In 1937, in his second major league season, Joe DiMaggio batted .346/.412/.673, with 167 RBI and 418 total bases. He finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting. He was paid $15,000.
He believed he should earn $40,000 for 1938, but the club offered only $25,000. DiMaggio held out and did not report to spring training.
Under the rules of the time -- you know, the "good old days" -- whichever team first signed a player had full control over him for his entire career. Free agency did not exist. The player could either sign whatever contract was offered or he could retire.
Once the season began, DiMaggio accepted the $25,000 and returned to the team. Ripped as greedy in the sports pages (naturally), Yankee fans booed him for most of the season. ... Some things never change.
Click here to read DiMaggio's explanation of his holdout -- and his thoughts on baseball and money, in general.
Bonus link! Here's a letter to the editor of the New York Times I wrote about the same subject in February 1995!