In 1906, despite being, on paper, the best team in the American League, the Cleveland Naps finished in third place, five games behind the Chicago White Sox. The club had three twenty game winners—Addie Joss, Bob Rhoads, and Otto Hess—and four regulars who hit better than .300—Napoleon Lajoie, William “Bunk” Congalton, Elmer Flick and Claude Rossman,
As the 1907 season approached, Grantland Rice, of The Cleveland News said the team was now a victim of the success of individual players:
“The annual spring typhoon has blown up again—only a bit worse than ever. In nearly every big league camp well-known athletes are breaking into loud roars over the pay question, and there promises to be quite a batch of trouble before the storm is cleared away. In this respect Cleveland heads the list, although Napland owners have one of the highest salary lists in the game. Up to date Joss, Rhoads, (Terry) Turner and Congalton have balked, while neither Flick nor Hess have returned a signed contract.”
Rice said the club’s negotiations with Joss and Rhoads were at an impasse, and “just how it will end is a matter of uncertainty.” The news of the team’s trouble signing their stars led Rice to a discussion of “just how much a major leaguer is supposed to receive for his work each season.”
“When a youngster breaks in he is never given less, or at least rarely so, than he received in his minor league berth. His pay is boosted the greater part of the time, so the average debutante’s pay roll ranges closely around $1,800 providing he is recognized as a first class man.
“If he delivers the goods his first year out he can figure on about $2,000 or $2,200 for his next season, and then if he becomes established as a regular, his income should be somewhere in the immediate vicinity of $2,500.
“From this point upward it all depends on their rankings as stars. You hear considerable about $5,000 contracts and better, but as a matter of cold, clammy fact, but few athletes draw over $3,000 or $3,500 at best.
“In the epoch of war salaries $3,500 or $4,000 was a fairly common figure—but no more.
“A high grade slabman along the order of Joss, Rhoads (Nick) Altrock, etc…will rake in about $3,000 now. In his weekly letter in a Toledo paper (The News-Bee), Joss stated that he was offered $3,000 for his season’s work, but that he demanded more—just how much he didn’t say.
“George Stone drew $3,000 or there abouts last season and now that he has fought his way to the premiership in the School of Slugs he demands $5,000, at which figure Mr. (Jimmy) McAleer balks strenuously. (Johnny) Kling also asks for $5,000, which sum Charley Murphy says he will not receive.
“Lajoie’s figures range somewhere above $8,000 and something shy of the $9,000 mark.
“Wagner is supposed to draw $5,000 for his work.
“If reports sent out from New York are true, Keeler’s yearly ante is close to $6,000, while Mathewson draws in about the same.
“Hal Chase won’t miss $3,500 very far.
“But the high-priced teams are not pennant winners by a jug full.
“(Charles) Comiskey and (Connie) Mack hew closer to the line than any others in Ban Johnson’s circle, and yet these two have won more pennants than all the rest put together. In fact, they’ve gotten away with all but the two which Boston nailed.
“Mack had one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest team in the American League through 1905, the last year he copped the pennant. Comiskey’s world champions of 1906 were far below Cleveland, New York or even Boston, from the salary standpoint.
“It looks funny to figure the cellar champions of a league paid more than the holders of the world’s title, but if all the figures were given out, the White Sox payroll would loom up under Boston’s to a certainty.
“The full salary cost of running a big league club varies from $40,000 to $50,000, or maybe $55,000 a year.
“A set of figures somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000 would probably hit at the higher average.
“There was a time when Boston’s payroll was close to $70,000 and (Clark) Griffith’s was only a notch below—but this golden era for the ballplayer has passed.”
According to The Washington Post, Joss had earned $3,2000 in 1906 ($2,700 and a $500 bonus), the biography, “Addie Joss: King of Pitchers,” said he was paid $4,000 in 1907—Joss, who was 21-9 with a 1.72 ERA in 1906, followed that up with a league leading 27 wins (against 11 loses, with a 1.83 ERA) in 1907.
Fellow twenty game winners Rhoads and Hess both saw their production slip (15-14, 6-6), and only two regulars—Flick .302 and Lajoie .301—hit better than .300, and the team’s batting average slipped 28 points from the previous seasons.
The Naps finished fourth in 1907.