While the Scarlett Hose are visiting the Pinstripes, we might as well visit the ever present mythos of The Babe. Mostly because hearing the play-by-play / color commentators tell this story is just getting old.
On December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. Popular legend has it that Frazee sold Ruth and several other of his best players to finance a Broadway play, No, No, Nanette (which, though it actually didn’t debut until 1925, did have origins in a December 1919 play, My Lady Friends). The truth is not so simple, as Frazee had another financial concern: Babe Ruth.
After the 1919 season, Ruth demanded a raise to $20,000 ($220,000 in current dollar terms)—double his previous salary. However, Frazee refused, and Ruth responded by letting it be known he wouldn’t play until he got his raise, suggesting that he may retire to undertake other profitable ventures. Frazee finally lost patience with Ruth, and decided to trade him. However, he was effectively limited to two trading partners—the Chicago White Sox and the then-moribund Yankees. The other five clubs rejected his deals out of hand under pressure from American League president Ban Johnson, who never liked Frazee and was actively trying to remove him from ownership of the Red Sox. The White Sox offered Shoeless Joe Jackson $60,000 ($660,000 in current dollar terms), but Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston offered an all-cash deal—$100,000 ($1,100,000 in current dollar terms).
Frazee, Ruppert and Huston quickly agreed to a deal. In exchange for Ruth, the Red Sox would get $125,000 ($1.37 million in current dollar terms) in cash and three $25,000 ($270,000 in current dollar terms) notes payable every year at 6 percent interest. Ruppert and Huston also loaned Frazee $300,000 ($3.29 million in current dollar terms), with the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral. The deal was contingent on Ruth signing a new contract, which was quickly agreed to, and Ruth officially became property of the Yankees on December 26. The deal was announced ten days later.
In the January 6, 1920 edition of The Boston Globe, Frazee described the transaction:
- “I should have preferred to take 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 me the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I don’t mind saying I think they are taking a gamble. With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us.”
However, the January 6, 1920 The New York Times was more prescient:
- “The short right field wall at the Polo Grounds should prove an easy target for Ruth next season and, playing seventy-seven games at home, it would not be surprising if Ruth surpassed his home run record of twenty-nine circuit clouts next Summer.”