Former Major League pitcher Nolan Ryan was the first professional athlete to earn $1 million a year. On Nov. 19, 1979, Ryan signed a four-year contract with the Houston Astros that paid him $1 million for each year.
A little over two years later, George Foster became baseball’s first $2 million man when he signed a deal with the New York Mets prior to the 1982 season. Kirby Puckett reached the $3 million mark when he re-signed with the Minnesota Twins just after the end of the 1989 season.
It was during the 1990s that salaries for MLB players skyrocketed. After the 2000 season, Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers that paid him $21 million for the first year of the deal, with escalations promised throughout the length of the contract. Rodriguez eventually opted out of that contract, only to sign a deal with the New York Yankees during the 2007 World Series that reached a high mark of $33 million for the 2009 season.