They didn’t have salary arbitration back when Bob Feller pitched, but they did have something you have in your office right now: walking into the boss’ office and telling him how much money you should make.
For even the best players, these negotiations were tough – but 66 years ago today, future Hall of Famer Feller decided to go a different way with it when he asked Cleveland Indians general manager Hank Greenberg for a pay cut from $65,000 a year to $45,000.
Why the 31 percent dip? Feller, who had won 24 or more games in each season from 1939-41 before serving in the Navy during World War II and 26 and 20 games in his first two full seasons (1946-47) after returning, had dropped to 19-15 in 1948 and 15-14 with a career-high 3.75 ERA in 1949.
So – according to this dust-covered AP story – Feller, 31, not only agreed to – but (sorry Scott Boras) asked to play without an attendance bonus for the first time since 1938.
Greenberg, a recently retired future Hall of Famer, explained it all matter-of-factly in the AP story:
“You can call this a very drastic pay cut. Feller thinks it’s drastic, too. But he himself made the suggestion. In fact, he offered to take more than the 25 percent maximum pay cut allowed. There was absolutely nothing to it. We all agreed quickly on the figure after Bob showed up yesterday.
“You see, over a five-year span, Feller was winning something like 24 games a season and losing very few. In the last two seasons, he averaged about 17 victories and 14 ½ defeats.
“We couldn’t possibly continue paying him the kind of money he has been receiving on the basis of that performance. But if he starts winning the number of games he didn’t in the old days, we’ll be delighted to boost him back up again.”
So much for rewarding Feller for services rendered – both on the battlefield and the baseball field, where he led the team to a World Series title (its last one, to this day) in 1948.
Feller went on to go 16-11 with a 3.43 ERA in 1950 before cranking out a 22-8 record with a 3.50 ERA in 1951. According to baseball.reference.com, he retired after the 1956 season having made $503,800 in base salary in 18 Hall of Fame years with the Indians.
As we head into arbitration season next month with agents and teams arguing over ridiculous figures put forth from both sides, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always this way – even if you don’t want to try Feller’s strategy with your own boss.