- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

The headlines in Boston and New York blared the astonishing news in type sizes usually reserved for wars. There was no commercial radio or TV then, and newsboys wearing ragged caps and knickers raced through the streets shouting, "Extry, extry read all about it …"
It sounds like a bad movie script, but it wasn't. What it was, was the most significant deal that has occurred in 126 years of major league baseball.
The Red Sox, who had won four World Series in the past eight seasons, had sold slugging outfielder Babe Ruth to the Yankees, who had never won one. The date was Jan. 5, 1920, and repercussions were still being felt 81 years later.
The Curse of the Bambino.
According to those who believe in such things, the Red Sox doomed themselves forever by selling the best player ever. OK, so this is a fanciful and romantic notion but consider the facts. Since then:
The Yankees have won 26 World Series.
The Red Sox, as we all know, have won none.
If there is a worse curse, I don't want to know.
Could this Boston tragedy and New York bonanza have been avoided? Sure, if a few more or maybe a lot more theatergoers had bothered to attend a mercifully forgotten musical play called "No No, Nanette."
Its producer was a man named Harry Frazee, who also owned the Red Sox. Because "Nanette" and some lesser theatrical properties had lost money, Frazee was strapped for cash. So he turned to the Yankees and brewmeister co-owner Jacob Ruppert, who had more money than he knew how to spend. And Ruppert was desperate for his ballclub to win a pennant after 17 mostly dismal seasons without one.
Red Sox manager Ed Barrow was taking a Sunday morning bath in his New York apartment when the phone rang. "Meet me at 6 p.m.," Frazee said, naming a hotel bar he frequented in Gotham. That evening, Frazee gave Barrow the worst news any manager had ever received (and, we can only hope, bought him a stiff drink).
"Simon," said Frazee, using his pet name for the rock-rumped skipper, "I'm going to sell Ruth to the Yankees. I can't help it. [Previous Red Sox owner] Joe Lannin is after me to make good on my notes. My shows aren't doing well. I have no choice."
Barrow took the news calmly. "I thought as much I could feel it in my bones," he said. "But you ought to know you're making a mistake."
Frazee sighed. "Maybe I am, but I can't help it. But don't worry, I'll get you some ballplayers."
Now Barrow was angry. "Listen, don't make it tougher for me by getting a lot of 10-cent balllplayers for him," he barked. "There is nobody on that club I want. This has to be a straight cash deal."
And so it was. The day after it was announced, a cartoon in a Boston newspaper showed "For Sale" signs on Faneuil Hall and the Boston Public Library. And the following year, Barrow himself left the Red Sox to become general manager of the Yankees.
When Frazee and Ruppert met, the dastardly deed was perpetrated quickly. The deal was committed to paper Dec.26, 1919, although it was not announced for 10 days. And so George Herman Ruth, the kid from the Baltimore tenements who had been first a star pitcher and then a fearsome hitter in five full seasons with the Red Sox, was measured for Yankee pinstripes. It didn't take that much material either, because at the age of 25 he was only a shadow of the blimp he later became.
The price was $125,000, the largest ever paid for a ballplayer, plus a $300,000 loan to Frazee in the form of a mortgage on Fenway Park. Now he had all the scratch he needed to produce more second-rate plays and the Yankees had most of the talent they needed to start, one year later, an unparalleled sports dynasty.
A few days later, Yankees manager Miller Huggins tracked down the fun-loving Ruth on a California golf course. "I know you've been pretty wild in Boston," Huggins said, "but when you come to New York, it's going to have to be all business."
"Yeah, yeah, sure," Ruth replied.
Well, it was and it wasn't. In 15 years with the Yankees, Ruth set records for imbibing and wenching, as well as for home runs. Huggins suspended him for part of the 1925 season after Babe openly challenged the tiny manager in the dugout one day. The Yankees finished seventh that year after Ruth missed part of the season with what now is believed to have been a venereal disease, but he and they rebounded to win an unexpected pennant in 1926. Then came '27, when perhaps the greatest team of all time went 110-44 and Ruth reached his zenith with 60 home runs.
Nowadays, 60 or more homers is no big deal. But when Ruth began cranking up in earnest, half that number was considered unattainable.
Back in 1884, a man named Ed Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings set a record with 27 home runs. His achievement was mostly forgotten in the dead-ball era until Ruth broke it with 29 for the Red Sox in 1919. Swiftly, he became Boston's biggest hero since perhaps Paul Revere. Then came the sale. Red Sox fans broke out their mourning clothes and spoke of Frazee in terms usually reserved for Satan.
The hapless owner was reduced to blustering. He said Ruth had become "simply impossible" and was "one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men to ever have worn a baseball uniform" because he demanded the outrageous salary of $20,000 for 1920. According to legend, Frazee also said the Babe never would hit 29 home runs again. And he didn't.
In 1920, earning $25,000 in Noo Yawk, Ruth belted 54 home runs as the long-dormant Yankees finished third. In 1921, he hit 59 as they won the first of their 39 pennants. And so it went until 1934 when the Babe, now fat and nearly 40, was released by the Yankees. One final half-season followed with the Boston Braves, for whom he hit home runs Nos. 712, 713, 714 on one last glorious afternoon. Then he was done in uniform, except for one pointless season as a Brooklyn Dodgers coach, and could only await his death from throat cancer in 1948 at the age of 53.
And the Red Sox? While Ruth's feats were elevating the Yankees and possibly saving baseball in the 1920s after the Black Sox scandal, the Boston club explored the American League's netherworld. In 1920, the Red Sox finished fifth; veteran outfielder Harry Hooper led the team in home runs with seven. During the rest of the decade, the Red Sox finished fifth and seventh once each and last seven times. Not until 1946 did they win another pennant. They lost that World Series and others in 1967, 1975 and 1986.
The Curse of the Bambino.
Go ahead and laugh, if you will and come up with a better explanation.

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