‘Babe’ Ruth Sold to the Yankees
It was surely the biggest sports—and business—blunder of his career. On Dec. 26, 1919, Boston Red Sox owner and president Harry Frazee sold “Babe” Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000. In giving up the player many consider the greatest in the history of baseball, Frazee crippled the Red Sox while immensely boosting the rival Yankees.
At the time of the sale, the Red Sox were one of the most successful franchises in baseball. They had won the first-ever World Series, in 1903 as the Boston “Americans,” and by 1918 had won baseball’s championship five times. After Ruth was sold, the Red Sox endured an 86-year championship drought, not winning the World Series again until 2004. Bitter Red Sox fans referred to this long stretch of misery as the “Curse of the Bambino,” named after one of Ruth’s colorful nicknames.
Ruth had been primarily a pitcher during his Red Sox career from 1914-1919—and a tremendously successful one at that. At the same time, he always displayed good hitting skills. In his last season with the Red Sox in 1919, he played in 130 games, but only pitched in 17 of them. He was growing into his role as a fulltime hitter, and set a single-season home run record that year with 29.
The year before, Ruth had signed a three-year contract paying him $10,000 per season—but after his hitting display in 1919 he demanded a raise to $20,000. This Frazee would not agree to, deciding instead to do business with his personal friend, Yankee owner and president Jacob Ruppert. Both men knew American League President Byron “Ban” Johnson would be unhappy with this cash deal, but both owners were feuding with Johnson and simply did not care what he thought or did. The sale went through, and was announced to an astonished press on Jan. 5, 1920.
Ruth would go on to hit an incredible 714 home runs in his career with a .342 lifetime batting average, earning him another nickname: “the Sultan of Swat.” He became a darling of New York Yankee fans everywhere, and a depressing reminder to Red Sox fans of what might have been.
This newspaper article, announcing the sale of “Babe” Ruth to the Yankees, was published by the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota) on Jan. 6, 1920:
Ruppert Buys the Only ‘Babe’; Ban [Johnson] May Not Like It; Colonel Says He Will Have to Anyway
Frazee Calls Retention ‘Injustice’ to Red Sox; Price Paid Is One Grand Secret
New York, Jan. 5.—The purchase of “Babe” Ruth of the Boston Americans, by the New York American [League] club, was announced tonight by Col. Jacob Ruppert, president of the New York club. Colonel Ruppert refused to state the price paid.
Colonel Ruppert said that Manager Miller Huggins of the Yankees is now in Los Angeles negotiating with Ruth.
Ruth has a three-year contract with the Boston club made last season calling for a salary of $10,000 a year. He is reported, however, to have declared recently that unless this sum was boosted to $20,000 he would not return to Boston.
Defies Ban Johnson
Colonel Ruppert said that President Ban Johnson would be advised tomorrow of Ruth’s purchase.
“We do not care what he thinks of it and do not even consider the idea of him trying to block it,” he added.
“All I can say is that whether Mr. Johnson likes it or not, Ruth will be in our opening lineup.”
Boston, Jan. 5.—President Harry H. Frazee of the Boston Americans said tonight that he had sold “Babe” Ruth to the New York [Yankees] because he thought it was an “injustice” to keep him with the Red Sox, who “were fast becoming a one-man team.”
He did not make public the purchase price.
Huggins Says He Signed
Los Angeles, Jan. 5.—Miller Huggins, manager of the New York [Yankees], tonight announced that he had signed “Babe” Ruth, champion home run hitter, to play with the Yankees next season. Papers were exchanged here late today Huggins said, terms satisfactory to each having been agreed upon. He refused to state what salary Ruth was to receive.
“Babe” Ruth tonight said he had no information regarding his reported sale by the Boston Americans to the New York American [League] club until told by the Associated Press that Colonel Ruppert, president of the Yankees, had announced the deal.
“I am not surprised, however,” he added.
“When I made my demand on the Red Sox for $20,000 a year, I had an idea they would choose to sell me rather than pay the increase and I knew the Yankees were the most probable purchasers in that event.”
Ruth, two hours after the reported agreement was made, had declared he had not seen Huggins and that he had had no word of his sale by the Boston Americans to the New York club. Efforts to reach him later to confirm or deny Huggins’ announcement were unavailing.
Click here for more articles about Baseball.
Click here for more articles about Sports.