Bonus history

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

08-26-10-Muder_Pettit.jpgPaul Pettit leaned forward in his chair and smiled. After a baseball career that seemed destined for greatness from the start, he had finally made it to Cooperstown.

“I guess I got in through the back door,” said the man acknowledged as the first $100,000 bonus baby in big league history. “Not bad for a guy with one win.”

The 78-year-old Pettit visited the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday and recounted his career as part of an ongoing oral history project at the Museum. In town with his grandsons – who are playing in a local baseball tournament – Pettit shared his career story with Hall of Fame cameras, then toured the Museum.

It was not his first brush with fame.

In 1950, Pettit signed a contract worth the then-otherworldly sum of $100,000 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound left-handed pitcher had struck out 945 batters in 545 innings of amateur ball from 1947-49 – including six no-hitters – and was considered a can’t-miss prospect.

“I felt like I was ready (in 1951) when the Pirates brought me up,” said Pettit, who – by rule – had to be placed on the major league roster that season. “But I had hurt my arm, and it never really responded.”

08-26-10-Muder_Pettit2.jpgPettit pitched in just two games in 1951, then went 15-8 with a 3.70 earned-run average for Hollywood in the offensively charged Pacific Coast League in 1952. The next year, Pettit appeared in 10 games with the Pirates, going 1-2.

He would never return to the big leagues, despite changing his focus from pitching to hitting and posting 102 RBI with Hollywood in 1957.

“I thought I could help the Pirates at that point, but they never called me up,” Pettit said.

He retired following the 1960 PCL season.

“I think if I had known that I wouldn’t have made it as a hitter that I would have tried to stay a pitcher for a little longer,” said Pettit, who remains at 78 a robust figure with a keen memory. “I wish they had some of the surgeries then that they do now so they could have worked on my arm.

“But I loved baseball. I was just a regular guy who worked hard.”

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

2 Comments

I always like seeing what the top players signed for back in the year I was born. Here Pettit signed for $100,000. Compare that to what Stephen Strasburg signed for. And in another 60 years or so people might wonder how Strasburg could live on what he signed for. Thanks for these stories. A lot of fun to read.

Oral history adds so much insight into baseball history.
My husband, Skip Lockwood, also signed for $100,000 in 1964 with the KC Athletics as a hitter. A few years later, after missing a season due to a sojourn in the National Guard during the Viet Nam era, Charlie O switched Skip into a pitcher, which turned out to be an excellent move.
For more baseball history relating to the strike ridden decade of the 70′s you shoud check out my recently published memoir, MAJOR LEAGUE BRIDE: AN INSIDE LOOK AT LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE BALLPARK (McFarland & Co., Pub. 2010).

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