#Shortstops: The $100,000 bonus baby

Written by: Craig Muder

Paul 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.”

Through an oral history project, Pettit recounted his unique path to the big leagues.

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.”

Pettit 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.

Pittsburgh Pirates minority owner Bing Crosby checks out Paul Pettit's left arm during Spring Training. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“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,” Pettit said. “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 the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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