Sometimes, I find the inspiration to write in unusual places. On Friday, I ventured onto the website of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. At the bottom of the Hours and Admission page for the Cooperstown institution, there is an area called “This Day in Baseball History”.
Here is what it said:
“On March 4, 1948, Stan Musial ends his holdout with the St. Louis Cardinals and signs a one-year contract for $31,000. In 1947, Musial batted “only” .312 with 19 home runs and 95 RBIs, but will rebound to lead the National League with a .376 batting average and 131 RBIs in 1948.”
That reminded me of a subject that I had been meaning to explore - Musial’s salary past with an eye toward the current situation of today’s leader of the Cardinals, Albert Pujols. After all, in recent months, so much has been written and said about “The Man” as well as Pujols.
Musial’s career-long service as a Cardinal has been cited by many as a potential motivation for the younger Pujols to follow in his footsteps. Some of the more militant, angry that Pujols seems destined to become a free agent, suggest Albert might be less of a Cardinal as a result of the contract impasse.
At various points in his career, Musial also had salary difficulties with his only home as a major leaguer, as the initially-quoted reflection from 63 years ago reminds us.
It was, of course, a very different era. Players had no leverage, no hope for free agency, no pension, and of course, no huge salaries.
As a result, over his entire 22 year career, “Stan the Man” made approximately $1.26 million in salary, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Under his current below-market deal, Pujols is paid that much every two weeks.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not among those upset that Pujols did not grant the Cardinals a hometown discount before testing his value on the open market. What he decides as a result this fall will answer all the questions.
Musial first had contract problems heading into 1943, his second full season. According to Musial in his 1964 biography, Stan Musial: “The Man’s” Own Story, he held out that spring. Tight-fisted owner Sam Breadon had offered Musial a $1,000 raise from his $4,500 salary the year prior.
There were several factors seemingly in Musial’s favor. He had just finished third in the 1942 batting race and his club was coming off their first World Series win since 1934. Further, Musial was one of the few Cardinals stars that had not yet been called to serve in World War II.
Musial wanted $10,000, which did seem like a lot of money in that day. Yet it wasn’t out of line at all compared to what other baseball stars were making. In 1942, Boston’s Ted Williams had earned $35,000 and the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio brought home $43,750, though both had longer career track records than Stan.
In his tug of war with Musial, Breadon had the leverage. The owner pointed out the only alternative remaining for his star was to sit out the season. Musial wanted to play ball and ultimately had to settle for $6,250.
Five years later, in 1948, Musial was 27 years old and wanted a raise from his $31,000 salary the year prior. Note that despite Stan winning a second MVP and second World Championship in 1946, his pay had not yet caught up with what the New York and Boston stars had earned back in 1942.
Once again, Stan did not get what he wanted, at least initially. He signed his 1948 contract after the short holdout period noted above upon receiving a promise from new owners Robert Hannegan and Fred Saigh that he would be granted a raise with good play that season.
Musial lived up to his end of the deal. Through the end of May, he had not gone hitless in consecutive games and was batting .403 at the All-Star break. Hannegan called Stan into his office and increased his pay to $36,000. Musial finished with a career-best 200 OPS+ and won his third and final NL MVP award.
Of course, Pujols’ current situation is very different. Free agency was not an option for Musial in his day, but that doesn’t mean Stan the Man wasn’t willing to stand up for what he felt was a fair salary.
Apparently, so will Albert.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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