“What’s Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did.” - Babe Ruth, on being paid a higher salary than US President Herbert Hoover
While it was generally true that the disastrous president Herbert Hoover had a significantly worse 1929 than Ruth, who hit .345/.430/.697 with 46 home runs, more than most teams of that time, it was also true that his $80,000 salary was at the luxury of the team, the Yankees, in actually paying that. No one held them to that standard, and they could do with Ruth’s salary as they wished.
Stars across the ages had to grapple with this; in a reversed case, Joe DiMaggio did not even get $40,000 in 1938 after he put up his own mammoth year. Yet free agency has come, and it has waned in significance in recent years, now hearkening back to a time where a team, at their luxury, makes a player the richest man in baseball.
Arte Moreno is that owner, and Mike Trout is that player. There really hasn’t been a talent like Ruth with about one-one-millionth the celebrity, yet I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Trout is the most successful and accomplished ballplayer in this century, and could very well put up the best career since Ruth, when there was no integration, modern medicine and nutrition, and blazing fastballs.
Trout was coaxed to Philadephia by former-highest-paid-player Bryce Harper just last week, causing some tampering concerns, but it was all for naught as Trout inks a deal that will pay him $430 million over 12 years.
To say that it’s an under-payment, by value, is the under-statement of the year. By FanGraphs he produced something like $494 million to start his young career, which just shows you how much averaging 9.3 wins per year is really worth. But just like Ruth had a top-line salary capped by the natural contours of the market (ie: the Great Depression, the reserve clause), so it is today, with the advent of extensions and the decline of free agency.
The only real downside of this is that Trout won’t get to truly test the market, but it’s one that has been unkind to most as they age, especially if he at all falters with an injury or slow decline in the near future.
All indications point to him being one of the most productive players in baseball, today, tomorrow, and likely a top-ten player every year over the next decade. He is already seventh in center fielder JAWS, and he will likely be in the top five in just a couple of seasons. He is going to get paid more by AAV and total money than any athlete, ever, but hey... he had a better year.