Each of the major professional sports leagues award most valuable player (MVP) awards to one player after each season. Usually, this player is the one who performed better than any player in the league — but the title of the award mandates that the player be an integral, maybe even irreplaceable, part of the team, which usually has to be a winning squad that competed for a championship
Intuitively, a league MVP will be someone who is in the prime of his career and earning a high salary. This is usually true, but there are a couple of notable exceptions.
Highest Paid: Alex Rodriguez, shortstop and third baseman, Texas Rangers (2003) and New York Yankees (2007)
Alex Rodriguez, currently third baseman for the New York Yankees, has won two MVP awards, one with his current Yankees and one with the Texas Rangers in 2003 when he was still playing shortstop. He’s the only MVP to win the award at more than one position. Rodriguez signed the biggest contract in the history of team professional sports with Texas in 2001: 10 years, $252 million. With incentives and incremental increases, especially after his trade to the Yankees, Rodriguez now earns an estimated $33 million a year, significantly more than any other player in any major team sport.
Honorable mention for highest-paid MVP goes to Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. Bryant earned his first MVP trophy in 2008 while earning $19.4 million. His annual salary has now increased to more than $24 million. He’s still looking up at A-Rod, but Bryant is the highest paid player in the NBA.
Lowest Paid: Mark Moseley, NFL placekicker, Washington Redskins (1982)
Because of factors such as inflation, free agency, and ever-increasing ownership revenues, to find the lowest paid MVP it makes sense to go back as far as possible in the history of the major sports. Obviously, an MVP in 1902 probably earned less than an MVP in 1943, who earned less than an MVP in 1976 and so on. So, the answer to this search could very easily be Bob Petit (1955, NBA) or Lefty Grove (1931, MLB). But one very salient example of a low-paid MVP, in a very unique season playing a unique position, is Mark Moseley, the placekicker for the 1982 Washington Redskins.
Moseley, the only placekicker ever to win an MVP, thrived during the strike-shortened season of 1982. Because Moseley, 34 years old at the time, came out of nowhere to have a standout season at a typically low-paid position, he’s a safe bet for lowest paid MVP with proper adjustment for inflation and the changing nature of athletic compensation. In 1982, Moseley converted on 20 of 21 field goals, a stunningly accurate 95.2 percent. He also made several key kicks during the Redskins run to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Miami Dolphins to win the championship.
Detailed salary information for Moseley isn’t available because players didn’t receive their full salaries that year and played only nine regular season games. That said, the strike began because NFL players felt they were far underpaid compared to players in other leagues. It’s likely the Moseley and others earned much higher pay beginning in 1983.
Where’s Moseley today? He’s not out on the autograph circuit or touting his award at the hall of fame, at least not most of the time. His primary responsibility is director of franchising for the Five Guys burger chain.
Honorable Mention: Candace Parker
Honorable mention goes to Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA. Though the WNBA’s status as a major sport is debatable (from strictly a business standpoint, the WNBA grosses far less than its male equivalent), it’s worth mentioning that these athletes still play at the highest level in women’s basketball and play in some of the biggest venues in the U.S. Parker won the league’s MVP award as a rookie in 2008, and because of the league’s salary structure, Parker likely earned no more than a modest $44,000 during her MVP season, as this is the base pay for a rookie. More than likely, she received a raise in 2009, and the MVP award carries with it a $15,000 bonus.