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Why the Red Sox Went 86 Years Without a World Series Win
Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter baseball has ever seen. In his storied career, which lasted from 1914 to 1935, he hit 714 home runs, had 2,217 RBI, hit .342 and had a lifetime OPS of 1.167. He also had many other records, some of which still stands today. But more importantly, Ruth, changed the game from a low-scoring, speed dominated game to a power game. Ruth was the first American sports figure to transcend his game and become popular with people who had no interest in in the sport. In 1969, he was voted baseballs Greatest Player Ever and in 1999 in an ESPN poll, he was named the third greatest athlete of the century, behind only Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali.
Ruth began his career in 1914 as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. He helped the Red Sox to World Series wins in 1915. 1916 and 1918. However, in 1920 Ruth was sold to The Yankees for $125,000 ($1.45 million in today’s dollars) by then, owner Harry Frazee.
The popular account of Ruth’s sale to the Yankees, was that the owner, Frazee, a callous Broadway producer was in severe financial straits and used the profits from the sale of Ruth to finance the Broadway musical. “ No, No, Nanette”. Frazee also got an additional $300.000 loan with Fenway Park as collateral. Within a year Ruth became a superstar with the Yankees, hitting 54 home runs in his first season and leading the Yankees to seven World Series appearances and four world titles between 1921 and 1932. In the same timeframe the Red Sox would finish last in the 8 team American League eight times, including last-place finishes every year between 1925 and 1930. What many consider the greatest New York Yankees team, the 1927 team , the Sox finished a whopping 59 games behind their rivals! Frazee, was vilified in the Boston press. Boston Herald sportswriter Bart Whitman called the selling of Ruth and other players “the rape of the Red Sox“. As the years passed the Yankees continued to win world titles (26 as of 1999). That gave rise to the ridiculous notion that the Red Sox were cursed because Frazee sold the Bambino. The “curse” was lifted when the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004. If a poll had been taken prior to 2004 to determine the most hated person in Boston sports history, Frazee would be the likely winner.
According to Glenn Stout, an expert on Red Sox history and the author of the book “Red Sox Century” the “popular account is almost pure fiction”. First, Frazee was not in financial trouble. He had enough money to run the Red Sox and his Broadway plays. In fact, “No, No, Nanette” was a musical adaptation of a play that Frazee first produced in 1918. “No, No Nanette” did not premiere until several years later. Also, the owner and Ruth had been involved in a salary conflict all through the 1919 season. The sticking point was that Ruth wanted the unheard-of salary of $30,000 for three years. At the time Ruth’s pay was $7500 per season. At one point, the Babe threatened to quit and become a professional boxer. Adding the fact that Ruth’s behavior off the field was becoming more reckless, Frazee began to listen to offers for Babe Ruth.
Charles Cominsky, owner of the Chicago White Sox offered “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and $60,000.00 to the Red Sox for Ruth. This deal was rejected by the American League president Ban Johnson. Johnson and Frazee were rivals. According to Glenn Stout, Johnson and several other owners felt as though the Red Sox owner was an interloper and did not fit in. Frazee felt that he was the one to lead baseball in the future. and irritated Johnson and the others. Also, when Johnson heard that Frazee was part of a group that had inquired about buying the New York Giants. He was enraged. Johnson had an irrational hatred of the National League in general and the Giants in particular. In fact, it was no secret that Johnson was trying to run Frazee out of the league. Johnson also had connections in the press and “The Sporting News” was said to be his personal mouthpiece. So when Frazee accepted the Yankees offer, he was depicted in a very unflattering light in the press. These stories were the basis for the myth that has existed about him all these years.
While Frazee can be blamed for selling Ruth to the Yankees and in turn, regulating the Red Sox to the bottom of the American League, he cannot be blamed for what happened after the 1920s ( In fact, Frazee was long gone, having sold the team in 1923). Why then were the Red Sox unable to win the World Series until 2004?
There have been a few theories. The first has to do with their famous ballpark, Fenway Park. Because of the close left-field wall, the Green Monster, owners since Frazee have stocked the Red Sox with power hitting men who could hit lots of home runs. Red Sox teams were always heavy on power and short on pitching and speed. They built the teams around Fenway Park. Did they not realize that 81 games every season are played in other ballparks?
What about plain dumb luck? The Red Sox had chances to go to the World Series and win it in 1946, 1948, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003. Each time they came close but through bad luck, errors, bad play and bad management decisions they failed. Why did manager Joe McCarthy pick young pitcher Denny Galehouse to start the 1948 playoff game against the Cleveland Indians? Why did Bill Lee throw a slow curve ball to Tony Perez in game seven of the 1975 World Series? How could the Red Sox have blown a huge lead in August to the Yankees in 1978, and to lose the playoff game to their rivals on a home run by singles hitter Bucky Dent? Why did the John McNamara leave an injured Bill Buckner in at first base for the 10th inning of the 6th game of the 1986 series? Why did Grady Little refuse to relieve pitcher Pedro Martinez in 2003?
Racism and the long term effects on the franchise
Another reason is far more serious. Why were the Sox so reluctant to hire African American and Hispanic ballplayers in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s? The Red Sox were the last major-league team to have a black player on the Major League roster when they brought up Pumpsie Green from the minors in 1959. The Red Sox were owned by Thomas Yawkey from 1933 until his death in 1976. A lot has been written about this. Was he a racist or was he a businessman protecting his investment? He knew that a black or Hispanic ballplayer in Boston, may not have been accepted. I think was a little of both. I’m not qualified, nor do I know enough about the situation to make a determination. But what I do know is the Sox passed on some great ballplayers.
On August 16, 1945, the Red Sox tried out three African-American ballplayers, including Jackie Robinson. Robinson recalled a later interview that he hit the ball well in that hour long try out. But he had no illusions about making the Boston Red Sox. He never heard from the Red Sox after the tryout and years later he still had animosity toward Tom Yawkey and the Red Sox.
While it is true that the Sox did not need help at 2nd base ( future Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr was their current second baseman), They can not be excused for the shoddy treatment of Robinson and the other 2. At the time there was pressure from certain segments in Boston to sign a black ballplayer. This tryout was just a show. They had no intention of signing any of the 3.
Another incident in the spring of 1950, would have repercussions through the 1960s. The Birmingham Black Barons offered them a 19-year-old outfielder by the name of Willie Mays. The Red Sox passed on Mays and signed a black infielder from that team. This was an empty gesture as the player only played a few games in Single A before he was released in what was termed a “cost-cutting ” measure.
Mays has been touted as one of the best natural players the game has ever seen, he would end his major league career with 660 home runs and 12 Gold Gloves. It’s only speculation but imagine him in centerfield next to the aging but still great Ted Williams. Even better, imagine him patrolling that large Fenway Park centerfield a few years later between Carl Yastrzemski, in left and Tony Conigliaro in right. While he hit less than .200 lifetime against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson one can speculate on whether he may have made a difference in the 1967 World Series.
This refusal to sign players of color had repercussions off the field also. For years, the Red Sox were not very popular with the African-Americans in Boston and elsewhere. Also, many other black ballplayers didn’t want to come to Boston when they were free agents. Until the early 2000s, Boston was still perceived as a racist place to play.
That, of course is not true anymore. The most popular Boston ballplayer is David Ortiz, a black Dominican. This is something that would not have happened 50 years ago The new management has changed the Red Sox. They have revamped and improved Fenway Park, made the Red Sox more popular than ever and more importantly brought us a winner. The “curse” was ended in 2004, when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. They won the World Series again in 2007 and came within a few innings of going back to it in 2008.
Last season, the Red Sox celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. They brought back many old players to take part in the festivities. Despite the celebration, the Sox had their worst seasons in decades. It looks like this year will be a rebuilding season. But I still have faith that in the next few years they will be back on top.