The Trade That Changed Everything

If you’ve ever wondered about the impact one person can have on the world, look no further than the story of Harry Frazee. He’s remembered for having terrible taste in musicals and being the worst person in Red Sox history. Ninety-eight years ago today, Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for a paltry sum of $100,000 to finance his musical, No No Nanette. To quote Fever Pitch, “like I’d ever see that piece of crap.”

The Red Sox were a dynasty in the early 1900s. They were the Yankees before the Yankees became the Yankees. Why? In large part, because they had Babe Ruth. Ruth was a star pitcher, outfielder, and home run hitter, hitting absolute blasts in the days of dead ball.

Until Babe Ruth, the Yankees had never even won the American League pennant, let alone a World Series. The Red Sox, meanwhile, had won the first official World Series in 1903, and had gone on to win again in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. In six seasons with the club, Babe Ruth had won three of their World Series. He’d pitched a total of 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings, a new league record that would last 43 years.

In 1919, the Red Sox finished 6th in the American League, but Babe Ruth had had a phenomenal season. On the mound, he’d gone 9-5. At the plate, his 29 homers set a new Major League home run record, and he led the AL with 114 RBIs. When his manager notified him of the trade, Ruth sent him a telegram:

“Will not play anywhere but Boston.”

In 1920, his first season with the Yankees, Ruth almost doubled his previous year’s stats. He hit 54 homers in 1920, and 59 the following season. In his time with the Yankees, they became so popular that they were able to leave the Polo Grounds and build their own Yankee Stadium, “the house that Ruth built.” They won 7 American League pennants and 4 World Series titles with the Bambino.

In the decades that followed, the Yankees won 39 American League pennants and 26 World Series championships while the Red Sox went 86 years without winning another World Series. From 1918 to 2004, the Red Sox lived to regret Harry Frazee’s infamous decision, living with a very real Curse of the Bambino. It took almost nine decades for the Red Sox to recover, but in 2004, they finally bested the Yankees. The comeback was spectacular, with Boston going from down three games winning four straight.

In January 1920, James C. O’Leary of the Boston Globe covered Ruth’s sale to New York, writing:

“Ruth was very popular in Boston… fans may first be inclined to regard his transfer to the Yankees with disfavor, but if they withhold judgment until they have thoroughly sized up the affair, the chances are that they will agree with Pres Frazee and others that the sale of “Babe” will, eventually, redound to the welfare of the Boston club. “Cy” Young, Tris Speaker and other stars were let go and the Red Sox still won championships. Ruth and others came along and helped them to win, and it may reasonably be expected that the club will again do without Ruth what it did without Young, Speaker and others.” 

If only they knew what we know now. That Babe would far outshine his Boston self in New York. That Harry Frazee did not use that money to buy better players – as if there were any – but rather, to finance his own pathetic pipe dream. That Red Sox Nation would live in torment for almost a century. That the Yankees would become the most obnoxious, insufferable bastards in baseball.

We can only hope our current owners are making better decisions.

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