Why on Earth Did Boston Sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees?Roundup
tags: baseball, Babe Ruth, Sports History, Yankees
Ms. Leavy is the author of “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.”
One hundred years ago on Christmas Day, typically the slowest news day of the year, George Herman Ruth Jr. knew there would be a news hole to fill. He excelled at filling space, with his girth, his personality, his grand and unprecedented home runs, and his sense of himself. By the end of the 1919 season, during which his 29 home runs had reinvented the game of baseball, he had concluded that the three-year contract he had signed that March with the Boston Red Sox for $10,000 a year was not commensurate with his largess.
Decamping for the West Coast for two months of “pastiming,” as one newspaper put it, Ruth let it be known that he expected the Red Sox owner, Harry Frazee, to double his salary. Answering reporters, Frazee demurred but assured them that Ruth would be “taken care of,” commending him as a good businessman who knew his own worth and wanted to be paid for it.
For the next two months, in a daily blitzkrieg of published fulmination, a ballplayer’s only recourse in the era before free agency, Ruth issued daily bulletins rejecting his contract as “a scrap of paper” and declaring his intention to return it unsigned, which in a previous interview he said he had already done.
In between, Ruth found time in his hectic schedule of fetes, soirees, photo shoots and exhibition games (which paid $500 each) to bask in studio lights while hitting imaginary home runs and declaring that he’d reached an agreement to appear in movies “indefinitely,” only to swear off the greasepaint a week later when he didn’t get his price. He mused about barnstorming in Australia or touring in vaudeville with the heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and a professional wrestler to be named later. Or, better yet, he’d take on a trainer and challenge the champ — all of which was subsequently denied by his new personal secretary, Johnny Igoe.
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