The Curse of the Bambino
On December 26, 1919, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees, ushering in the long-standing superstitious Curse of the Bambino.
Born in 1895, George Herman “Babe” Ruth – sometimes called “the Bambino” – was one of the most popular and talented players in baseball history. He began his career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but longed to play every day.
That opportunity finally arose in the 1918 season. A fellow player convinced the manager that the crowds were larger on days that Ruth played, so they should let him have a daily position on the field to draw larger crowds every day. The gamble proved a success, as Ruth had a .300 batting average and helped lead the team to victory in that year’s World Series.
The following season, Ruth only pitched in 17 of his 130 games and had an 8-5 record. Though the team wouldn’t make it to the World Series, Ruth had a banner year. He became the first major league player to hit a home run in all eight ballparks in his league. And he broke the major league home run record, finishing the season with 29.
Then during the break between seasons, something unexpected happened. On December 26, 1919, the Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees. Even now we don’t know all the details that led to the sale of one of baseball’s most recognizable players. In part, it seems the Red Sox owner Harry Frazee needed money, possibly to finance a play. Additionally, Ruth had signed a three-year contract before the 1919 season for $10,000 per year. But by the end of the season, he recognized the growing popularity of the sport – as well as his own popularity – and wanted his salary doubled or he would sit out the season and cash in on his popularity in other ways.
Meanwhile, the Yankees had never won a league championship, let alone a World Series, up to that point, and knew they needed something special. Reportedly, the team’s owner asked the manager what they needed to win and he said, “Get Rush from Boston.”
In the end, Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000, the largest amount ever paid for a baseball player up to that time. The deal was then announced to the public on January 6, 1920. Many were shocked, with some Boston fans upset with the loss, and others less so because they knew he had grown difficult to deal with.
According to one sports historian, the deal “changed the fortunes of two high-profile franchises for decades.” The Red Sox, who had won five of the first 16 World Series, wouldn’t reach the postseason again until 1946, or the World Series until 2004. Many called this long stretch the “Curse of the Bambino.” On the Yankees side, they would go on to win seven American League pennants and four World Series with Ruth on their team.
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