The Worst (Best for the
Yankees) Deal in Baseball History
Harry Frazee Sells Babe Ruth to New York
On a cold January 5, 1920, Babe Ruth, 24, was sold by Red Sox owner Harry
Frazee to the New York Yankees for $125,000. Frazee was also given a
$350,000 mortgage on Fenway Park by Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert. In four
years as a pitcher Ruth was 78-40. In 1919, he batted .322 with 29 home
runs playing left field for the Red Sox.
Harry Frazee had a home in Boston, but his main residence was on Park
Avenue. He had made the comment that the "best thing about Boston was the
train ride back to New York." A show business wheeler-dealer who owned a
theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan, close by the New York Yankees
offices, Frazee was a gambler. And he was always hustling, scuffling about
for a buck, always overextended in one theatrical deal or another.
When Frazee sold Ruth, Red Sox general manager (soon to be Yankee general
manager) Ed Barrow had told Frazee: "You ought to know that you're making
Oh, what a mistake!
Born George Herman Ruth on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, legend claims
that he was an orphan; the truth is his mother died when he was 16, his
father when he was in the major leagues. His parents had placed him in St.
Mary's Industrial School for Boys for his "incorrigible" behavior:
stealing, truancy, chewing tobacco and drinking whiskey. Ruth's entire
youth was spent at St. Mary's where his awesome baseball talent was
In 1914, he began his storied major league career with Boston where he won
89 games over six seasons before his sale to the Yankees. Everything about
the Babe was excessive: his bat - 44 ounces, his frame - top playing
weight of 254 pounds, his appetites - food and drink consumed in
abundance, salary $75,000 in 1932 - highest in the majors.
Just from a statistical point of view, what the man players called "Jidge"
accomplished is staggering stuff. Thirteen times he led the American
League in home run percentage. Twelve times he notched more than 100 RBIs.
Eleven times he was the league leader in walks. Six times he led the
league in runs batted in.
Babe Ruth amassed 16 seasons of more than 20 home runs, 13 seasons of more
than 30, 11 times he had more than 40 or more home runs, four times he
hammered 50 or more home runs. During his 15 seasons in New York, the
"Sultan of Swat" powered the Yanks to four world championships. The
6-foot-2, 215-pound Ruth revolutionized the game, changing it from a
pitcher-dominated, scratch-out-a-run contest to a home run hitting, power
"The Babe" was the first to reach 30 homers, 40, 50, 60. From 1920-33, he
slugged 637 homers, an average of 45.5 per season. From 1926-31, when his
age ranged from 31 to 36 and when he was supposed to be past his prime, he
averaged 50 homers, 155 RBI, 47 runs and a .354 batting average.
The Yankees captured seven pennants and four Series with Ruth en- route to
his 714 career home runs. He added 15 home runs in World Series
competition. Ruth has the ninth-best average (.342) ever, the second-most
runs scored (2,174), second-most RBI (2,213), highest slugging percentage
(.690) and second-highest on-base percentage (.483). He ranks first in
career walks - 2,056, one every fourth at bat.
When the 1923 season opened, the Sultan of Swat already had 197 career
home runs - 25% of what would be his lifetime total of 747. The 1924
season was probably Ruth's career year; he won the Triple Crown with these
incredible numbers .378, 46 home runs, 142 RBIs).
The most celebrated sports figure of his time, perhaps of all time, the
Babe hammered the first home run ever in Yankee Stadium. Number 3 said: "I
could have had a lifetime .600 average, but I would have had to hit them
singles. The people were paying to see me hit home runs."
"No one hit home runs the way Babe did," his teammate Lefty Gomez said.
"They were something special. They were like homing pigeons. The ball
would leave the bat, pause briefly, suddenly gain its bearings, then take
off for the stands."
The dark age of Boston baseball can be traced directly to the sale of Babe
Ruth to the Yankees. Beginning in 1919 the BoSox began a 15-year steak of
losing campaigns, dropping at least 100 games in a season five times, and
at least 90 games five more times. Last place finishers in that era nine
times, they were a sad excuse for a baseball franchise.
The golden age of Yankee baseball can be traced directly to their
acquisition of the George Herman Ruth. The Yankees have won 26 world
titles since the Red Sox won their last.
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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