Phillies' Cliff Lee Is Arkansas' Top Dollar Athlete

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 12:00 am  

From left, Cliff Lee of Benton, Joe Johnson of Little Rock, Torii Hunter of Pine Bluff, A.J. Burnett of North Little Rock and DeAngelo Williams of Wynne.

Cliff Lee didn’t perform as well on the field in 2012 as he would have hoped.

Lee, a Benton native now pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, had just six victories in 15 games. It was his lowest win total since 2008, and Lee failed to add a third consecutive All-Star game appearance to his resume.

It was a difficult year for Lee, who was one year removed from the best season of his career.

Financially, though, Lee enjoyed the most lucrative of his nine-plus seasons in Major League Baseball. Lee earned $21.5 million — that’s nearly $3.6 million per win — and topped the list of highest-paid athletes with ties to the state of Arkansas.

Lee, who spent the 2000 season in college at the University of Arkansas, earned the high-paying contract with his output in previous years. He didn’t cash in on the mound, but certainly did so off the field with a salary that ranked him among the 10 highest-paid major league players for 2012.

Baseball was good to Arkansans this year: An Arkansas Business study of top athletic salaries for in-state professionals and athletes with in-state ties revealed. Lee topped our list, and three of the top five spots on our highest-paid Arkansans list went to big leaguers.

(Read the complete list of the highest-paid Arkansas athletes: download the PDF for free or buy a spreadsheet version.)

Torii Hunter, a Pine Bluff native who played the previous five seasons in the outfield for the Los Angeles Angels, earned $18.5 million in 2012. It was a $500,000 drop in salary for Hunter, who still made enough to rank No. 3 on the list of Arkansas athletes in the pros. Had the list been compiled last year Hunter, who was drafted out of high school, would have ranked No. 1.

Pitcher A.J. Burnett earned $16.5 million in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burnett, who did not play college baseball, went 16-10 with the Pirates last season, his best win-loss record since going 18-10 in 2008. He ranked No. 4 on the list of highest-paid local athletes.

Basketball star Joe Johnson ranked No. 2 on the list. He pulled in $19.7 million in the 2011-12 season, his final season with the Atlanta Hawks. Johnson, who now plays for the Brooklyn Nets, made $18 million in the 2010-11 season. Johnson averaged 18.8 points per game last season and was named to the All-Star team.

Rounding out the top five was Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams. The Wynne native is earning $8.7 million in 2012, up $1 million from his 2011 salary.

Football Dominates

While Williams was the only football player in the top five, he was one of 21 NFL players among the 35 Arkansas-raised athletes to make the Arkansas Business list. Williams, who was drafted in 2006, ran for 836 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, when he made $7.7 million.

Darren McFadden ranked just three spots behind Williams for 2012 at $7.8 million. McFadden, drafted out of Arkansas in 2008, saw a significant drop in his salary with the Oakland Raiders from 2011 to 2012.

McFadden, who has dealt with nagging injuries and topped 1,000 yards just once as a pro, earned more than $15 million in 2011. Included in that total was an $8 million bonus that was part of $26 million guaranteed in McFadden’s first contract with the Raiders.

Mark Martin, a Batesville native and 30-year veteran of Nascar, is the highest-paid Arkansan in a sport other than football, baseball or basketball. Martin won $2.78 million in 35 races in 2012.

Stacy Lewis, who played golf for the University of Arkansas, is the highest-paid golfer on the list, coming in at No. 18 with 2012 income of $1.86 million.

The high-paid golfer who is actually from Arkansas is Ken Duke of Hope and Henderson State University at Arkadelphia. Duke earned more than $1.5 million on the PGA Tour in 2012. It was a $1.1 million bump in earnings from his previous season on tour.

Duke was one of 19 athletes who earned at least $1 million in 2012. Bryce Molder, who starred at Conway High before becoming an All-American at Georgia Tech, was the only other golfer to earn $1 million.

Among the top-earning athletes from Arkansas were four who earned big paydays for the first time in their careers. Gosnell’s Jeremy Parnell, a former college basketball player, is making $873,333 in his first full season with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Defensive end Jake Bequette and wide receiver Joe Adams, both former University of Arkansas standouts from Little Rock, are making more than $500,000 annually.

Pitcher Drew Smyly, a Little Rock native who played baseball at the UA, rounds out the list at $480,000.

The highest paid non-native athlete with Arkansas ties is offensive tackle Jason Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles. Peters, who played at the UA, was set to earn $7.9 million this season before being placed on injured reserve.



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