According to SI.com, the average salary for a Major League Baseball player has hit a record high of $3 million this year. If nothing else, that number serves as a notable landmark to show just how quickly the salary scale has progressed from $3 million being a watershed amount to it simply being considered average. And Ted DiBiase is probably jealous too considering he was only The Million Dollar Man.
Twins legend Kirby Puckett was the number one card holder of the $3 million club, when he signed an extension in 1989. It took another four years for the Cardinals to open the wallets and welcome their first to the club.
If you bet a friend or co-worker that they couldn’t name the first three Cardinals players to earn $3 million in a season, we’re thinking you’ve got that one wrapped up.
The first three to $3 million wearing a Cardinals uniform…
1.) Ozzie Smith (1993)
No shock here, as it didn’t take long for the Wizard to become the highest paid player on the roster, a title he first obtained in 1983 and held for the majority of his time in St. Louis. As a free agent in 1992 he signed a contract that locked him up at exactly $3,000,000 per season.
For some perspective, that’s roughly 1/10th of what we might see Albert Pujols command on the open market. Who knows how much Pujols could get if he pulled out the mutton chops/mustache combo that Ozzie once sported.
No doubt that has value.
2.) Bob Tewskbury (1994)
Just a year after they signed Ozzie to his deal, it was considered a victory for the Cardinals when they won a 1993 arbitration hearing with Bob Tewksbury and signed him for $3.5 million. Tewks was asking for more, which wasn’t all together undeserved after he racked up 33 wins in the two previous years and, in 1993, posted one of the best single year performances by a Cardinals pitcher in the past few decades.
After he hit the $3,000,000 mark in ’94, he took a step backwards posting an ERA of 5.32 and departed St. Louis the following season, taking a $2,000,000 pay cut when he joined the Rangers.
3.) Gregg Jefferies (1994)
While Tewksbury lost his arbitration case in the winter of ’93, Jefferies won his and saw the salary jump from $2.65 million up to a franchise record $4.6 million. Arbitration came at a perfect time for Jefferies after posting a career best line of .342/.408/.485 with 16 HR and 83 RBI.
The Cardinals probably didn’t sweat the decision because in 1994, we all knew that a handful of Jefferies’ valuable Upper Deck rookie cards would pay that salary and then some.
Those babies were gold.