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Giving thanks this baseball postseason

Major League Baseball logoThis year, the Thanksgiving season saw monetary reasons for ballplayers to give thanks. On November 24, amidst other signings, it was reported that the Boston Red Sox inked third baseman Pablo Sandoval to a free-agent deal, worth signed for five years and $95 million. On the same day, Major League Baseball announced the 2014 shares for Sandoval and all of the other players who taken part in the postseason.

From the AP: “The players’ pool included 50 percent of the gate receipts from the two wild-card games, and 60 percent from the first three games of each division series and the first four games of each league championship series and the World Series.” A full share for a victorious San Francisco Giants player netted $388,606, dividing $22.3 million among them. That number received attention as the largest amount that a World Series winner has ever received, but it’s not spectacularly so. Two years ago, a Giants full share meant a comparable$377,002.64 in 2012.

By way of comparison: On the losing side, a full share for a 2014 Kansas City Royal brought a check for $230,700, while a 2012 Detroit Tiger took home $284,274.50. The record for a losing team’s share belongs to the 2006 Detroit Tigers, who brought in $291,667.68, only $70,505.36 less than the victorious St. Louis Cardinals.

(An aside: There’s winner’s shares, loser’s shares, and Bengie Molina. In 2010, the catcher’s final Major League season, he played in 61 games for the Giants and 57 games for the Rangers. Those two teams happened to meet up in the Fall Classic, putting Molina in both the winning and losing camps when it came time to divy up the take.)

These numbers are provided by, which has cataloged all postseason gate receipts since the inaugural 1903 World Series. Considering salaries in general at the time, gate receipts were meaningful. Go back a few decades and consider this excerpt from the 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia: “The 1887 Series [between the National League champ and the American Association champ] was stretched to an epic best-of-15 affair, with the NL Detroit Wolverines and the AA St. Louis Browns playing in ten different cities! Even after the Wolverines clinched the Series with their eighth win in the 11th game, the two teams still played out the final four games, largely to bring in gate receipts.”

As to that first World Series, pitting the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans, from Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups:

Pirates owner Charley Dreyfuss had his players under contract through October 15, but Boston owner Henry Killilea had a big problem: his players were under contract only through September 30, while the world’s series was supposed to start on the first day of October.

So Killilea would have to pay the players something extra; the question was how much. After a fair amount of contentious negotiating, the parties finally agreed: the players would receive two weeks’ pay, plus half of Killilea’s gate receipts.

There was a big problem with this arrangement, though … it meant the longer the series lasted, the more money the players (and, of course, the owners) would make. And before the series even speculation was rife that the players and/or the owners might conspire to ensure the best-of-nine series actually lasted eight or nine games.

And wouldn’t you know it, the series lasted eight games.

That 1903 Series gathered a total attendance of 100,429 and a winner’s pool of $50,000. Because of how things were divided, the victorious Bostonians took home $1,182 apiece — but the losing Pirates found themselves with $1,316.25 per man, thanks to owner Dreyfuss putting his share into the team’s pool.

Neyer also cast doubt on the circumstances extending the 1912 World Series between the Red Sox and Giants. His most memorable passage, following Boston president James McAleer’s mandate to manager Larry Stahl to tab Buck O’Brien as Game 6 starting pitcher rather than ace Smoky Joe Wood: “O’Brien, who may have been hung over, gave up five runs in the first inning. For his troubles, he was hung with the loss and was physically assaulted … first by Joe Wood’s brother — who lost a hundred bucks betting on the Sox — and later by Wood himself.” The Sox won the Series in the end, taking home a then-high $4,024 per share.

This all may have occurred behind the curtain, but trouble over gate receipts in 1918 became all too apparent and ugly. Blame World War I, which (on order of U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker) caused the premature end of the regular season on September 2. Blame the weather. Blame a public that disapproved of players choosing against serving in the armed forces. Blame a controversial new rule that split the take between the World Series combatants and the other second, third, and fourth-place teams in each league in addition to setting a maximum of $2,000 per winning player and $1,200 per losing player. That was how it started, at least, but poor attendances early in the Series caused the National Commission to drop player shares to $1,200 per winner and $800 per loser.

The average fan might have approved (or met this with disinterest); the players rebelled. Two players each were selected to represent the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox in meeting with the National Commission. Nothing was settled before Game 4, held on September 9 in Boston. By Game 5, with the Red Sox leading the Cubs 3 games to 1, the players saw the imminent possibility of the World Series ending that night and their money slipping away.

At the time of the first pitch, September 10, the players refused as a man to take the field until they were granted a higher portion of the gate receipts. It took mounted police, former Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, and a full hour before the Cubs and Red Sox could be placated. And wouldn’t you know it, as Rob Neyer might say, the Cubs shut out the Sox to force another game in the Series before Boston triumphed in Game 6. According to Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories of the Historic Home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910-1991, the Red Sox took in $1,108 per player; the Cubs claimed $574 a man.

In 1919, those number shot up to $5,207 for the victorious Cincinnati Reds and $3,254 for the Chicago White Sox — but money played a larger role than ever. These were the infamous Black Sox, with key players accepting far more money from the likes of Arnold Rothstein and Abe Attell in exchange for handing the Reds the title. Note, though, that the World Series still managed to make its way eight games even with the Black Sox doing what they could to assist their opponents. A longer Series: higher gate receipts.

Gate receipts and postseason shares have this way of figuring into baseball moments here and there through the years. Take Mark Koenig, who the Cubs could have done with out. He was one of those likable shortstops who’ve bounced around through the decades, beginning his career with five years for the Yankees, moving to the Tigers for parts of 1930 and 1931, and batting .353 in 33 games for the National League champion Cubs in the 1932. In gratitude, Chicago voted him a half-share of the postseason winnings. That wasn’t good enough for Koenig’s former teammates in New York, particularly one George Herman “Babe” Ruth, when they met the Cubs in the 1932 World Series.

From Ruth’s opening salvos to the Cubs’ answering barbs, the bench jockeying built. In Game 3, the Chicagoans seemed to have grown especially personal with Ruth at the plate. The Babe gestured with a finger in the direction of the mound, indicating how many strikes he had left, or perhaps — according to the stuff of myth — pointing toward the center field wall. One swing later, and away the spheroid flew, giving Ruth his greatest legend. (“It doesn’t matter whether Ruth called his shot,” opined MLB official historian John Thorn. “What matters is that we’re still talking about it.”)

The 1932 Series ended in a swift four-game sweep, but a winning Yankees share still netted a cool $5,232. The first five-figure full share was also awarded in a sweep, garnered at $11,147 by each New York Giant in 1954.

The next big step, as far as players were concerned, was the introduction of four divisions, leading to the American League and National League Championship Series. In 1967, winning St. Louis Cardinals received $8,315 per full share; in 1968, a full share for a champion Detroit Tiger was $10,936.66. In 1969, with divisions now in effect, the amazin’ New York Mets took home $18,338 per full share.

Shares climbed steadily through the 1980s: about $34,000 for Mike Schmidt and the Phillies in 1980, about $43,000 for Darrell Porter and the Cardinals in 1982, about $51,000 for Alan Trammell and the Tigers in 1984, about $86,000 for Mookie Wilson and the Mets in 1986, and about $109,000 for Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers in 1988.

Consider how things have exploded since. Before the 1994 strike, the 1993 Blue Jays made $127,921 per full share. A year afterward, with the wild card now introduced, the 1995 Braves took home $206,635 per full share. Don’t be too surprised — because the 1998 New York Yankees, only three short years later, claimed $312,042 per full share. Really, considering how things were skyrocketing at this point, with receipts tripling in a decade, it’s a little surprising to see that 16 years later, we’re not all that far away from those 1998 numbers. Keep in mind that the 1998 World Series was a four-game sweep.

It is evident that postseason shares are no longer as significant to certain ballplayers as they once were. To a Pablo Sandoval, the prospect of wealth delivered through free agency provides more of an offseason incentive. But to those players, or team members, who receive this week’s news with glad tidings, it is a reminder that the game values its winners, with thanksgiving provided directly from the pockets of its fan base.

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