How Much is a “Million Dollar Arm, But a Ten Cent Head” Worth Now?

For those who didn’t know, it’s the twenty-two year anniversary of the film Bull Durham. The movie is a fan favorite for a variety of reasons: Kevin Costner kicks ass in it, Baseball is an awesome sport, and there are a plethora of memorable quotes. Everyone has a go-to of the latter, but one in particular has stuck in my mind–when Crash Davis labels Nuke LaLoosh as a “million dollar arm, but a ten cent head.” What a great, revealing concept.

And back in 1990, a million dollars went a long way. Heck, Roger Clemens made the most among any single pitcher, earning a then-astronomical $2.6 million. By comparison (and a stupid one at that), Jim Johnson, a current reliever on the Baltimore Orioles, makes the same salary present-day as Clemens made back in 1990. But while most people’s knee-jerk reaction is to blame U.S. Dollar inflation for this extreme change, the U.S. Dollar has only increased in value by 74.2% in the past twenty-two years. This means that purely based on monetary inflation, a pitcher of Clemens caliber in 2012 would only make about $4.5 million. So unless you think Nick Blackburn is the re-incarnation of “The Rocket,” then there has to be something else going on here.

Crash probably calling Nuke "meat," or something like that.

In fact, there is. Just because the U.S. Dollar has only inflated by 74.2% since 1990 doesn’t mean that baseball players–and pitchers in this case–haven’t been earning a lot more money since 1990. The league minimum salary for a pitcher is up a whopping 380% (from $100,000 to $480,000), and the league average salary for a pitcher is up an even more whopping 658% (from $420,655.98 to $3,188,562.53). But there’s more. In 2012, team owners spent $1,348,761,952 on pitching, while by comparison, they spent just $190,136,505 in 1990. That means owners have spent 609% more money in total on pitching. Hey, people always say “pitching wins.”

Yet all of those eye-popping numbers still do not settle the million dollar question: how much is this supposed “million dollar arm” worth in today’s pitching market? To find out once and for all, one just has to apply the basic formula of inflation. Since Roger Clemens and his $2.6 million salary was the highest paid pitcher in 1990, one must take the highest paid pitcher in 2012–which happens to be Johan Santana and his lofty $23,145,011 salary.

Below is the super-mathematical equation to find pitcher inflation since 1990:

So, if inflation is about 790%…

So there you have it: $1 million in 1990 baseball dollars is about equal to $7.9 million in 2012 baseball dollars. And therefore–linking it back to Bull Durham–“Nuke” LaLoosh’s arm would now be worth $7.9 million (and his head a still mere $.79).

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6 responses to “How Much is a “Million Dollar Arm, But a Ten Cent Head” Worth Now?

  1. Good article.

  2. …math and baseball. You had me at hello.

  3. I passed this along to my husband who is a baseball writer and all of his friends…I’m sure they will love it.

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