15 Highest Pro Athlete Salaries of 2011

highest-paid athletes

The annual salaries commanded by pro athletes seem to be growing exponentially, don’t they? It just seems like every year, in every sport, somebody is breaking a record for most money paid to a grown man for playing a game.

Some of us don’t really have a problem with this, and instead fantasize about what we would do with all that money. (Medium-risk mutual funds usually don’t play large roles in such fantasies.) Others think it’s ridiculous that a guy can get paid $20 million a year to hit a leather-wrapped ball of twine with a stick. But no matter what you think about it, one thing is certain: the guys with the 8-figure salaries don’t mind one bit.

Here’s an up-to-date list of the top player salaries in the world of pro sports today.

None of these figures include endorsement deals or other income. They are the players’ minimum base salaries or earnings. For basketball, the figures listed are what players are scheduled to be paid for the hypothetical 2011-12 NBA season. For all other sports, the figures are for the most recently completed season.

Enjoy reading about how great other people have it!

15. Todd Helton / MLB / $20,275,000
todd helton rockies
Rockies first baseman Todd Helton got paid just over twenty million bucks to bat .302/.385/.466 (AVE/OBP/SLG) with 14 HRs and 69 RBIs this year. The 38-year-old, who hasn’t hit 20 HRs or slugged better than .500 since 2005, is clearly being paid more for what he did than what is currently doing. And Albert Pujols wonders why the Cardinals are nervous about giving him a $250 million, 10-year contract?

14. Valentino Rossi / Moto GP / $20,800,000
valentino rossi
Italian motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi is a 7x MotoGP (Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix) champion. And apparently there’s a boatload of money in European motorcycle racing, because Valentino here made a killing over the last year. (Note: there are no representatives from North American motor sports on this list.)

13. Kevin Garnett / NBA / $21,200,000
kevin garnett
Kevin Garnett had a decent year with the Celtics last season, averaging 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. But that’s a far cry from the 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists he averaged per game in his 2004 MVP campaign. So, um…yeah. Like Todd Helton, Kevin will be paid more for what he did in the past that what he’s likely to do in the future. Sorry, Celtics fans.

12. Johan Santana / MLB / $21,645,000
johan santana
In 2011, New York Mets ace Johan Santana easily cleared $20 million. But if you’re saying to yourself, “hey, I don’t even remember hearing anything about Santana this year,” you’d be on to something. The 32-year-old Venezuelan started 0 games, pitched 0 innings, and struck out 0 batters. On the bright side, I guess that would make his ERA 0.00.

11. Tim Duncan / NBA / $21,300,000
tim duncan
The Spurs’ Tim Duncan hasn’t been among the NBA’s most dangerous players for quite some time. But as you can clearly see, pro sports franchises tend not to take the inevitable process of aging into account when working out player contracts. Hence, Duncan is scheduled to be the 3rd-highest paid player in the league in 2011. He’ll make more money than LeBron, D-Wade, Dirk, or Dwight Howard.

10. Rashard Lewis / NBA / $22,150,000
rashard lewis
Speaking of NBA players with absurd contracts, the Wizards’ Rashard Lewis takes the cake on that front. Somehow, this two-time all-star negotiated a contract with the Orlando Magic that will make him the 2nd-highest paid player in NBA for the upcoming season. But what is more amazing than Lewis actually being signed to this contract? The fact that the Washington Wizards actually traded for this contract in 2010. (If this story sounds familiar to baseball fans, it should. See #4.)

9. Fernando Alonso / F1 / $22,700,000
fernando alonso
This Formula 1 race car driver may have finished #2 in the standings last season, but he was #1 in cash. The Ferrari Team member made a cool $22.7 million, which made him Spain’s highest-paid athlete. (What, you thought that honor would go to a soccer player? Please, the world’s highest-paid soccer player is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and he “only” made $19.5 million. This would have to be a top 20 list for a soccer player to make an appearance.)

8. Joe Mauer / MLB / $23,000,000
joe mauer
Twins catcher Joe Mauer struggled mightily with injuries throughout the 2011 season. Luckily, it was the first year of his massive 8-year $184 million contract, so he had twenty-three million reasons not to feel sorry for himself. (Also, he got to be in a Head & Shoulders commercial with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu. That had to be pretty fun, right?)

7. Mark Teixeira / MLB / $23,125,000
mark teixeira
Mark Teixeira is a great ballplayer, but you can’t really judge his talent by the size of his contract. Sure, he made over $23 million this year, but that’s in U.S. Dollars. In Yankee Dollars, that’s only like $15 million or so, which is not nearly as impressive.

6. CC Sabathia / MLB / $24,285,000
CC Sabathia
Ditto what I just said in #7 about Yankee Dollars versus U.S. Dollars. Sabathia made $4.284 million more than any other pitcher this year (Roy Halladay pulled in $20 million), but his 3.00 ERA was only the 17th best in baseball. I’m no accountant, but that doesn’t like a good return to me.

But hey, CC’s not complaining. Twenty-four million bucks buys a lot of donuts.

5. Kobe Bryant / NBA / $25,150,000
Kobe Bryant
If you’re talking about the best player in the NBA, Kobe is still in the conversation. His 25.3 points per game this past season was good for 5th in the league, only 2.4 points behind the top dog, Kevin Durant. So, in one sense at least, Kobe’s $25 million salary seems reasonable. Still, with guys like D-Wade and LeBron making less than $17 million per year, it should be pretty obvious that a decent chunk of Kobe’s salary was earned by those 5 NBA championship rings.

4. Vernon Wells / MLB / $26,187,000
vernon wells angels
That look on Vernon’s face is probably the look you will have on your face when you realize he was paid over $26 million to hit .218/.248/.412 this season for the Los Angeles Angels. To give you a frame of reference, Johan Santana and his $21 million dollar salary probably gave a greater return to the Mets even though he didn’t play a single game this year—because at least he didn’t take up a whole spot on the roster.

3. Kimi Räikkönen / WRC + F1 / $26,333,000
kimi raikonnen
Finland’s Kimi Räikkönen isn’t even close to being one of the all-time great F1 racers. He’s won just one Championship. Yes, that’s a nice accomplishment, but how did he turn that into a twenty-six million dollar salary? What’s more, Räikkönen doesn’t even compete in Formula 1 anymore. He’s on the World Rally Championship now. I’m sure that’s great, but it’s no F1. But more power to you, Kimi, and good luck in the future.

2. Alex Rodriguez / MLB / $32,000,000
alex rodriguez
Like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, A-Rod is a Yankee, and the Yankees obviously don’t have a problem overpaying athletes. However, $32 million is a lot even for the Bronx Bombers. That’s like $20 million for regular teams. And all for a guy whose ability was significantly enhanced by steroids. Oops!

1. Manny Pacquiao / Boxing / $32,000,000
manny pacquiao
Diminutive boxer Manny Pacquiao is not only the WBO Welterweight World Champion. He’s also an elected member of the House of Representatives in his native Philippines. Still, I think it was the boxing that earned him that $32 million.

Now, $32 million is an amazing sum of money for someone not employed by the New York Yankees. But you know what’s more amazing than that $32 million Pacquiao earned? The fact that, for once, an athlete who is widely considered to be the best in his sport is actually the highest paid in his sport.