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Dodgers had highest payroll 28 years ago, too

It's fun to look back at what might be my favorite Sports Illustrated issue of all-time, the April 20, 1987 issue, which showed the salaries of every major league player on an opening day roster in 1987.

One of my staples of youth, from adolescence through college, SI was a welcome prize in my mailbox each week, especially before the internet. We didn't have the world at our fingertips in 1987, and salary information like this wasn't reported on all that often. Maybe once a year in spring training the local papers might list the payroll, but outside of big names salary news wasn't big news.

When "What They Make" came across my desk, I devoured the information. This was a new level of information I couldn't get from the backs of baseball cards, and here it was all in one place!

There isn't much "downfall of civilization" cries nor predictions of doom and gloom with rising salaries in this article. Though there is this wistful nugget:

"The per-player average: $410,732. Just think, back in 1911, Ty Cobb held out all winter to get a raise from $4,500 to $10,000."

That big number of $256,296,950 in the article is the total of all 624 players on opening day rosters in 1987, which is just slightly less than the $258,850,000 the Dodgers already have committed in 2015.

The Dodgers also had the highest payroll in 1987, with the salaries of its 24 players on the opening day roster totaling $13,926,500, an average of $580,271 per player. Tommy Lasorda was the second-highest-paid manager at $500,000, second only to Reds manager Pete Rose, at $750,000.

The rosters were 24 back then instead of 25 because this was the middle of two decades of labor war in MLB. There were strikes in 1981, 1985, and 1994-95, plus a lockout in 1990. In 1987, the owners were at the collusive peak, determined to lower costs by any means necessary.

Usually this meant sharing information among owners and refusing to make offers to free agents, which suppressed the markets for Tim Raines, Kirk Gibson, Steve Garvey and others. Collusion made Gibson a free agent in 1988, much to the Dodgers' benefit. But another way to lower costs was to lower the active roster limit of 25 players through Aug. 31, down to 24.

MLB owners employed a 24-man roster from 1986 to 1989, until the collective bargaining agreement in 1990 formalized the 25-man active roster.

The highest paid player in baseball on opening day in 1987 was Eddie Murray, who signed a five-year, $13.5 million contract in September 1985. Using SI's method of spreading a signing bonus evenly over the life of the contract, Murray made $2.46 million in 1987. He would become a Dodger two years later.

The highest paid Dodger in 1987 was Fernando Valenzuela, at $1.85 million tied with Jack Morris of the Tigers as the highest-paid pitcher in the sport. Other Dodgers making $1 million that year were Pedro Guerrero, at $1.52 million entering the fourth year of a five-year contract, and Jerry Reuss, at $1.05 million for 1987.

Reuss was released less than a week into the season, with the Dodgers eating a total of $1.35 million including his option buyout for 1988. That move opened a spot on the roster for veteran utility man Mickey Hatcher, 18 months before his World Series heroics.

The minimum salary in 1987 was $62,500, earned by Mike Ramsey and Tracy Woodson. The minimum salary in 2015 is $507,500, which would have ranked seventh in baseball as an average salary in 1987.

Here are the Dodgers opening day salaries in 1987, per Sports Illustrated.

Pos Player Age Salary Signed through
SP Fernando Valenzuela 26 $1,850,000 1988
OF Pedro Guerrero 31 $1,520,000 1988
SP Jerry Reuss 38 $1,050,000 1987 + option
C Mike Scioscia 28 $875,000 1988
3B Bill Madlock 36 $850,000 1987
SP Bob Welch 30 $837,500 1988
SP Rick Honeycutt 33 $805,000 1988
SP Orel Hershiser 28 $800,000 1987
2B Steve Sax 27 $740,000 1988
OF Ken Landreaux 32 $737,500 1987
RP Tom Niedenfuer 27 $725,000 1987
OF Mike Marshall 27 $670,000 1987
C Alex Trevino 29 $512,500 1988
RP Matt Young 28 $350,000 1987
RP Alejandro Pena 28 $280,000 1987
1B Len Matuszek 32 $265,000 1987
IF Dave Anderson 26 $225,000 1987
RP Ken Howell 26 $170,000 1987
RP Tim Leary 28 $170,000 1987
SS Mariano Duncan 24 $150,000 1987
1B Franklin Stubbs 26 $144,000 1987
RP Brian Holton 27 $75,000 1987
OF Mike Ramsey 26 $62,500 1987
3B Tracy Woodson 24 $62,500 1987
Totals $13,926,500
Average $580,271

Baseball salaries weren't the only thing that made this Sports Illustrated issue a memorable one. There was Larry Mize winning the Masters with a 140-foot chip shot, plus Sugar Ray Leonard winning a shocking decision over Marvelous Marvin Hagler in Las Vegas.

There was also baseball insider Peter Gammons, laying into the Dodgers after their 0-5 start, following a 73-89 campaign in 1986 (they would also finish 73-89 in 1987) and shortly after general manager Al Campanis was fired after his terrible comments about African Americans in baseball on ABC's Nightline. Gammons ripped the Dodgers' poor draft record in the 1980s, including this tidbit:

"In the spring of 1980, scout Mike Brito, who signed Fernando Valenzuela, brought a little-known high school kid named Eric Davis to Dodger Stadium for a workout before a group of scouts, including [scouting director Ben] Wade," Gammons wrote. "To this day, Brito maintains that Davis put on a quite a hitting and baserunning show, but still the Dodgers ignored Brito's recommendation and let the Reds take Davis in the eighth round of the subsequent June draft."