Learn about Life in the 1920s

Growth in Incomes of 1920s Sports Stars

BESIDES the fun of being a champion this or that, there's a big bank account hanging to it, we are told by a writer who has been looking into the incomes of successful athletes in the various branches of sport. In other words, "there are plenty of men who make a good business out of their playing prowess." Without considering such dazzling phenomena as the $460,000 received by Professor Dempsey for his four minutes of "rough-house" with Dr. Firpo, we are invited to look around at those who have attained eminence in more sedate branches of athletics, and to observe that they are doing fairly well, thank you, in a financial way. Writing in the Kansas City Star, F. S. Tisdale points out:

Look what happened to Willie MacFarlane when he won the national open championship this summer. He returned to Tuckahoe, New York, his home town, which, by the way, is the little village that produced Joe Matthews, Johnny Madden, Bill Creavy, and a group of other lights and former lights of Kansas City's professional golf world, and he was met at the station with a band.

The entire membership of the Oakridge Club was out to meet him and made him make a speech, and do other appropriate honors. It was said that the representative of a firm that makes golf-balls was on hand to offer him $5,000 if he would use those balls exclusively. Also the agent of a news-paper syndicate was among those present and whispered a sweet offer for a series of stories by MacFarlane on how to play golf.

"It's worth $50,000 to a man to become open champion," goes a saying in the golf world. Pretty, isn't it?

Walter Hagen recently was acquired by the Pasadena, Florida, Golf and Country Club at a salary of $30.000 a year. Such figures are possible because of the tremendous growth of American golf in the forty years since the first timid enthusiasts ventured into the cow-pastures. There are now thirty-two hundred golf clubs in the United States with a membership of about 1,200,000. To these players must be added eight hundred thousand fanatics who play on public and pay courses. Grand total of golfers, two million.

A New York authority recently made an estimate of the money invested in American golf courses, dues paid, etc. The figures never were made public. So staggering and unbelievable was the sum that the statistician was afraid to give it out.

There are many "pros" whose earnings approach Hagen's. Gene Sarazen gets from $25,000 to $30,000 at Briarcliff Lodge, New York. Cyril Walker, former open champion, does not make as much as some of the others, but he has no trouble meeting the rent. Hagen and Joe Kirkwood used to get $500 for single exhibitions.

Kirkwood is up in the big money. This canny Australian never has won the championship, but he has a source of income worth more than the ephemeral glories of the title. If you never have seen Kirkwood's trick shots you have no idea of the state of docility to which a golf-ball can be reduced. Kirkwood is known among golf-balls as '' papa." Dubs, watching him drive from watch crystals and foreheads, become hysterical and have to be led away.

Not long ago Kirkwood got $300 for appearing for a single evening on the stage of the New York Town Hall. It is known that a New York department store paid him $1,200 for being seen in its sporting goods department for two days.

Another headliner is Alex Smith, the popular veteran of the Westchester-Biltmore Club. Alex gets about $25,000 a year. It must be remembered that this is salary only. Most of our "pros" are still Scotch, and you can leave it to that enlightened race to make the most of financial opportunities.

Here Mr. Tisdale initiates the reader into some of the mysteries of a famous athlete's income-tax return. As we read:

Smith gets a percentage on all supplies sold at the club—a custom that holds good at many courses. His annual profit on these supplies will run around S20,000. To this handsome figure you must add the royalties paid by manufacturers of all sorts of equipment and accessories. Two business men—playing hookey from work —meet at the eighteenth hole. One of them asks:

"What ball are you playing. Bill?"

"I'm playing the Blizzard—best ball there is. I know it's the best, because it's the one Sandy Kilts, the champion, uses."

It is worth a great deal to a manufacturer to have business men say that to each other. A popular champion will be paid large sums of money for playing a certain ball during the twelve months of his glory on the links. Enterprising manufacturers even go so far as to subsidize promising youngsters, thereby obtaining an option on their names against the time when they may achieve top honors.

The job as head professional at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, does not pay a cent of salary, yet it is one of the most coveted posts in the country. The place is worth $25,000 a year—every cent of which comes from guests' fees and com-missions on supplies.

Golf has amazing by-products besides plus-four knickers and cross-word puzzle stockings. It acts as a violent tonic on run-down realty values. A golf course will add from 25 to 100 per cent. to adjacent property valuations. Recently a Brooklyn corporation opened an addition and built a dozen houses that it priced at $16,000 each. Sales were sluggish until a golf club bought near-by property. Then the houses were boosted immediately to $19,000. A mention of the impending course was all that was needed to sell them.

Florida is in the throes of a virulent land boom. Golf is an important feature of the promotion. (Hagen is said to have made $130,000 in Florida real estate.) Famous golfers are used as decoys and salesmen. The flattered prospect is introduced to Bruce MacTavish, former national champion. Arrived at the property, MacTavish puts an arm about the other's shoulder and reduces the prospect's sales resistance with the MacAndrew accent. When the deal is complete, the buyer can say:

"Just bought some lots over by the canal. Got 'em from Sandy MacTavish. He's a friend of mine."

This same human vanity to some extent has helped the famous golfers who have become bond salesmen. "Chick" Evans worked for a brokerage house in Chicago. He had no trouble making par as a sales-man—but disaster overtook his private fortunes. He became involved in a series of financial traps and bunkers, ending up in personal bankruptcy with the heroic score of $386,000 minus."

Baseball headliners are casting envious eyes at the rich opportunities of golf. Their interest is not entirely financial, since most of them have become addicts to golf. Ball fans who still are old-fashioned enough to consider golf a dude game may be scandalized before long to learn that some of their bright particular stars have deserted the diamond for the links.

Florida also has drafted ball-players for its real estate promotion. There were holdouts by big-leaguers this season because there was more to be made selling lots. Just to whom they expect to sell during the sizzling summer when the tourists have migrated is for us to guess.

Among the diamond divinities, Mr. Babe Ruth can look down with disdain at the earnings of the golf "pros." The Babe is credited with earning $75,000 a year—or just what President Coolidge gets for work that is at least equally important. In addition to his pay from the Yanks, Mr. Ruth farms out the magic of his name to all sorts of merchandise from baseball bats to corn-plasters. Still it is doubtful if Ruth has surpassed the earnings of "Christy" Mathewson during the season when that mighty man is said to have earned $100,000 by selling life insurance.

Nor are the professionals the only ones permitted to dip into the golden flood, Mr. Tisdale writes:

Amateur athletics are something else again. Rules that protect amateur standing are strict against playing any game for money, either as pay or as prizes. Argus-eyed associations do what. they can to keep clear the boundary-line between sport as a business and sport as sport.

Bobbie Jones, former amateur golf champion, is in the real estate business in Atlanta, and, while his fame must have helped his sales, his gains have been indirect. Joie Ray of Chicago has made little but records out of his running. At one time he thought of taking up boxing for a living. Bill Tilden, the tennis wizard, had a run-in with the tennis association not long ago as to whether he could write of the game without losing his amateur rating. It was settled by Tilden agreeing not to use his tennis title with his signature.

There doubtless are cases where amateurs have outwitted the watchfulness of the associations, but there is plenty of evidence that these associations are on the job. The Amateur Athletic Union took up the charge that Paavo Nurmi and Willie Ritola made excessive demands for expenses before they would agree to appear in races.

The best American runners still are picking cinders from their eyes—cinders thrown there by the spikes of the Finnish marvel. You may wonder what it is all about if Nurmi doesn't get anything for it. Well, for one thing, the display of his fleet heels has been a valuable advertisement for Nurmi's native land. It is hard to say how many millions have been added to the borrowing power of Finland by the prestige that Nurmi has created for it in this country.

Source: The Literary Digest for September 19, 1925