Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Novel notes: "Bang the Drum Slowly," Part 3

In "Bang the Drum Slowly," not only is Henry Wiggen the star pitcher for the New York Mammoths; he's also an agent of the Arcturus Insurance Company.

That's right; the best pitcher in the league has a day job.

It sounds crazy today - imagine Zack Greinke behind a desk at Sprint on days he doesn't pitch - but in the world of the 1950s, in which "Bang the Drum Slowly" is set, ballplayers working extra jobs wasn't that uncommon.

I stumbled across a great article online today with a fascinating chart about baseball salaries through the decades (scroll down about two-thirds of the way through the article and look for "Table 4"). The chart shows the salary of the highest-paid player of each decade, as well as the average player salary that decade, plus what those figures would be in 2002 dollars (when the article was written).

For example: in the 1920s, the average major leaguer made $6,992 per year, which is worth about $72,000 in today's money. Ty Cobb, the highest-paid player of the decade, made $80,000 a year, or about $717,600 today.

In 2002, when this data was compiled, the average major league salary was over $2 million. And in the past offseason, several players were signed to $20 million-a-year deals.

But not ol' Henry Wiggen. In 1955 he signs a contract for $14,000 with the notoriously tight Moors family. The contract also includes a clause stating that Wiggen will earn an extra $1,500 when he wins his 15th game, and an extra grand for every victory over 15. According to my shoddy math skills, Wiggen would have earned $22,500 that year, plus a pennant bonus, for his 22 victories. According to the chart, the average salary in the '50s was $12,340, so Wiggen, as a premiere player, made above average money.

Henry cited a dispute with the IRS as his reason for selling insurance on the side.

You know, now that I think of it, we may have a present-day example of a ballplayer working an extra job. Royals pitcher Kyle Davies worked construction over the winter, although he said it was more for the exercise than the money. Still - pretty cool.

More on "Bang the Drum Slowly" to come.

--Matt Kelsey

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