Boston Red Sox player salary history can be observed by watching the shift in vehicles in the players parking lot over the decades. No more Ford’s and Chevy’s.
Many criminal investigations use the term “follow the money” to eventually solve a case. Follow the money can also be applied to baseball and through the years has become a very visual reminder of just how the game has changed from a material standpoint. Material in this instance is the money. But one aspect of that I have noted through the years.
My first Fenway Park game was in 1953 and by 1958 I could venture into Boston by myself. A certain degree of responsibility bestowed on me by my parents to probably just get rid of me and occasionally a few friends. My father would also spring for a roof box seat on occasion. This was the premier seat at Fenway since there were only 325 available.
The roof box was interesting since it had a spider web of catwalks connecting to the sections and the stairwell. Also, there was a restaurant located on the roof and you could grab a glimpse of Tom Yawkey or Johnny Most. Maybe even a player?
The main attraction for me was the player’s parking lot that is still partially located on Van Ness Street. As they say “back in the day” the lot was far more open with just a battered old fence and a tired custodian to keep away the youthful rift raft and occasional drunk. Fenway was a great place in those bygone days if you were claustrophobic since the old ballyard had far emptier than filled seats.
But that lot? The industrious lad could stand outside and wait or hope one of their heroes would grace them with an autograph. I never collected, but occasionally would accompany a friend with his scrapbook, pen and hope looking for that precious signature.
The cars fascinated me. My father drove a Cadillac (yes, we had a few dollars), but the lot had very few. Naturally, Ted Williams had his which would be driven to the lot if TSW was leaving town after the game. Mostly Ted would just saunter down to Kenmore Square and the Somerset Hotel. Room 231 for the trivia buffs.
The vast portion of the players would simply drive to wherever they lived. Usually in the city where they could find a reasonable rent for six months or even a year. A few of the more stationary settled down and had community roots, but, again, those cars.
The parking lot was loaded with Fords, Chevrolet’s, Buicks and a few other domestic brands. The cost of living in 1958 was far different from today with the average income of $4.650. A lower end Ford could set you back $2,000. A house checked in at $30,000. The highest paid MLB player was Mickey Mantle at $65,000.
In this graph the National League in 1958 (only eight teams, folks) had only 17 players pulling in more than $30,000 annually. A total of 71 players made $10,000 or less. Having an off-season job was the usual method to balance the budget since many players had both a summer and winter home. You had no collective bargaining agreement and free agency was almost 20 years away.
Through the years I have watched that lot. I would take my children or a friend and go through the back walkway on the upper first base grandstand and lot at the cars. Each year it became quick an improved prestige auto show. And today a Bentley is an common sight.
Now playing is a full-time job with a minimum salary starting more than $600,000. Full medical benefits for life with just one day on the roster – even if you don’t play. And that pension! Just 43 roster days (last I looked) gets you a minimum pension. And that minimum is $34,000.
I could relate to a player in the past. They were middle-class with a few upper-middle-class to some wealthy who could maximize their playing year’s salaries. Now? Many have humble roots and because of winning the genetic lottery a few join the 1% club.
This is certainly no indictment of players’ salaries since it is owners and eventually the fans that give sanction to the increases. The pendulum of player-owner’s symbiotic relationship has certainly changed dramatically just in my lifetime. Too bad Fenway Park has become somewhat fiscally inaccessible to far too many, but that is another story for another time.
So, next time at Fenway walk down Van Ness Street and look to see what you can see or for the best view the walkway above the lot.