December 26, 1919: The Curse of the Bambino; Babe Ruth is Sold to the Yankees

“There is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth last year. What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team that finishes in sixth place.”
– Harry Frazee Curse

Being from New York City, Harry Frazee was always regarded with suspicion by Boston’s sportswriters and baseball fans. He only won them over by being willing to spend big money to acquire top players, even offering the Senators $60,000 for Walter Johnson, to build a winning team on the field.

Frazee bought Babe Ruth from Baltimore in 1914. When Babe Ruth arrived in Boston he became the best left-hand pitcher in baseball, winning 18 games in 1915, 23 in 1916 and 24 in 1917, and he led the Red Sox to win the World Series in 1915, 1916, and 1918.

In 1919, the “Bambino” hit a homer in every American League park, playing 111 games in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching and led the league in home runs (29), runs (103), and RBIs (114). Ruth’s home runs made him a national sensation and brought record-breaking attendance. Even so, the team finished in sixth place and Frazee called Ruth’s home runs “more spectacular than useful.”

Meanwhile, Jacob Ruppert, the New York Yankee’s principal owner, desperately needed a winning team. He asked the Yankee’s manager Miller Huggins what the team needed to be successful. “Get Ruth from Boston” came the answer, along with the hint that Frazee was perennially in need of money to finance his theatrical productions.

On the day after Christmas, 1919, Jacob Ruppert bought the rights to Babe Ruth from Harry Frazee for $100,000, the largest sum ever paid for a baseball player. The $100,000 price included $25,000 in cash, and notes for the balance; Ruppert and Huston assisted Frazee in selling the notes to banks for immediate cash. The deal also involved a $350,000 loan from Ruppert to Frazee, secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park.

The New York Times commented on the acquisition, “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.”

Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920. He broke that record several times in the years that followed. His record of 60 home runs in 1927 stood for 34 years. The Yankees, who had never won even the American League championship, went on to win seven pennants and four World Series titles with the “Sultan of Swat”.

The Red Sox, winners of five of the first sixteen World Series, would not win another pennant until 1946, and the “Curse of the Bambino” would not be fully reversed for 86 years until they finally won another World Series in 2004.

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