For those of you that are familiar with the history of the New York Yankees, there is truly only one event that changed the dynamic of the franchise forever. It was the acquisition of the player that most baseball historians credit with saving the game of professional baseball, coming off of the heels of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the team either knew, or accepted money to throw the World Series, resulting in each of them being banned for life from the game of baseball. Of course I’m talking about the Yankees purchasing Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was in financial trouble. While he really liked the game of baseball, and enjoyed owning the Boston Red Sox, his love was theater. Frazee had produced several shows which appeared on Broadway in New York City, some of which were not as successful as he had hoped. He was always looking for financing for his next show idea, and when he ran into major financial trouble, he turned to the Red Sox most bitter rival location-wise in the New York Yankees for financial assistance.
On this date in 1919, for the sum of $125,000 along with a guaranteed loan of an additional $300,000 loan with Fenway Park being used as collateral, the Yankees purchased the rights of George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Ruth had helped the Red Sox win a pair of World Series championships, but Frazee believed Ruth was uncontrollable, and acted like an overgrown child. Ruth’s exploits as a starting pitcher were legendary, as he won 20 or more games twice, and recorded an ERA under 3 on five separate occasions. He led the league in ERA with a 1.75 tally in 1916 and led baseball with 9 shutouts that same season. The Yankees weren’t purchasing Ruth for his pitching arm, as he displayed mammoth power after the Red Sox began using him in the outfield more and more. During his final season in Beantown, Ruth recorded a season of 29 home runs, 114 runs batted in. He hit .322 and had an OPS+ of 217!
Frazee was blasted by those around baseball for the deal, but little did anyone know what impact the sale of Ruth to the Yankees would have on the history of baseball. Not only did Ruth become the the premier slugger of his day, but he was and still remains the gold standard for which every hitter in big league history is measured against. Baseball fans came in droves to witness the supreme power exploits of the “Sultan of Swat”, as he helped create the first of the Yankees’ dynasties. During his time in the Bronx, Ruth and Lou Gehrig led the Yankees to four World Series titles, and seven American League pennants. Ruth set multiple major league records for hitting, including single-season marks for home runs, and was the career leader in home runs at the time of his retirement with 714. Ruth was in the inaugural Hall of Fame class enshrined in Cooperstown, New York.
The Red Sox on the other hand, suffered through 86 long and tortuous years before winning another World Series championship. The sale of Ruth to the Yankees, along with Boston’s inability to win a championship, was termed “The Curse of the Bambino.” Boston endured multiple World Series heartbreaks before ending the curse in 2004, ironically by coming back from a 3-games-to-none deficit at the hands of the Yankees. The Sox took Games 6 and 7 in the Bronx, and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to complete the task.
While not nearly as big of an event on Yankees history as the purchase of Ruth from the Red Sox, on this day in 1964, the Seattle Angels hired future Yankees skipper Bob Lemon as their manager. Lemon would lead the Angels for two seasons, winning the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year Award in 1966. In terms of Yankees history, Lemon would take over for the much-maligned Billy Martin during the middle of the 1978 season. With his calming influence, the Yankees overcame a 14 1/2 game deficit on the…guess who, the Boston Red Sox to force the famous 1-game playoff which culminated in the Bucky Dent home run that put the Yankees over the top and crowned them champions of the American League East. The Yankees would go on to win their second straight World Series championship managed by Lemon.
Lemon was dismissed in June of 1979 and replaced by Martin. He remained with the organization for the next couple of years, working as a scout. Lemon returned to the Yankees dugout one more time and led the Yankees to the World Series in 1981, having beaten Martin’s Oakland Athletics in the process. The Yankees were swept by the Dodgers in the ’81 Series, and Lemon lasted just 13 games into the ’82 season before getting the ax for the final time.
I hope each of you had a very safe and Merry Christmas, and be sure to join myself, editor Jason Evans, and host Ricky Keeler as we recap the year of 2013 for the Yankees in the year’s final Yanks Go Yard Radio Show!