Inflate-Gate: What an All-Time Cubs Team Would Cost in 2015 Dollars

We’ve all become somewhat immune to the escalating salaries of professional athletes, to the point that even a $300 million deal for Giancarlo “Don’t Call Me Mike” Stanton barely raised any eyebrows. Given the current climate, he seems to be just about as worth of that insane figure as anyone not named Mike Trout.

But it’s amazing to look at the inflation of these mega-deals and how they’ve outpaced that of the rest of the world in general. In researching some information for my recent piece on the transcendent greatness of Ernie Banks, I found that his free-agent purchase price of $10,000 equated to only roughly $90,000 today.

With that in mind, I wanted to see what a team of all-time Cubs players would cost today. The figures are a little tricky, what with the advent of free agency and the strength of the union these days. Long-term deals versus annually-negotiated pacts skew things a bit as well.

Since there’s no perfect way to calculate it, I’m simply going to take the highest single-season annual salary from each player’s Cubs career* based on 2015 levels (in the cases of Maddux and Jenkins, I used their first go-rounds). Even more imperfect is my method of selecting the 25 players for this all-time roster, which had no real basis in science or positional need.

I did try to balance eras to some extent, as loading up on a bunch of old-timey guys would really throw things off. I also I also tossed in a couple wild cards because, let’s face it, those random dudes you remember from their inglorious time with the club are part of the fun.

Player Highest Salary (year) 2015 Salary
Hack Wilson $33,000 (1931) $512,619
Billy Williams $150,000 (1973) $798,238
Sammy Sosa $16,875,000 (2004) $20,547,033
Frank Chance $25,000 (1913)* $597,559
Ryne Sandberg $5,975,000 (1993) $9,771,141
Ernie Banks $57,500 (1964) $437,975
Ron Santo $110,000 (1973) $585,375
Gabby Hartnett $20,000 (1939) $339,665
Greg Maddux $4,200,000 (1992) $7,070,382
Fergie Jenkins $125,000 (1972) $705,947
Mordecai Brown $7,000 (1912) $171,355
GC Alexander $15,000 (1925) $202,059
Hippo Vaughn $1,200 (1910) $30,424
Lee Smith $840,000 (1987) $1,746,678
Andre Dawson $3,325,000 (1991) $5,555,300
Derrek Lee $13,250,000 (2007) $15,095,771
Kiki Cuyler $17,000 (1930) $240,404
Cap Anson $3,000 (1885) $78,878
Rogers Hornsby $40,000 (1932) $692,585
Bruce Sutter $700,00 (1980) $2,006,987
Joe Tinker $5,600 (1912) $137,084
Aramis Ramirez $16,650,000 (2009) $18,333,853
Jeff Pico $120,000 (1990) $216,984
Domingo Ramos $310,000 (1990) $560,543
Vance Law $425,000 (1989) $809,953
 Totals  $63,294,300  $87,244,792

Given the monumental changes in player salary, the figures we see in the 21st century far exceed standard inflation rates. That’s why the extrapolated salaries for Hippo Vaughn or Cap Anson still look so paltry. Even the late, great Ernie Banks has a paycheck that would be outpaced by any rookie being called up today.

It’s amazing what national TV revenues and $10 beer will do for payrolls, huh?

So what does this tell us? Well, nothing really. But while there’s no practical application for these figures, it’s still fun to look at what guys were making way back when and to see the rapid rise of player contracts over time.

In a 2012 FanGraphs article, Jesse Wolfersberger detailed a long-run analysis of salary inflation, complete with some super-sweet graphs (below) and flow charts. I found the spike in 1999 particularly interesting, given its proximity to baseball’s resurgence following Race for 62 in 1998.












Granted, this is a few years out of date, but the concept remains true. If you’d like a more in-depth look at the impact of media rights deals and increases in both general and centralized revenues on baseball payrolls, you might want to check out this Forbes article from Maury Brown.

You know something’s going to be good when it opens with a quote from former Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) owner Albert Spalding, who said in 1881, “Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way.” In his defense, I thought we’d have hoverboards by now too.

But now I fear I’ve moved from the absurd and asinine into the actual and analytical, which was not necessarily my intent. I just thoroughly enjoy quirky little stuff like this and figured that 3 or 4 of you out there might as well.

An $87 million payroll populated by Hall of Famers sounds pretty nice; if only Epstoyer could find a way to sign some guys to 1960’s-era contracts…

*When applicable; salary figures for some of these guys are a bit sketchy. Frank Chance’s salary was from the Philadelphia Athletics and Hippo Vaugn’s from the New York Highlanders.

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