossie Vitt, BOS, $4,500
  5. Jimmy Austin, SLB, $3,675
  6. Eddie Foster, WSH, $3,675
  7. Fred McMullin, CHW, $2,750
  8. Bob Jones, DET, $2,500
  9. Fred Thomas, PHA, $2,100

Left field

  1. Babe Ruth, BOS, $10,000
  2. Joe Jackson, CHW, $6,000
  3. Duffy Lewis, NYY, $5,500
  4. Bobby Veach, DET, $5,000
  5. Jack Graney, CLE, $4,000
  6. Mike Menosky, WSH, $2,650
  7. Jack Tobin, SLB, $2,500
  8. Merlin Kopp, PHA, $2,400

Center field

  1. Ty Cobb, DET, $20,000
  2. Tris Speaker, CLE, $13,125
  3. Clyde Milan, WSH, $5,000
  4. Amos Strunk, BOS $4,800
  5. Happy Felsch, CHW, $3,750
  6. Tillie Walker, PHA, $3,750
  7. Ping Bodie, NYY, $3,600
  8. Baby Doll Jacobson, SLB, $1,969

Right field

  1. Harry Hooper, BOS, $9,000
  2. Joe Wood, CLE, $4,400
  3. Braggo Roth, PHA/BOS, $4,200
  4. Chick Shorten, DET, $3,200
  5. Sam Rice, WSH, $3,150
  6. Nemo Leibold, CHW, $2,650
  7. Shano Collins, CHW, $2,625
  8. Elmer Smith, CLE, $2,625
  9. Ira Flagstead, DET, $2,500
  10. Sammy Vick, NYY, $2,000
  11. Earl Smith, SLB, $1,594

Catcher

  1. Ray Schalk, CHW, $7,083
  2. Steve O’Neill, CLE, $5,000
  3. Oscar Stanage, DET, $4,500
  4. Wally Schang, BOS, $4,500
  5. Hank Severeid, SLB, $3,750
  6. Sam Agnew, WSH, $3,675
  7. Eddie Ainsmith, DET, $3,500
  8. Truck Hannah, NYY, $3,000
  9. Val Picinich, WSH, $2,750
  10. Muddy Ruel, NYY, $2,700
  11. Patsy Gharrity, WSH, $2,100
  12. Cy Perkins, PHA, $1,890

Pitcher

  1. Walter Johnson, WSH, $9,500
  2. Eddie Cicotte, CHW, $8,000
  3. Carl Mays, BOS/NYY, $8,000
  4. Dutch Leonard, DET, $6,500
  5. Bob Shawkey, NYY, $6,000
  6. Ernie Shore, NYY, $6,000
  7. Bullet Joe Bush, BOS, $5,700
  8. Sam Jones, NYY, $5,000
  9. Jim Shaw, WSH, $5,000
  10. Jack Quinn, NYY, $4,850
  11. Red Faber, CHW, $4,000
  12. Stan Coveleski, CLE, $4,000
  13. Ray Caldwell, BOS/CLE, $4,000
  14. Pete Schneider, NYY, $4,000
  15. Guy Morton, CLE, $4,000
  16. George Mogridge, NYY, $3,800
  17. Allan Sothoron, SLB, $3,625
  18. Carl Weilman, SLB, $3,625
  19. Hooks Dauss, DET, $3,600
  20. Johnny Enzmann, CLE, $3,600
  21. Jim Bagby, CLE, $3,600
  22. Hooks Dauss, DET, $3,600
  23. Lefty Williams****, CHW, $3,500

 

Notes

* Frank Baker’s salary includes a $1,000 performance bonus paid to him after the season.

** Eddie Cicotte’s salary includes a $3,000 performance bonus paid to him after the season, a carryover agreement from his 1918 contract. According to Bob Hoie, “this was apparently a verbal agreement, but it shows up in the White Sox ledgers presented during the criminal trial in 1921.”

*** Joe Jackson’s salary includes a $750 bonus paid to him for being “a member in good standing” of the White Sox at the end of the season, undoubtedly due in part to his abrupt departure in 1918. His $1,000-per-month contract normally earned him $6,000, but because of the shortened season in 1919, he was only due to make $5,250 instead. Comiskey made it up to him with an extra $750 after the season.

**** Lefty Williams’s salary includes a $375 performance bonus for winning 15 games and an additional $500 bonus for winning 20 games, both of which he earned in 1919.


Sources

Hoie, Bob, “1919 Baseball Salaries and the Mythically Underpaid Chicago White Sox,” Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, Volume 6, No. 1 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Spring 2012), 17-34.

Michael Haupert Player Salary Database