Certain professional athletes transcend the world of sports. Even the most casual baseball fan, for example, is familiar with Babe Ruth. The Yankees slugger now stands as a pillar of popular culture. But how much did the Sultan of Swat make during his playing career?
While the world was quite a different place during the Great Bambino’s time on the field, professional athletes still received generous compensation. Ruth, given his celebrity status, took home quite a pretty penny.
Babe Ruth’s rise to stardom
Despite his eventual rise to baseball’s highest heights, George Herman Ruth started out in much more humble circumstances. The slugger was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up speaking German.
When he was seven years old, Ruth’s parents sent him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys; while no one is quite sure what prompted the decision, it’s generally accepted that Ruth was an unruly child and needed discipline and structure in his life. No matter the reason, the boy went to St. Mary’s and started learning academic subjects and trade skills. He also started learning about baseball.
While Babe started out as a catcher, he eventually found a home on the pitcher’s mound. That potential, combined with his prolific home runs, started attracting attention from outside of St. Mary’s.
In early 1914, Ruth signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, who then played in the International League. While the exact nature of the contract has been lost to history, the teenager joined up with the squad in spring training. When the season began, though, the Orioles encountered financial difficulty; while the team was thriving on the field, most local fans attended Baltimore Terrapins games. Owner Jack Dunn needed to compensate somehow, so he sold Ruth to the Boston Red Sox.
Rising to stardom with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees
While Babe Ruth’s had plenty of potential, he still needed some time to grow into a star.
Ruth spent most of his first season with the Red Sox organization in the minor leagues, but a strong 1915 spring training landed him a spot with the big club. He established himself as a capable pitcher but grew tired of only playing once every four or five games. When World War I gutted rosters all over the league, Ruth saw an opportunity; before long, he started spending more time in the outfield.
In December 1919, Ruth’s contract was infamously sold to the New York Yankees; baseball was never the same. Once in the Bronx, the Bambino properly became a power-hitting outfielder, belting 659 home runs and winning four World Series titles during his 15 seasons wearing pinstripes. Ruth became one of the first celebrity athletes; even if you weren’t a baseball fan, you knew about the Sultan of Swat and Murders’ Row.
How much did Babe Ruth make during his playing days?
While plenty of details of Babe Ruth’s life have been lost to time or clouded by baseball legend, we do know what the slugger earned for most of his baseball career. Unsurprisingly, he was paid quite handsomely.
In 1932, the Sporting News published Ruth’s annual salary for most of his career. He earned $600 for his first season with the Baltimore Orioles, which rose to $1,300 when he first joined the Red Sox Organization. From then on, his paycheck gradually increased each year; when Ruth joined the Yankees, he was making $10,000.
Once he exploded in the Big Apple, though, Ruth’s salary went through the roof. It eventually swelled to $80,000 a season, before trailing off as the slugger started to age. By the time his playing career had ended, Ruth’s baseball earnings totaled to a little over $800,000; accounting for inflation, that’s roughly $15,000,000 in modern money. Ruth would have also earned some extra income from endorsement deals for candy bars, underwear, and everything in between.
During his prime, Babe Ruth was simply larger than life. The size of his paycheck wasn’t too bad, either.