Arts and Leisure

Babe Ruth: ‘A man ought to get all he can’

When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee announced he’d sold 24-year-old Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees on Jan. 5, 1920, The Boston Globe grossly understated fan reaction to the tragedy:

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

“Ruth was very popular in Boston, and for sentimental reasons the fans may be first inclined to regard his transfer to the Yankees with disfavor.”

Boston fans were stunned. Yankees fans were jubilant.  Before the sale, the Red Sox won 4 of 15 World Series, the Yankees none. After the sale, the Yankees won 26 of 84 World Series, the Red Sox none.

The Babe had had a monster year in 1919, hitting .350 with 101 walks and a league-leading 29 home runs. As his popularity grew, so did his waistline and the amount of drinking and gambling he did.

Frazee used that against Ruth, claiming the Boston club couldn’t put up with his ‘eccentricities.’ The real reason Frazee sold Ruth was that he needed cash to prop up his tottering theatrical production company. He sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 and a $350,000 mortgage on Fenway Park.  The Curse of the Bambino was cast.

But not before Frazee and Ruth fought over money in the press. At the beginning of the 1919 season Ruth had gotten a three-year, $10,000 contract, though he wanted $20,000. He made no apologies for his demands.  A baseball player’s career is short, he said.

“A man ought to get all he can,” said Ruth. “A man who knows he’s making money for other people ought to get some of the profit he brings in. Don’t make any difference if it’s baseball or a bank or a vaudeville show. It’s business, I tell you. There ain’t no sentiment to it. Forget that stuff.”

Before the 1920 season, Babe Ruth headed out to California, but not before telling Frazee he wouldn’t play unless he made $20,000.  Yankee manager Miller Huggins went to California to tell him in person he’d been sold to the Yankees. Ruth later said he knew the instant he saw Huggins in the hotel lobby.

Ruth demanded $20,000. Huggins demanded better behavior. Ruth got what he wanted. The Yankees, not so much.

As The Bambino once said, “I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, $50,000, or two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars, I will not give up women. They’re too much fun.”

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