When Detroit’s Athletes Had to Work in the Off-Season

It was recently reported that the average major league baseball salary is now $3 million per year. That’s $18,500 per game or about $4,625 for each plate appearance.

My how times have changed.

Forty years ago the average major league baseball salary was $29,303 so therefore today’s player on average makes in just 6 at-bats what a player made all season in 1970.

In 1964, the first year these stats were kept, the average salary was $14,863 per year.

It is no wonder that back in the day, professional athletes actually had to work for a living in the off-season.

It is my understanding that in the 1950s Tiger star Harvey Kuenn delivered mail in Dearborn. In the 1960s Norm Cash worked for a bank, and many others worked in sales selling insurance or working as an auto manufacturer’s representative. In the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, Tiger Richie Hebner was a gravedigger at a cemetery.

Former Detroit Lions Alex Karras told me he made more money in the early 1960s selling cars at Northland Dodge in the off-season then he did playing for the Lions. If you look at the old game programs from the 1960s owner there was a letter from William Clay Ford asking fans to consider hiring his players. Daryl Sanders was one of the Lions’ best offensive lineman but he retired at age 25 after just 4 seasons because he made more money selling cars.

Today’s multi-millionaire players are very fortunate that the players of yesterday built their respective sports and paved the way for their riches. Unfortunately, in football, today’s players and owners have not been grateful to the former pre-1970 players and have literally screwed them on their inadequate pensions.

Although I do not begrudge the players’ prosperity, it is outrageous that taxpayers have subsidized these salaries through the building of sports venues. It is also ridiculous that today’s player would even charge for a frickin’ autograph. Hell, at least they could donate the proceeds to charities.

Perhaps this is why many fans cannot relate to the players of today in part because they have little contact with them in the off-season where they used to be among us, and were working stiffs like everyone else.

Al Kaline, 20, is pictured in January of 1955 working as a salesperson at a Baltimore sporting goods store nine months before winning his American League batting crown.

One reply on “When Detroit’s Athletes Had to Work in the Off-Season

  • Judy Hicks

    Harvey Kuenn played for the San Francisco Giants from 1961 to 1965. I was a kid then so this memory may not be completely accurate. I’m writing to see if anyone out there recalls if Harvey, when in San Francisco, ever worked selling cars during the off-season. I have a vague memory of a neighbor telling us that he bought his car from Harvey Kuenn.

    Harvey was one of my favorite players. I really should have a better memory about those days.

    Many thanks,

    Judy Hicks
    Novato, California

Comments are closed.