[larger image here]
Sports Illustrated's Andy Gray has the enviable task of digging through SI's incredible vault of covers and story photographs, posting some of the best images in sports history to Twitter. Today, he called back to a famous 1987 cover listing a ton of then-current Major League Baseball player salaries.
With the Internet now, we have so many resources in which to find this kind of information. But in 1987, SI was your go-to. How else would you know that George Brett made a mil and a half for those Royals?
Being a Pirates fan, I immediately scanned to find the gold P on a black hat to see which Pirate made the cover. Bill Almon. Bill Almon was your Pirates representative on a cover story about player salaries.
1986 and 1987 were landmark seasons for the Pirates of the next seven years. Barry Bonds was on his entry level contract after breaking into the league in '86, and his emergence brought the franchise out of their post-'79 We Are Family World Series funk. Pun intended.
And it wasn't just Bonds. Many of the guys who contributed to the immediate future of those Pirates were on those '86 and '87 teams. Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, John Smiley...you get the picture. I mean, 1987 brought in guys like Doug Drabek, Mike LaValliere and Van Slyke, as the team saw Bonds' potential and surrounded him with some legitimate talent. This SI cover came at the start of that 1987 season, so the choice to include Almon was juuust a bit odd.
Almon's best seasons came in the early '80s with Chicago and Oakland, coinciding with those down post-World Series Pirates years. In '86, Almon had less than half as many plate appearances (230) than the rookie Bonds (484) in only 11 fewer games (102 and 113 respectively). R.J. Reynolds was the Buccos starting left fielder, keeping Almon mostly on the bench. But there Almon was on SI's cover leading to a 1987 season that saw Almon's role diminished to just 19 games and 21 plate appearances as a utility player.
Admittedly, Pittsburgh was not a good team leading to this SI cover, but you'd have to believe there were catchier Pirates players that could've brought in the eyeballs. Bonds was 6th in Rookie of the Year voting, and his future star power was already evident. Van Slyke was a known commodity coming from St. Louis. Bobby Bo put up comparable numbers to Almon in half as many games after being traded from the White Sox, cementing himself as a key part of the franchise's future. But SI went with Almon. Perhaps they wanted you to know just how badly the Bucs were overpaying the nearly washed up bench player? $240,000 in 1987 for Bill Almon (Baseball-Almanac has $250,000 for the '87 season)? That's staggering. His salary was good for eighth on the team, behind guys like Van Slyke and mainstays like Bob Walk.
By comparison, Bonds was on his rookie deal, making $100,000 in '87. Bonilla had a similar $115,000 cut.
To put that in perspective, Andrew McCutchen made $400,000 in his rookie 2009 season, with Bonds-rookie-like numbers (108 games, 493 plate appearances, 4th in RoY voting). Imagine if prior to the 2010 season, SI had a similar cover with Bobby Crosby and his 2010 salary of $1,000,000 on a cover. Why Crosby? Well, both guys were overpaid, had a similarly inflated salary as a role player in relation to a young up-and-comer, and well Baseball Reference's community ranking of the top 1851 batters in baseball history have those two guys right next to each other in the bottom rungs of that ladder:
1987 was a simpler time. When you could put Bill freakin' Almon on the cover of the top sports magazine and not get called out for it. Until 2014 when I started to ask the right questions.