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The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: An Inside History
By Dave Anderson, Harvey Araton, Jack Curry, Gordon Edes, Tyler Kepner, Jackie Macmullan, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan, George Vecsey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 The New York Times
All rights reserved.
The Babe in Boston by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe
The Boston Red Sox were established as the American League's signature franchise when 19- or 20-year-old (there's some dispute) George Herman Ruth arrived at Fenway Park in July of 1914. The 1914 Sox were a struggling team when Ruth arrived, but they had many players who'd been on the 1912 World Series champs, including future Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper, plus Smokey Joe Wood, who went 34-5 in 1912. The veterans were in no mood for a big cocky kid from Baltimore who wanted to pitch and hit. The brash youngster even demanded to take batting practice, which was unheard of for a pitcher. After a brief stint in the majors, the Sox sent Ruth to Providence of the International League in August but called him back up for the final week of the big-league season. He beat the Yankees at the end of the year and cracked his first major league hit, a double off Leonard (King) Cole. It was a rather unremarkable beginning to a career that would make Ruth the most famous athlete in the world.
In Ruth's rookie year he also met a 16-year-old waitress named Helen Woodford. They were married in October of 1914.
Ruth went to spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with the Sox in March of 1915. Manager Bill Carrigan did not have the Babe in the Sox starting rotation early in the season, but when star righty Carl Mays sprained an ankle Carrigan turned to his large southpaw. Ruth quickly impressed the brass, pitching 13 innings and hitting his first big-league homer in a 4-3 loss to the Yankees (who else?) at the Polo Grounds. It was an eye-opener for Carrigan and Company. In July, at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, Ruth hit a single, two doubles and a prodigious home run while hurling the Sox to a 4-2 victory. The Red Sox finished first with a 101-50 record and Ruth wound up going 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA and 28 complete games in 32 starts. He also hit .315 with four homers in 92 at bats. Carrigan opted not to use Ruth on the mound in the World Series against the Phillies. The Sox won the championship in a tidy five games and Ruth's only appearance came as a pinch hitter. The Babe grounded out to first base. Some players never get another shot at the Fall Classic. This was not the case with Babe Ruth.
In 1916 Ruth went 23-12 for the defending World Champs and led the American League with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts. He started 41 games, completed 23, and fanned 170 batters in a whopping 323.2 innings. He hit three more homers and batted .272. The Sox won another pennant and faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. These were heady times for Boston's American League franchise.
Ruth finally got a chance to pitch in the Series and won the second game, pitching 14 innings in a 2-1 victory. It was the longest World Series game ever played at the time and Ruth told Carrigan, "I told you a year ago I could take care of those National League bums, and you never gave me a chance." The Sox won the Series in five games and Carrigan retired when it was over.
After the Red Sox won the Series in 1916, the club was sold to Harry Frazee, a New York theater producer. Frazee and partner Hugh Ward bought the team for $675,000 and pledged to spend whatever it took to bring another championship to Boston. Frazee was the sixth owner of the Red Sox, following Charles W Somers, Henry J. Killilea, John I. Taylor (of the The Boston Globe Taylors, who built Fenway and named the Red Sox), James R. McAleer and Joesph J. Lannin. Born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1880, Frazee financed and built theaters in Chicago and New York before buying the Red Sox. On the day the sale was announced, Frazee said, "I have always enjoyed the game and now I think that I shall have a chance to show what I know about handling a baseball club." After the press conference, he took the midnight train back to his home in New York. It was a sign of things to come for Boston fans.
In 1917 Ruth went 24-13 with an ERA of 2.01 and led the league with 35 complete games. He hit two homers and batted .325, but it was not enough to help the Sox to another pennant. Boston finished in second place, nine games behind the White Sox. This was the year in which Ruth became more difficult to handle, on and off the field. The respected Carrigan was gone and Jack Barry had trouble handling his star pitcher. In addition to running around on Mrs. Ruth and getting into car accidents, the Babe wanted his salary doubled to $10,000.
After the season, Barry was called to active duty and Frazee hired Ed Barrow to manage Ruth and the rest of the Red Sox.
In 1918, Barrow and Ruth led the Red Sox to their fifth and thus far (through 2003) final World Series championship. The Yankees, meanwhile were still in search of their first World Series win.
Frazee was actually accused of buying a pennant in 1918, an odd charge given what later happened. Unsatisfied with the runner-up finish in 1917, he bought Stuffy Mclnnis, Amos Strunk, Wally Schang and Joe Bush. Ruth won the season opener and hit his first homer in his fifth start of the season — against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Notice the pattern. The Bambino made a lot of noise in Boston-New York jousts. He always seemed to come up big against the Yankees and he would later specialize in torturing the Red Sox.
The '18 Sox were a fairly light-hitting team, and outfielder Harry Hooper urged Barrow to play the Babe every day. On May 6, three years to the day after hitting his first big-league homer, Ruth started at first base and batted sixth in the lineup ... against the Yankees. Other than pinch-hitting appearances, it was the first time Ruth batted anywhere other than ninth in the lineup. Naturally, he hit a home run. Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert watched the blossoming of a superstar with great box office appeal. Five of Ruth's first 11 big-league homers were hit against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds.
Ruth was batting cleanup by the time the Sox moved to their next stop on the road trip in Washington. By this time, the Babe had decided he wanted to be an every day player, not a pitcher. He finished the season with 11 homers and 64 RBI, batting .300 in 317 at bats. He started only 18 games on the mound and went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA. Meanwhile, he ignored signs from his manager and jumped the club in July to join a barnstorming team. Making $7,000, he temporarily left the team in July, signing with the Chester Shipyards of the Delaware Shipbuilding League. He was AWOL from the Sox for only two days, but Frazee was beginning to think that his young star might be too much to handle.
Ruth beat the Cubs, 1-0, in the first game of the 1918 World Series. He also won Game 5, extending his Series scoreless streak to 29.2 innings, and cracking his first World Series hit, a two-run triple at Fenway Park. The Red Sox won the Series in six games and Ruth retired as a World Series pitcher with a lifetime record of 3-0 (all one-run wins) and an ERA of 0.87. It's still incredible to think that the best hitter of all time started out by being one of the finest pitchers of his day.
Established as a champion and a star, the Babe wanted more money. He wanted $30,000 spread over two years. Frazee wasn't interested. These were war years, baseball attendance was down, and money was tight. Rather than accommodate Ruth's demand, the Sox owner shipped three solid players (including leftfielder Duffy Lewis) to the Yankees in exchange for four marginal talents and $50,000. Yankee owners Ruppert and Colonel Tillinghast Huston were happy to give the Sox cash if it would improve the championship-starved Yankee ballclub.
Mr. and Mrs. Babe Ruth on their farm at Sudbury, Massachusetts, before her 1929 death in a fire. (Associated Press)
By this time Ruth had settled in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where he lived on a farm with cattle, pigs and hens. He stayed home when the defending World Champion Red Sox reported to spring training in 1919, threatening to become a heavyweight fighter, but eventually agreed on a three-year deal worth $30,000. When he got to Florida he hit a tape-measure home run in Tampa and moved into Lewis's spot in left field. Conversion to the outfield was virtually complete. In 1919 Ruth smashed 29 homers, a big league record, and hit .322 in 432 at-bats while starting only 15 games on the mound. He also became a big draw at the gate. Ruth was on his way to becoming the Great Sultan of Swat.
Meanwhile, he ran into more trouble off the field. He was suspended after a curfew battle and almost got into a fistfight with Barrow. Late in the year, he embarrassed Frazee, claiming that Mrs. Ruth had to pay her way into Fenway for "Babe Ruth Day." Despite Ruth's record slugging, the Sox slumped to sixth place and the Babe left a bad taste when he bolted the team to play in a lucrative exhibition on the final weekend of the season in Washington. Then he said he wanted $20,000 for 1920.
Frazee was fed up with his star. Ruth was for sale and the Yankees were the logical buyers. Former 20-game winner Carl Mays (he'd win 53 games for the Yankees in the next two seasons) had already been sold to New York in the latest cash deal and it was only logical that Ruth would be next.
In recent years, much has been made of the "fallacy" that Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees in order to finance a play titled No, No Nanette. The debunkers point out that the Ruth deal was struck in 1919 and that the hit play didn't debut until 1923. The Frazee family has embraced these facts as proof that Big Harry did not sell out Boston in order to produce a hit play. It's also been pointed out that American League president Ban Johnson didn't like Frazee and the Sox owner dealt almost exclusively with New York as part of an alliance against the league president. While the limitations of Frazee's options are certainly a factor, and the cause-and-effect of the Ruth sale and the timing of Nanette are open to argument, the fact remains that Frazee cared more about his Broadway shows than about his baseball team and struck a deal which was good for him and bad for the Boston ballteam.
On Monday, January 5, Frazee announced that Babe Ruth had been sold to the Yankees for cash (it was $100,000 with $300,000 more going to Frazee in the form of a mortgage on Fenway Park).
The price was something enormous," Frazee said. "But I do not care to name the figures. It was an amount the club could not afford to refuse. I should have preferred to have taken players in exchange for Ruth, but no club could have given me the equivalent in men without wrecking itself, and so the deal had to be made on a cash basis. No other club could afford to give the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I do not mind saying I think they are taking a gamble."
Frazee's statement is baseball's equivalent of Neville Chamberlain's prediction that the Munich agreement of 1938 would bring, "peace in our time." Certainly Ruth was hard to handle and there was no way of predicting that he'd blossom into the greatest slugger the game has ever known, but Frazee's baseball transactions after the sale of Ruth indicate that his interests were not in concert with those of Red Sox fans.
After the sale of Ruth was announced, an editorial appeared in The New York Times, under the heading, "The High Price of Home Runs."
Harry Frazee sold the Red Sox in August of 1923, less than six months after the first performance of No, No Nanette. Since that day, the New York Yankees have won 26 World Series, the Boston Red Sox 0.CHAPTER 2
The Babe Captures New York by Dave Anderson of The New York Times
If Babe Ruth had been sold to the Yankees in today's world, he would have been introduced to New York at a glitzy news conference at Yankee Stadium, if not Times Square or City Hall, with television cameras rolling, photographers clicking and George Steinbrenner gloating. But this was 1920 and the Babe didn't arrive in New York until nearly two months after the Jan. 5 announcement that inspired his opinion of H. Harrison (Harry) Frazee, the Red Sox owner who had sold him, so to speak, down the Boston Post Road.
"Frazee is not good enough to own any ball club, especially one in Boston," the Babe growled between rounds of golf in California where he was pursuing a movie deal. "He has done more to hurt baseball in Boston than anyone who was ever connected with the game in that city."
How prophetic. But at the time not even the Babe realized how prophetic that statement would be. More than eight decades later, the pain of the Babe's departure not only still hurts in Boston, but the name Harry Frazee still lives in infamy to anyone with a connection to Fenway Park.
"Because I demanded a big increase in salary, which I felt I was entitled to, he brands me as an ingrate and a troublemaker," the Babe said, alluding to Frazee. "The time of a ballplayer is short, and he must get his money in a few years or lose out. Any fair-minded fan knows that my efforts last season warranted a larger salary, and I asked him for it. If my playing last year did not merit a raise, then it never will and I would go along in a rut.
"I like Boston and the Boston fans," he added. "They have treated me splendidly and if not for Frazee, I would be content to play with the Red Sox to the end of my baseball days. Boston seems more or less like my hometown, and with a regular man at the head of the club, I would prefer to remain there. Frazee sold me because he was unwilling to meet my demands and to alibi himself with the fans, he is trying to throw the blame on me."
About six weeks later the Babe returned to Boston where he promoted his investment in a 5-cent cigar, sometimes sitting in a store window and smoking three simultaneously. He also was honored at a Hotel Brunswick dinner, although he really went to Boston to wangle a percentage of the money Frazee got for him from the Yankees: $125,000 plus a $300,000 loan for the Fenway Park mortgage. But when he tried to talk to Frazee, he was rebuffed.
"The son of a bitch wouldn't even see me," he growled.
On Feb. 28, the Babe finally arrived in New York to join the Yankee players and officials on a train to Jacksonville for spring training and the start of a Yankee career that popularized baseball as never before while polarizing the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry to this day. As the Babe carried the Yankees to six American League pennants and three World Series championships in his first nine seasons, the Red Sox thudded to the depths of the second division. When he hit a record 60 homers in 1927, the last -place Red Sox hit a total of 28.
The Babe was not merely a good player who got away from Boston, he remains arguably the best player in baseball history. He not only hit 714 homers, he had been the American League's best pitcher with the Red Sox (89-46 record, 3-0 in the World Series with an 0.87 earned-run average).
Over the years, Hank Aaron has surpassed the Babe's home run total, hitting a record 755, and Barry Bonds has approached it in recent years, but the Babe was much more. Had he remained a left-handed pitcher, he almost surely would have been voted into the Hall of Fame as a pitcher.
For all of the Babe's outbursts as a Yankee, his emergence as a baseball idol was all the more galling to Boston's fans because it coincided with the Red Sox' descent to disgrace. If he had been sold to another A.L. team, Red Sox fans might not have resented his loss so much. But as a Yankee, his success was now neighboring New York's triumph and Boston's loss. That stung. No wonder Red Sox devotees eventually would describe their team's frustrations into the 21st century as "The Curse of the Bambino" — the nickname for the Babe that developed when that era's New York immigrant Italians used the Italian word for baby, "bambino," at what amounted to his New York baseball baptism.
While the Yankees prospered financially throughout the Babe's 15 seasons, the Red Sox staggered in red ink. When Frazee, a New York theatrical producer who was mostly an absentee Red Sox owner, sold out to Robert A. Quinn in 1923 for $1.25 million, not one player remained from Boston's 1918 World Series champions.
To salt the wounds of the rivalry, of the 24 Yankee players eligible for the 1923 World Series (the Yankees' first of their record 26 Series triumphs), 11 were former Red Sox players that Frazee had supplied, mostly for cash — the Babe, right-hander Waite Hoyt, catcher Wally Schang and outfielder Mike McNally in 1921; third baseman Joe Dugan, shortstop Everett Scott, right-handers Joe Bush and Sam Jones in 1922; left-hander Herb Pennock and right-hander George Pipgras in 1923, as well as right-hander Carl Mays, who had arrived in a 1919 trade. If so many deals strengthening one team while weakening another were to occur today, the Commissioner's office, if not Congress, surely would be asking questions. But back then, the Boston Post Road was a one-way street to the beginning of baseball's most successful franchise.
"The Yankee dynasty," said right-hander Ernie Shore, who had been dealt by the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1918 before leaving after the 1920 season, "was the Red Sox dynasty."
Excerpted from The Rivals by Dave Anderson, Harvey Araton, Jack Curry, Gordon Edes, Tyler Kepner, Jackie Macmullan, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan, George Vecsey. Copyright © 2004 The New York Times. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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