Charles Comiskey paid to keep a star opposing pitcher in the American League?
Indeed, the White Sox owner, in fear of Walter Johnson jumping from the AL’s Washington Senators to the Chifeds (Chicago Whales) of the new Federal League and creating a second legitimate rival for Chicago fan dollars in addition to the Cubs, did just that.
Valuing loyalty but also fearing legal trouble (and possibly sitting out the 1915 season) due to a legitimate contract claim by Washington, Johnson was willing to have the Senators match the Whales’ offer, but owner Clark Griffith was cash-strapped. Griffith had some history with Comiskey, not only as the first skipper of the White Sox and a pitcher for the team as well, but having been released from his White Sox contract after the 1902 season in order to move to Washington and better compete with the National League’s John McGraw. Clearly, both Griffith and league president Ban Johnson knew where to turn for additional support, funds, and sacrifice for the good of the American League.
The price was steep to keep Johnson from jumping leagues: $15,000. But Griffith came up with $2,500 and Comiskey chipped in $10,000 for the 1915 season, striking a pact with The Big Train during a negotiating session in Kansas City. Comiskey and the White Sox didn’t even receive a player from the Senators in exchange for the gift.
Griffith crowed afterward, claiming Johnson had passed on a five-year, $116,000 Senators offer the previous season ($23,200 AAV, about $700,000 in today’s dollars). Johnson himself admitted he’d lost 15 pounds worrying over his future, he was taking a $2,500 pay cut to return to the Senators, and would have to repay a Federal League signing bonus.
Griffith’s hard-line stance against inflating player salaries, which only got worse over time, was particularly ironic: The reason Griffith jumped to the White Sox from the Colts (Cubs) in 1900 was salary suppression — Comiskey raised Griffith from $2,500 with the Colts to $4,000 on the South Side.
Johnson ended up pitching 14 more seasons for Washington, going 238-164 with a 2.55 ERA, 57 shutouts, 25 saves, a 135 ERA+ and 81.8 WAR over that time. He earned $176,500 in his career after his dalliance with the Feds, averaging $13,577 per season.
For his career, The Big Train went 63-39 vs. the White Sox, with a 1.49 ERA.