Goold: How much would Cardinals’ ‘Highest-Paid Team in Baseball History’ make today? – STLtoday.com


ST. LOUIS • The cover is so iconic that Sports Illustrated did it twice with the same team.

In 1968, the Cardinals fresh off a World Series championship, the leading magazine for sports writing put nine players and manager Red Schoendienst on the cover of an October issue. The headline read, “The Highest-Paid Team in Baseball History.” And alongside the picture, listed as if for tax purposes, were the salaries of all 10 Cardinals, from Roger Maris’ $75,000 to Bob Gibson’s $85,000 to Julian Javier’s $45,000. Within the pages was a story centered around Schoendienst ($42,000 that year) under the title, “Manager of the Money Men.”

“Wherever the Cardinals go, the subject of their salaries always arouses a brisk debate,” wrote SI author William Leggett. “Some highly placed baseball people believe that by paying so well the Cardinals are undermining the very structure of baseball. ‘Almost every place I go,’ says General Manager Bing Devine, ‘someone will ask me how Dal Maxvill can be making $37,500. It really seems to bother people, but if you have seen the way he played shortstop this year and how gets himself involved in the good things we do, his salary won’t amaze you.’”

It does today.

Not for the same reason.

And that’s just the beginning.

A photo of the Sports Illustrated “money men” cover – which was recreated a few years ago for the Cardinals’ starting rotation – was posted on the St. Louis BBWAA Chapter’s Facebook page this past weekend. The ’67 team will be feted at the annual writers’ dinner next month (see here), and many of those (relatively) high-paid players will be back in town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their World Series title. The picture got me thinking. Those nine players – what would they command in today’s market. How highly paid would be “the highest-paid team in baseball history” be paid in today’s game.

Those highly placed baseball people? Yeah, they had no idea what was coming.

**

The salaries of the Cardinals in the margin of that famous picture added up to $607,000. That is, in modern terms, slightly more than the minimum salary for a major-league player. For context, Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ ascending starter, made $607,000 this past season.

To try and translate what the ’68 Cardinals would make in today’s game I started a the standard inflation calculator. I figured out the “buying power” each of their salaries would have today, right now, in the market.

  • Roger Maris, RF … Then: $75,000 … Now: $520,157.33
  • Tim McCarver, C … Then: $60,000 … Now: $416,125.86
  • Bob Gibson, SP … Then: $85,000 … Now: $589,511.64
  • Mike Shannon, 3B … Then: $40,000 … Now: $277,417.24
  • Lou Brock, LF … Then: $70,000 … Now: $485,480.17
  • Orlando Cepeda, 1B … Then: $80,000 … Now: $544,834.48
  • Curt Flood, CF … Then: $72,500 … Now: $502,818.75
  • Julian Javier, 2B … Then: $45,000 … Now: $312,094.40
  • Dal Maxvill, SS … Then: $37,500 … Now: $260,078.66
  • Red Schoendienst, mgr … Then: $42,000 … Now: $291,288.10

Total cost of the 10 Cardinals. Then: $607,000 … Now: $4,199.806.63

That total spending on the group is roughly equivalent to how much New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman will now make for every 10 saves. He signed a record five-year, $86-million deal, and if he averages about 40 saves a season during that time, he’ll clear $430,000 per save. That highlights how flawed the buying-power inflation calculation is when trying to answer the question of this blog: How much would The Highest-Paid Team in Baseball History make today?

Baseball’s inflation has grown exponentially to the economy.

Put another way: There’s still not a deGrom in the group.

There should be a Justin Verlander and an Edwin Encarnacion and an Ichiro.

 **

Scroll down on any individual player page at Baseball-Reference.com and you’ll find the Similarity Scores. These numbers compare that player against all players in baseball history and arrive at a metric to determine how “similar” they are when it comes to their statistical input into the game and their team. The closer that score is to 1,000, the stronger the similarity.

The Cardinals’ new leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, was at 24 remarkably similar to Lou Brock at age 24. (Similarity Score: 978.) For his career, Fowler is most like Phil Bradley (936), Austin Jackson (931), Jason Heyward (919), and Angel Pagan (918). Through age 30, Fowler’s statistics put him alongside Lenny Dykstra (930) at the same age.

Using these same scores it’s possible to take many members of that 1968 Sports Illustrated cover and find a modern player with a high similarity score.

We can start with Maris, Roger.

Maris was 33 in 1968 when he played right field for the Cardinals, and his peak years were behind him and his production had wilted. He was on the eve of retirement. There, at the bottom of his Baseball-Reference.com page (which should have the Hall of Fame banner, but does not), are the players who are similar to him. Jesse Barfield (918) and Eric Davis (909) are two recognizable names, and from age 27-29 Maris was close to Reggie Jackson (961). Two names standout because they’re available today, as free agents. This is the kind of true comparison that can help calculate a modern-day cost of the Highest-Paid Team.

The third-best similarity score for Maris is Jose Bautista (922), a slugger and right fielder, and over on the age column is the player who is closest to Maris at 32, Edwin Encarnacion (939), a slugger and DH-bound ballplayer. Like Maris, he’s 33.

To help us understand how a player like Maris is paid, he’s expected to command a 2017 salary of $20 million or higher.

I did this for every one of the nine players in the picture.

MIKE SHANNON, 3B: His similarity score put him alongside former Milwaukee Brewers’ masher, Casey “Hits” McGehee. At his peak, McGehee had a $4.8 million salary.

LOU BROCK, LF: Incredibly, the Hall of Fame speedster compared to a future Hall of Famer who has the similar adornments of All-Star Games and 3,000 career hits, Ichiro Suzuki. At the same age as Brock, 29, Suzuki was on his way to a $12 million salary. He made more later in his career, but this seems to fit the rising star. On the open market, it’s entirely possible that Brock would score $17 million or more these days.

ORLANDO CEPEDA, 1B: He didn’t have the best season for the Cardinals in ’68 and his better years were elsewhere – heck, he has a statue in San Francisco – but his production compared to Carlos Lee and Aramis Ramirez, two modern-day millionaires. Lee made $19 million at his peak, and Ramirez was near there at $16.65 million at about the same period of his career. At 26, Cepeda’s comp was Miguel Cabrera, who of course is now making $28 million for 2017 and is the highest paid position player in the game, per annual average salary (AAV).

CURT FLOOD, CF: There isn’t a modern equivalent revealed by the Similarity Scores, so I had to do a little research on my own for a contemporary. Flood hit .301/.339/.366 and had a 4.1 WAR. He was widely regarded as an elite defensive center fielder, perhaps the best of his generation. I didn’t find that exact player, but Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain is close. He hit .287/.339/.408 and had a 2.9 WAR. Cain is set to make $11 million in 2017.

TIM McCARVER, C: This one is fun because listed in the names that are similar to McCarver is a player who follows in his tradition, wears the same uniform, plays the same position, and even deals with a few surly starters. Of course, it’s Yadier Molina. From ages 29-31, McCarver’s Similarity Score is most similar to Molina, and there at age 25 for McCarver is the next Molina, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez. Molina is more decorated than McCarver, has had an MVP-level season recently, and is considered by some to be the finest defensive catcher of his generation. He’ll make $14 million in the coming year. The market has even passed that by.

JULIAN JAVIER, 2B: Like Flood, there wasn’t a similar modern player based on Baseball-Reference.com’s down-page calculations. I took Javier’s season in 1968 — .260/.291/.347, .638 OPS, 4 HR, 10 SB – and tried to find the closest middle infielder-type. Jed Lowrie, Dee Gordon, and Darwin Barney offered favorable comps. Lowrie makes $6.5 million in the coming year, and Gordon is set for a $7.5 million salary, one built for his leadoff speed.

DAL MAXVILL, SS: A defense-first shortstop who finished 20th in that year’s MVP voting, Maxvill also did not come equipped with a modern equivalent, via Similarity Score. He hit .253/.329/.298 for a .627 OPS and that 2.7 WAR stood above the slash line. The WAR alone put him alongside some other modern shortstops, but mostly because of the power they display, not the defense they flash. Some searching lined up Maxvill with Jose Iglesias (arbitration-eligible) and Andrelton Simmons, who is set to make from $8 million to $15 million in the coming years. At the same age as Maxvill in ’68, Simmons will make $13 million.

BOB GIBSON, SP: Simply put, there is no one similar to Gibson. Baseball-Reference.com’s Similarity Scores are appropriately bonkers. Gibson compares to the all-time greats, not the modern greats. (Those scores are low, too, with Jim Palmer’s 901. At 34, Gibson did line up with Dwight Gooden at the same age, but that even seems sepia-toned these days. Gibson was the most dominant player of this time – the late 1960s – and in 1968 he was on the way to an MVP and game-changing season. Without the availability of smart stats like we have today, those pesky Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters still nailed it with 14 of the 20 first-place votes going to Gibson, ahead of Pete Rose and Willie McCovey. The pitchers who are dominating the game like Gibson did are Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. At 32, the same age Gibson was in ’68, Verlander made $28 million. Seems low. Verlander had a 2.2 WAR that year. Gibson had a 11.2 WAR in ’68. Still, the market talks.

The salaries for managers are all over the board, and they aren’t all known for a variety of reasons. Back in 2015, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny made a $1 million for the first time as manager. Joe Maddon has signed a deal that pays him $5 million per season. Red Schoendienst would be in the middle in the modern game, and if you use all of the comps above he would managing “money men” indeed.

The eight players total an estimated $125.95 million in comps.

They were worth much more.

**

A back-of-the-napkin way to track baseball’s inflation is to consider how much a win goes for in the open market. This was a driving force a year ago as defensive metrics became more prominent and interested teams had to affix a value to the wins Heyward would influence with his glove. There are a few different ways to do this, but for the most part it’s done with Wins Above Replacement, or WAR.

FanGraphs has calculated how on the open market a few years ago a Win in WAR was worth between $5 million and $7 million. ESPN.com’s Dan Szymborski has used $5.5 million per 1.0 WAR as a free-market measure. Coming out of the 2015 season, FanGraphs calculated that teams are eager to pay $7.7 million for every additional 1.0 WAR a player provided. As an example of this, FiveThirtyEight.com used Bryce Harper’s MVP season and suggested he gave the Washington Nationals $75.4 million in value.

He’s got nothing on Gibson.

In 1968, Gibson had a 11.2 WAR, the 15th-highest single-season score by a pitcher since 1901. (In recent history, only Pedro Martinez’s 11.7 in 2000 surpasses him.) Using the same dollar/WAR metric, we can calculate that Gibson gave the 1968 Cardinals the production-value in modern dollars of $86.24 million

Salaries haven’t soared to that point – yet – and one reason is because players are signing longterm deals that give them a guarantee even as it protects the team from inevitable downward turns. Harper, for example, was not a $70-million player in 2016, not with his WAR plummeting to 1.6 from its lofty spot in 2015. Still, using this same approach we can illustrate how much value the Cardinals received (in modern dollars with modern metrics) from the Highest-Paid Team in Baseball History.

First, a quick list of their individual WAR: Maris 2.3, McCarver 2.0, Gibson 11.2, Shannon 3.6, Brock 5.8, Cepeda 1.8, Flood 4.1, Javier 1.2, and Maxvill 2.7. As you can see, Shannon, Brock, Flood, and, of course, Gibson are due significant raises from even the comp salaries if they were paid by production. You can use $7.7 million or $5.5 million per to calculate that. I went with the handier, simpler $6 million and still its $208.2 million in value.

With eight players at that cost, it would be still the Highest-Paid Team.

**

The edition of Sports Illustrated carried the date of Oct. 7, 1968, and it did, in true SI Curse fashion, alter the course of the Cardinals’ season. That same date, Detroit won Game 5 of the World Series, twisting the series in the Tigers direction. They would win the championship in a Game 7. That burgeoning dynasty foretold by their talent and their salaries fizzled.

The Cardinals didn’t return to the World Series until 1982.

Even back then, the Highest-Paid Team didn’t always win.

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