MLB: How Much Bonus Money Do World Series Players Make?

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

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Winning the World Series is the goal of every baseball player each season, but the corresponding cash rewards are no longer as significant as they once were. Still, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets are thrilled to be taking part this year.
In the initial World Series of 1903 between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the winner’s pool was $50,000 — impressive money for the day and the equivalent of just over $1.3 million in 2015 dollars. Each player from the winning Boston Americans received just under $1,000 dollars. However, the appreciative Pittsburgh Pirates owner gave his players his entire net proceeds from the Series along with the players’ share, giving the losers $341 more than the winners.
Fast forward to the 2014 Series, where each player of the winning San Francisco Giants earned a full record share of $388,605.94. The total share allotted to the Giants’ team was $22,329,526.27. Each full share for the losing Kansas City Royals totaled $230,699.73.
For most of today’s players, these huge shares do not mean as much as they used to. Here’s why: World Series bonus shares are much larger than the average worker’s salary, as they were in 1903, but compared to the average baseball salary, they are far less significant. Most baseball players in the early days had second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet.
Consider that the average worker’s annual salary in 1903 was $489. The median weekly earnings for American workers in 2015 are around $800. The average baseball player’s salary in 1903 was estimated to be around $2,500, thus World Series bonuses were close to half of the average player’s salary. The average baseball players’ salary in 2014 was $3.82 million, making a World Series share around 10% of the average salary.
To put this into perspective, we turn to former Dodgers pitching star turned broadcaster the late Don Drysdale, who played in five World Series from 1956-1966. Drysdale quipped, “When we played, World Series checks meant something. Now all they do is screw up your taxes.”
Postseason shares for World Series winners have always been set as a fixed 36% of the postseason gate, but the postseason gate calculation has become a bit more complicated as the postseason expanded. The 2014 players’ pool was a bit over $62 million based on this calculation: 50% of the gate from the Wild Card round, and 60% of the gate for the minimum number of games it takes to win each round (three games for the Division Series and four games each for the Championship Series and the World Series).
Here are how the other 2014 postseason participants fared: The Orioles and Cardinals, the Championship Series losers, each got a bit over $7.4 million of the player’s pool. The Division Series losers, the Tigers, Angels, Dodgers, and Nationals, each received just over $2 million of the pool. Wild Card round losers the Pirates and A’s each received around $930,000 of the pool.
You can see the winners’ shares for all World Series from 1903 to 2013 at the Baseball Almanac site.
All players who are with the team for the entire season are automatically awarded a full share. Those players vote on all the others associated with the team throughout the year individually as to whether they receive a full share, a partial share, or a simple cash award. The players have significant latitude on this award — for example, in 2007, the Colorado Rockies awarded a full share to Amanda Coolbaugh, the widow of Mike Coolbaugh. Coolbaugh was killed on the field by a line drive as he was coaching first base for the Rockies’ AA affiliate.
These figures do not count any performance bonuses that are written into individual contracts. Postseason clauses are generally based on some element of postseason player performance. For example, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera would have earned an extra $100,000 for being voted a Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for being a World Series MVP. Unfortunately for Cabrera, his Tigers were nowhere near the postseason this year.
Ironically, for those players who are making big money, even a World Series winner’s share spread out over the number of postseason games played constitutes a pay cut. Of course, that is a pay cut they would gladly take in order to earn a World Series ring. Bling!