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Evolution Of The Bonus Record

June 4, 2005

PRE-DRAFT ERA

Reliable information on signing bonuses in the pre-draft era is sketchy, with bonuses often intertwined with a player’s salary, distorted to circumvent rules of the time, or in the case of under-the-table payments, going unreported altogether.

There was no systematic method of paying out bonuses in those days, unlike now when half the signing bonus is generally paid upon approval of the contract and the other half in the next calendar year. In many cases, the top bonuses of the pre-draft period were paid out over several years—10 in the case of Paul Pettit, baseball’s first $100,000 bonus baby.

On the basis of research conducted by Baseball America founding editor Allan Simpson, here is the progression of signing bonus in the pre-draft era, beginning with Dick Wakefield’s $52,000 bonus—the unofficial start of baseball’s bonus era:

Year Player, Pos., Club
Bonus

1941

Dick Wakefield, of, Tigers

$52,000

1946

Bobby Brown, 3b, Yankees

56,000

Tookie Gilbert, 1b, Giants

60,000

1947

Curt Simmons, lhp, Phillies

65,000

1948

Johnny Antonelli, lhp, Braves

75,000

Frank House, c, Tigers

75,000

1950

Paul Pettit, lhp, Pirates

100,000

1951

Ted Kazanski, ss, Tigers

100,000

Billy Joe Davidson, rhp, Indians

100,000

1952

Marty Keough, of, Red Sox

100,000

1957

John DeMerit, of, Braves

100,000

Bob “Hawk” Taylor, c, Braves

112,000

1958

Dave Nicholson, of, Orioles

120,000

Denis Menke, ss, Braves

125,000

1960

Danny Murphy, rhp, Cubs

130,000

Randy Hundley, c, Giants

132,000

1961

Bob Bailey, ss, Pirates

175,000

1964

Rick Reichardt, of, Angels

205,000

DRAFT ERA

Here's how the bonus record evolved in the draft era, beginning with the $100,000 bonus the Athletics paid to Rick Monday, the first pick in the first draft. The figures represent bonuses in real dollars, with no regard to benefits from college scholarship plans or incentive bonus plans—or guaranteed bonus money in the cases when a player signed a major league contract (denoted with an asterisk). The list considers only players who signed with the clubs that drafted them and does not include the four loophole free agents from 1996—most notably Diamondbacks first baseman Travis Lee, who set a bonus record by signing for $10 million, or Devil Rays righthander Matt White, who quickly broke it when he signed for $10.2 million.

Year Player, Pos., Club (Round)
Bonus

1965

Rick Monday, of, Athletics (1)

$100,000

1975

Danny Goodwin, c, Angels (1)

125,000

1978

Kirk Gibson, of, Tigers (1)

150,000

*Bob Horner, 3b, Braves (1)

162,000

1979

Bill Bordley, lhp, Giants (1#)

200,000

Todd Demeter, 1b, Yankees (2)

208,000

1988

Andy Benes, rhp, Padres (1)

235,000

1989

Tyler Houston, c, Braves (1)

241,500

*Ben McDonald, rhp, Orioles (1)

350,000

*John Olerud, 1b, Blue Jays (3)

575,000

1991

Mike Kelly, of, Braves (1)

575,000

Brien Taylor, lhp, Yankees (1)

1,550,000

1994

Paul Wilson, rhp, Mets (1)

1,550,000

Josh Booty, 3b, Marlins (1)

1,600,000

1996

Kris Benson, rhp, Pirates (1)

2,000,000

1997

Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals (2)

2,500,000

Matt Anderson, rhp, Tigers (1)

2,505,000

1998

*J.D. Drew, of, Cardinals (1)

3,000,000

*Pat Burrell, 3b, Phillies (1)

3,150,000

Mark Mulder, lhp, Athletics (1)

3,200,000

Corey Patterson, of, Cubs (1)

3,700,000

1999

Josh Hamilton, of, Devil Rays (1)

3,960,000

2000

Joe Borchard, of, White Sox (1)

5,300,000

#January draft

Beginning with Bo Jackson, who broke the existing draft record in 1986 by signing a major league contract that guaranteed him $1.066 million over a three-year period, here’s the progression of record major league deals signed by drafted players, with the amount of the contract and bonus payment noted.

Year Player, Pos., Club (Round)
Contract
Bonus

1986

Bo Jackson, of, Royals (4)

$1,066,000

$100,000

1990

Todd Van Poppel, rhp, Athletics (1)

1,200,000

500,000

1998

J.D. Drew, of, Cardinals (1)

7,000,000

3,000,000

Pat Burrell, 3b, Phillies (1)

8,000,000

3,150,000

2001

Mark Teixeira, 3b, Rangers (1)

9,500,000

4,500,000

Mark Prior, rhp, Cubs (1)

10,500,000

4,000,000