Most Valuable Player

You don’t even have to be a baseball fan to have an opinion about L.A. Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout’s stunning new 12-year, $430 million contract.

A delightful discovery put this issue into perspective for me this week, when I came across some of my late grandfather’s baseball cards, clipped from 1880s cigarette packs and thumb-tacked inside the lid of an old trunk. I hadn’t seen them in years.

Only four are left, but – always the reporter – I dropped everything to research the players peering out at me from the tiny, sepia-toned cards. It made for a fascinating afternoon.

The standout appears to be Jack Glasscock, a shortstop for the Indianapolis Hoosiers at the time this card was released. He played on multiple teams from age 21 to 37.

In an April 1887 article quoted in his bio by the Society for American Baseball Research: “The Sporting News speculated, ‘He will get the largest salary ever paid a player.’"

Glasscock had been “paid handsomely” by one team – at $2,200 – which, in today’s dollars, would be a salary of just over $58,000. He bragged that another team had offered him $7,500 – today’s equivalent of just under $200,000.

For playing baseball? That’s more like it. And for their money, these teams of yesteryear got a real superstar. He set numerous records and, according to the bio:

“Glasscock was the most difficult batter of his day to strike out. In his career, he struck out only once every 33 at-bats. In 1887 and 1890, he struck out only eight times.”   

I take a dim view of athletes making hundreds of millions of dollars in any sport. But I’ll bet men like John Wesley Glasscock of Wheeling, W. Va., earned every penny.

He's earned my respect, as well. Mike Trout has his work cut out for him.