We’re used to seeing big name players get paid the big bucks. Not only does their play separate them from their peers but so do their wallets, and deservingly so, seeing as they perform at a high level year in and year out. It also helps to play one of the more popular positions like quarterback in football or shooting guard in basketball.
It only makes sense that some of the greatest names in sports over the years were also among the highest-paid of their time. Although compared to the modern era, the salaries of sports greats from years past might seem like nothing, it’s when we compare their contracts to those of their peers that we discover just how valuable they were as assets to their teams. Big contracts are one thing, but truly valuable players have a salary ratio higher than the majority of other athletes in the sport. But what is a salary ratio?
A player’s salary ratio is calculated when taking one player’s annual salary, then taking the league average player salary and then dividing the two.
This list zeroes in on the highest-paid players’ best annual salaries as compared to the average salary at the time. For example Kobe Bryant, the highest-paid player in the NBA has a salary ratio of around 5 times the average NBA salary. That’s less than half of the ratio of most of the players on this list.
10. Alex Rodriguez – Salary Ratio: 10.18
Since he first began playing for the Seattle Mariners in 1994, “A-Rod” has hit over 600 home runs and put together a career batting average of .299. In 2007 he signed a 10-year $275 million contract with the Yankees that paid him $33 million in 2009 – just over ten times the league average of $3.29 million. Rodriguez is one of eight players to hit 600 or more home runs and he is a 12-time All-Star and is a three time American League MVP.
9. Babe Ruth – Salary Ratio: 10.66
One of Baseball’s most iconic players, Babe Ruth is known as one of the most prolific hitters in the game. He was the first ever player to hit 60 home runs in a single season in 1927 and accumulated 714 homers by the end of his career, a record that stood until 1974. In 1930 Ruth had a salary of $80,000 as compared to the average of $7,500, a salary ratio of 10.66. All this during the start of the Great Depression when the average american was making under $1,500 per year. Although Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Red Sox, he is remembered for his storied career as a New York Yankee where he set multiple hitting records and won four World Series titles.
8. Bobby Hull – Salary Ratio: 10.8
In Bobby Hull’s first year in the WHA (1973), he earned $270,000. Earning more than ten times the average NHL player, Hull had a salary ratio of 10.8. His career, which lasted 23 years in both the NHL and WHA, was spent as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Winnipeg Jets and the Hartford Whalers. Hull scored a grand total of 1808 points combined in the NHL (1170) and WHA (638). Hull’s career highlights include a Stanley Cup win with the Blackhawks in 1961 and a streak of scoring 20 or more goals in 19 consecutive seasons.
7. Sergei Fedorov – Salary Ratio: 10.85
Sergei Fedorov played for four different teams during his NHL career, but he mostly known for his 13 seasons as a Detroit Red Wing. In Detroit Fedorov won three Stanley Cups and was part of a team that won a record 62 regular season games in the 1995-96 season. In 1999 he was earning a salary of $14 million when the league average was $1.29 million, making his salary ratio 10.85. Fedorov ended his career with 483 goals scored in the NHL, a record among Russian-Born players, and holds the honour of being the first European-born player to win the Hart Trophy.
6. Wayne Gretzky – Salary Ratio: 11.07
Wayne Gretzky, aka “The Great One” spent 22 seasons with four different NHL teams. In 1991 Gretzky had a salary of $3 million – 11 times more than the league average salary of $271,000. He won four Stanley Cup championships, all with the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky holds the single-season records for assists (163), points (215) and goals (92), and remains the only player to score 200 points or more in a single-season – something he accomplished four times. He was named league MVP nine times and scored 2,857 points in his career. Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately after his retirement, making him the most recent player to have the waiver period waved.
5. Joe Montana – Salary Ratio: 11.23
Joe Montana was one of – if not the premier NFL passer of the 80’s. In his fourteen years as a 49er, Montana lead the team to four Super Bowl victories and was crowned Super Bowl MVP three times, the only player to do so. “Joe Cool” passed for over 40,000 yards in his career along with 273 touchdowns and 139 interceptions, and his career passer rating of 92.3 ranks 7th all-time. In 1990 Montana’s salary of $4 million was more that 11 times that of the average NFL players’ salary. He finished his career in 1995 before a large crowd at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco.
4. Mario Lemieux – Salary Ratio: 11.5
Mario Lemieux spent all 17 years of his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux’s salary of $11.32 million in 1997 was more than 11 times the league’s average salary of $984,000 at the time. Lemieux’s career was plagued by injuries and in 1993 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He retired in 1997 only to return in 2000 and finally retire for good in 2006. Super Mario finished his career 9th in goals (690), 7th in points (1723), and 10th in assists (1033). He also won Rookie of the Year, 5 MVP Awards, played in 10 All-Star Games and lead the Pittsburgh to their first two Stanley Cup victories.
3. Ty Cobb – Salary Ratio: 12.59
Ty Cobb Spent 22 of his 24 years in Baseball playing for the Detroit Tigers. Cobb failed to win a World Series despite appearing in several. Notwistanding his misfortunes in the World Series, Cobb set 90 records over the course of his 24 year career, and still holds some of them, such as a .366 career batting average and 54 career home steals. In 1927, his first year with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cobb earned a salary of $85,000 when the average players’ salary was just $6,750. Cobb was also one of the first five Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1936, with 98.2% of the vote.
2. Michael Jordan – Salary Ratio: 13.98
At one point in his career Michael Jordan was not only the highest-paid NBA player in the league, he was the highest-paid NBA player of all-time. In 1998 Jordan made a cool $33.14 million – 14 times more than the NBA average $2.37 million. Jordan played thirteen of his fifteen seasons with the Chicago Bulls, winning 6 championships, 6 playoff MVP’s and 5 NBA MVP Awards, as well as being a 14-time All-Star. Jordan holds the records for most points scored in a playoff game (63), most seasons to lead the league in scoring (10), and during the 1995-1996 season his Bulls won an NBA-record 72 regular season games. He finished his career with 32,292 points, 6,672 rebounds, and 5,633 assists and was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
1. Joe Sakic – Salary Ratio: 14.56
Bet you didn’t expect this guy to be at the top of the list. Joe Sakic played his entire 20-year NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques, which would later become the Colorado Avalanche. In 1998, two years after the Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup, the New York Rangers offered Sakic a huge deal that Colorado chose to match. Sakic went on to earn $17 million that season, which was 14 times more than the league average of $1.17 million for that year. Sakic won two Stanley Cups in his career, one league MVP and was voted to thirteen All-Star Games. He managed to score 625 NHL goals, put up 1641 points, had two 50+ goal seasons and earned at least 100 points in six different seasons.