As we’ve been tracking the growing philanthropy of top athletes from major sports leagues, particularly the NBA and the NFL, a common refrain has been that many of these stars are earning more than ever before. The top 10 NBA players alone earned about $367.7 million in salary during the 2019–2020 season. Players like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are building sizable philanthropic portfolios.
Then there’s Major League Baseball, which recently announced its glorious return after a 99-day owner-initiated lockout. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the MLB minimum salary rose from $570,500 last year to $700,000 this year. The top 11 earning MLB players will make $380 million during the upcoming 2022 season, with names like Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the New York Mets headlining that group.
We’ve only begun to dig into the philanthropy of MLB players, but with serious money waiting in the wings from top MLB stars, this is yet another league primed to produce athlete givers in the coming years. With the bulk of their attention focused on their playing careers, these figures have plenty of time to iron out and deepen their giving interests later. But getting a handle on what some of these sluggers, southpaws and utility players (the limit of my baseball parlance) are into now provides a window into what their philanthropy might look like down the line.
One tricky thing that makes tracking MLB philanthropy more difficult than, say, the NBA, is the sheer number of players involved. The typical MLB team has 26 players, but can have as many as 40 players under contract. So our list here is by no means exhaustive.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of Major League Baseball’s top philanthropic players.
Born on island nation Curaçao, Ozzie Abies, second baseman with the Atlanta Braves, started the Ozzie Abies Foundation, which promotes and facilitates the adoption of shelter pets. Back in his home country, Abies often encountered dogs roaming the streets. Today, he helps pets find homes. The foundation partners with organizations like Atlanta Humane Society, PAWS Atlanta, Pet Buddies Food Pantry and Planned PEThood of Georgia. The foundation also works in spay and neuter.
In late 2019, Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees, becoming the first pitcher to secure a $300 million contract. Born in Southern California, Cole met his wife Amy at UCLA, and together, they launched the Gerrit and Amy Cole Foundation in 2020. The charity focuses on pediatric cancer research, childhood hunger, education, arts education and youth athletics. Amy Cole serves as president of the foundation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple supported direct relief. Expect California and New York to be regions of focus as the Coles ramp up their giving.
Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker and his family started the Kyle Tucker Foundation to support and raise awareness for hospice care. Tucker was inspired to focus on this area after the passing of his grandfather. The foundation tends to support charitable organizations in Tampa (his birthplace) and Houston communities. It held its inaugural fundraising event last month.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Juan Soto—or “Childish Bambino” as he’s sometimes called—has spent the entirety of his young MLB career with the Washington Nationals. Influenced by fellow Dominican player Emilio Bonifácio, Soto donated about $200,000 to sponsor a mix of baseball players, boxers, and track and field athletes from the Dominican Republic.
“I know where they all came from and what they have been through,” Soto told the Washington Post. “The process we have to all go through is hard. We have to go from one side of the country to the other for practices. We had to go hours and hours without eating sometimes. We have to practice and have no proteins, or no shoes, or not the right clothing or equipment.”
Soto was also one of a few dozen Dominican baseball players to work with the Pedro Martinez Foundation (founded by the legendary Dominican American pitcher) to address the needs of their home country during the pandemic.
New York Mets third baseman Escobar started the Eduardo Escobar Foundation to support his native Venezuela, focusing on providing food, medical supplies and basic necessities, as well as furnishing local baseball leagues with equipment. Escobar played for the Minnesota Twins for several years and did community work in the Twin Cities, including donating game tickets so that local Spanish-speaking students could attend Twins games.
Longtime Atlanta Braves player Freddie Freeman recently signed a six-year, $162 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, bringing him back to his Southern California birthplace. During his time in Atlanta, Freeman worked with the Atlanta Braves Foundation and its Braves Care community outreach efforts. He also made a $125,000 commitment to Atlanta-based charities to combat food insecurity and homelessness, supporting The Giving Kitchen, Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Salvation Army, which he has been involved with since childhood.
Infielder Hanser Alberto, who has played for the Texas Rangers, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, has given both in the Baltimore area and in his native Dominican Republic. He launched Fundación Alberto Brito, which serves his hometown of San Francisco de Macorís. He also participated in the “Game of Legends,” a baseball exhibition with benefits going to the St. Jude Foundation.