Babe Ruth is one of the world’s most significant athletes nearly a century after his final game. The longtime New York Yankees slugger was the sport’s true mega-star and carried the Yankees, as well as baseball as a whole, into a more modern and prosperous era.
Babe Ruth cashed in during his playing days, especially once he became a fabled star with the Yankees. If Ruth played today, he’d blow his record salaries out of the water.
In fact, Babe Ruth may have made a case to join the elusive $300 million club.
Babe Ruth was often Major League Baseball’s highest-paid player
The Society for American Baseball Research found Babe Ruth was baseball’s highest-paid player every year from 1922 to 1934. Ruth made as much as $80,000 in 1930 and 1931 before taking pay cuts throughout the Great Depression.
The Bambino made only $35,000 in 1934, a steep decrease from the $75,000 he made two years earlier.
Babe Ruth joined Detroit’s Ty Cobb and Cleveland’s Tris Speaker as $20,000-per-year players in 1920. Cobb led the majors with a $25,000 salary in 1921 before Ruth and his $52,000 salary jumped him a year later.
Interestingly, a player from the Yankees or Detroit Tigers had baseball’s highest salary every year from 1916 to 1942. Boston’s Joe Cronin broke the streak when he earned $27,000 in 1943.
Ruth’s historical earnings don’t look too impressive today
Inflation only does so much for the record money Babe Ruth made 100 years ago. Ruth’s $20,000 salary from 1920, for example, would be worth only $258,115 in 2020, according to the Inflation Calculator. That system does not take into account the MLB minimum, which is $563,5000 this season.
Babe Ruth’s $80,000 salary from 1931 is worth $1.36 million in 2020. That puts him with the likes of San Francisco’s Donovan Solano ($1.37 million) and Seattle’s Evan White ($1.3 million) among current players, according to Spotrac. Ruth would rank 431st in baseball if he made $1.36 million today.
How much would Babe Ruth be worth if he played in 2020?
Babe Ruth’s place in 2020 salaries creates an interesting conversation. Ruth played in a far different era of baseball and revolutionized the home run.
There is a reason Ruth still ranks third in baseball history with 714 home runs. He held the record for nearly 40 years.
There have been all sorts of exercises and conversations determining how effective Babe Ruth would be if he played in the modern age. Former Colorado Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino, who now pitches for Ruth’s Yankees, discussed the possibility of Ruth playing today in a 2018 interview.
“I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth’s effectiveness in today’s game. Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers.”
For the sake of conversation, let’s imagine Babe Ruth primarily played designated hitter in 2020 and was a healthier version of Giancarlo Stanton. Baseball-Reference estimates Ruth was worth -2.3 Defensive Wins Above Replacement.
Even if Ruth didn’t hit for an extremely high average, he still would be a threat to hit at least 40 home runs a season. Today’s stadiums are far more hitter-friendly than the parks Ruth spent 20 years hitting in.
The current baseball climate features a record amount of home runs and alleged juiced baseballs. Even if he’d regularly be facing pitchers throwing in the high-90s, Ruth would surely take advantage of balls more favorable to leave the stadium.
Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract ranks third among current MLB players. Five MLB players have at least a $300 million contract; Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is right behind them at $260 million.
Would Babe Ruth truly be worth $300 million in 2020? That plateau may be hard for him to reach if he was a pure designated hitter.
Realistically, Ruth’s hitting prowess would put him closer to $200 million, which is in the range of players like Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich ($188.5 million) or Houston’s Zack Greinke ($206.5 million).