The $100,000 infield refers to a collection of four players assembled by the Philadelphia Athletics professional baseball team during the first decade of the 20th century. This collection of players would prove to be crucial in the complete dominance of the Athletics in the years from 1910 to 1914, during which the team reached the World Series every year except 1912 and won the Series three times.
As the first decade of the twentieth century wound down, Connie Mack (the legendary manager of the Philadelphia Athletics) wanted to build a very strong baseball club in Philadelphia, and with the support of the owners, he was pretty much allowed to construct the team as he wished. Mack believed that the infield was the crucial part of a baseball team and so he went about assembling a group of excellent young players at the positions of first base, second base, shortstop, and third base.
At first base, the team had John "Stuffy" McInnis. McInnis, who earned his nickname because he was said to have had "the right stuff" as a young ballplayer in Boston, was the last of the foursome to join; he began starting at first base in 1911, the first year the infield would lead the team to the World Series. McInnis was an unusual choice as a first baseman as he was just 5' 9" in height, much shorter than the average first baseman and roughly the average height of a shortstop or second baseman, positions more suited to a smaller, quicker person. In fact, in his earlier days, he was a shortstop. McInnis was perhaps most notable for his fielding talents; he went on to lead the American League in fielding at his position six times.
At second base was Eddie Collins, probably the best second baseman of his era and an eventual Hall of Famer. He still holds the major league record for most games played at second base, most fielding chances, most assists, and most putouts. He was the 1914 American League MVP and at various times led the league in stolen bases, on-base percentage, runs, and walks. Even more than that, he was known as a clutch performer, coming up with big hits when the team needed them most. He batted .328 for his career in the World Series along with 14 stolen bases in the Series, still a record.
The shortstop of this infield was John Barry, perhaps the least well known of the four of them. He and Collins formed a lethal double play combination, widely reputed to be the best in the league during Philadelphia's run of dominance. Barry was known as a clutch hitter despite his relatively low .243 career average. In fact, no other American League shortstop drove in more runs than he did from 1909 to 1917, the infield's heyday.
At third base was Frank "Home Run" Baker, easily the best hitter of the foursome. Baker wasn’t known for his fielding (he was average in the field), but his bat more than made up for it. He led the American League in home runs every season from 1911 to 1914, also leading the league in RBI in 1912 and 1913. In 1912 and 1913 he paced the circuit in RBI. During his time as an everyday player during Philadelphia's heyday from 1909 to 1919, only Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Collins collected more hits in the American League, no other player had more home runs, and only Cobb had more RBIs. Frank Baker is in Cooperstown today, right where he belongs.
There is no question that this infield was truly dominant. The Philadelphia Athletics won the World Series in 1910, 1911, and 1913, and made the Series in 1914 (much thanks to Orange Julius for clarification here), led by the infielders who all were clutch hitters. All of the men were consistently among leaders at their position in nearly every category, often leading the entire league in many statistical categories. They were the centerpiece of a great baseball dynasty, if only for a short while.
Connie Mack loudly bragged about his infield in the early years of the 1910's. He would often loudly tell the press and the fans that it would take more than $100,000 to pull any one of the men away from the Philadelphia Athletics, and it was actually proven to be the truth. In 1915, the upstart Federal League came calling with immense contracts for star players in the American League and the National League and the so-called $100,000 infield was targeted hard. It was these huge offers from the upstart league that caused the infield to break up in the middle of the decade and the Philadelphia Athletics juggernaut to slide a bit. It would recover in the next decade, but by then the members of this fabulous infield would all be retired.
It is hard to say what a set of infielders of this caliber would be worth today, but it would be easily fair to call them the $100 million infield if they played the game today. They truly dominated their positions at the time; never has such a dominant infield been assembled elsewhere. Although there are perhaps a few valid arguments against this, no infield team can truly stand up to their winning legacy.