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Before the Players Union

MLB.com looks at 10 strange offseason jobs you won't believe Major Leaguers once held

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by Guest Post on
Dec 12, 2016

Before baseball players had a Players Union, salaries were low and most players needed second and third jobs to pay the bills. Thanks to the union, the players were able to sign a collective bargaining agreement that established minimum salaries.  The union also helped the players to push for new rights like the right to become a free agent.  This allowed them to sell their services on the open market causing salaries to increase exponentially for both stars and utility players.  While stars like Babe Ruth barnstormed around the country playing baseball, many players, including some extremely famous players, took jobs in retail, gravedigging and entertainment Check out the list of some of the most unique jobs below. - Kris LaGrange

These days, Major Leaguers spend the offseason unwinding with a quick trip to the pyramids, celebrating the holidays with their loved ones and favorite teddy bears and preparing for the spring by flipping the occasional tire

But it wasn't always this way. In the days before a big league salary was enough to last year-round, players had to spend the winter months supplementing their incomes -- sometimes in an improbably bizarre fashion. Sure, it might not have been Bartolo Colon power-slamming some ropes, but there was vaudeville involved.

Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto, suit salesmen

In the '50s, stars didn't get much brighter than Berra and Rizzuto: MVPs, All-Stars and key cogs on the Yankees teams that won five straight titles from 1949-1953.

But hey, even superstars have to make a living, Bronx Bombers included. So, in the winter of 1951, any gentleman in need of a suit in Newark, N.J., could purchase one from a couple of future Hall of Famers.

In the picture above that's 1952 MVP Bobby Shantz trying on a suit while 1951 MVP Berra takes measurements and 1950 MVP Rizzuto jots them down at Newark's American Shops. That was hardly the only odd job Yogi held during the early years of his career -- he once sold hardware at a department store and even headed back to his hometown of St. Louis one winter to greet patrons at a local restaurant.

Joe Morgan, snowplow operator

No, this isn't Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. This is "Turnpike Joe," the Boston folk hero who starred at Boston College, signed with the hometown Braves and eventually worked his way up to manager of the Red Sox. 

While he's best remembered for his colorful turns of phrase in the Boston dugout -- he would punctuate every Roger Clemens start with "Roger spun another beauty" -- his nickname came from his days as a skipper in the Red Sox farm system. From 1976 to 1985, Morgan spent his winters driving a snowplow on the Massachusetts Turnpike -- a span that included Boston's legendary blizzard of February 1978.

He became a coach with the Major League club in 1985, and his 1986 World Series bonus allowed him to quit his other job for good. But he always looked back on it fondly, even if it wasn't the most glamorous line of work: "The side benefit was the money you'd find in snowbanks," he told Peter Gammons in 1988. "But about all I got was cat food, mayonnaise and salad dressing."

Lou Brock, florist

"It's a rough business. You've got to give 'em what they want." So begins a 1969 Associated Press article on Brock -- not his baseball career, but his attempt to break into the flower shop business.

As he established himself as a star with the Cardinals in the '60s and '70s, Brock invested in all sorts of business opportunities, from a sporting goods store to the "Brockabrella" -- an umbrella that you could wear on your head.

Before any of that, though, there was The Flower Shop: an unassuming corner store that made no mention of the future Hall of Famer behind the counter inside. The shop turned into a success, despite plenty of skepticism at the time regarding Brock's lack of floral experience. Luckily, he had just the pithy response: "Did anybody ever ask Rockefeller why he went into the oil business?"

Jackie Robinson, electronics store employee

The 1949 season was the best of Robinson's storied Major League career: He slashed .342/.432/.528, stole a career-high 37 bases and took home his only NL MVP award, firmly establishing himself as one of the very best players in baseball. How did he celebrate? By going to work at Sunset Appliance in Rego Park, Queens.

To supplement his salary, Robinson took the cross-borough trip every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to sell television sets. He had plenty of natural talent for it -- and, of course, being Jackie Robinson didn't hurt. 

"Business [is] booming like wildfire since Jackie came," Sunset owner Joseph Rudnick told the Jan. 7, 1950, issue of The New Yorker. "He's a natural salesman, with a natural modesty that appeals to buyers. The salesman wrapped up in himself makes a very small package."

Richie Hebner, gravedigger

A first-round pick in the 1966 Draft, Hebner carved out a very respectable big league career, slashing .276/.352/.438 with 203 dingers over 18 seasons spent mainly with the Pirates. But all that success on the diamond didn't keep him from carrying on the family tradition: Every offseason, Hebner headed back home to Massachusetts and dug graves, just like his father and grandfather before him.

Hebner earned $35 a grave and kept it up long after his playing days were done -- "I dug graves for 35 years with a pick and shovel," he told MLive back in 2011. 

That same year, Hebner and his unusual occupation were given the ultimate tribute: a Minor League bobblehead.

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