In 1998, Mike Piazza signed a seven-year, $91-million contract with the New York Mets. It was the largest deal in baseball history at the time.
Before the Hall of Fame catcher made a name for himself — and a multimillion dollar salary — he got by on much less: "My first contract was $850 a month," Piazza tells online investing platform Wealthsimple. That was in 1989, when he was playing with the Salem Dodgers in the minor leagues.
"I lived with four other guys in Salem, and we all pooled our money together and kind of lived like a family," he adds.
When they traveled for games, Piazza and his teammates got $8 to $10 a day for meals. "We stretched our dollars," he says. "Obviously your Sizzler Steak would have the salad bar. The Olive Garden with the unlimited breadsticks. We always knew where to go. … There was this place — I forget where it was — where they had all-you-can-eat spaghetti and Bolognese for like $6.99, and we'd all go there and just crush all this spaghetti and Bolognese."
In his second year, he got a raise to $1,000 a month. The next year, he made $1,100 a month. After grinding for three seasons in the minor leagues, he was called up to the majors in 1992. He signed his first major league contract with the Dodgers in 1993: "It was $15,000 for the year, non-negotiable. It wasn't a ton of money, but at the time it seemed like a lot to me."
His first big league check went straight to savings, he tells Wealthsimple: "When I got my first one I just remember going wow, and then going to the bank and depositing it with the teller."
Piazza says he's always had a savings-first mindset. "We grew up very conservative with money," he says. "Very middle class."
When he was living off $1,000 a month in the minor leagues, he remembers traveling with his team for games in Reno, Nevada, where there's an abundance of casinos. "I would see a bunch of guys just burn their checks at the tables," says Piazza. "And I'm going, 'Dude, I'm sorry, but I work too hard for this money.' I mean, I would take a hundred bucks and play slots. But I never wanted to chase my money."
Even after Piazza started making big money — he was making $6 million by 1999 and earned $15 million in 2004 and 2005 — he maintained a conservative money mindset: "Today, if I go to Vegas, which is very rare, I'll take out $500, maybe play some blackjack, maybe a little poker. But that's it."
Piazza, now married and living in Italy with his wife and three kids, still finds pleasure in saving money. Life in Italy, versus Miami, where his family used to live, is "a lot cheaper," he says. "I take my kids to church on Sunday and then afterward we go out for lunch and of course we get pizza, pasta, wine, four appetizers, seafood, whatever, and it's like a hundred bucks, tops. In South Beach, it would be like three times as much."
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