In modern day Major League Baseball, it’s become common practice for team owners to drop tens, if not hundreds, of millions dollars to purchase players from opposing teams. But back in 1920, those high-dollar purchases were unheard of. However, on January 5, 1920, the New York Yankees made an announcement stating they had purchased the great Babe Ruth for a total of $125,000 in cash from one of their biggest rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Not only was that a staggering amount of money back then, but it was also the highest cash sum ever paid for a single player. There was also said to be a large loan from Colonel Jacob Rupert, President of the Yankees, to the owner of the Red Sox, Harry Frazee, in the amount of $350,000.
Babe Ruth started playing for the Boston Red Sox July 11, 1914, and played six seasons before being sold to the Yankees. Ruth helped lead the Sox to three World Series which was actually the last time the team made it to the series until 2004, more than 86 years later. He even set numerous records while with the Red Sox including one of his first home run records with 29 during the 1919 season. He also pitched a total of 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings, which was a record that stood for 43 years. Ruth was quickly becoming more popular than Ty Cobb who was the biggest attraction in baseball at that time.
Even though Ruth put on a dominating performance, the Red Sox had a rough season and finished sixth place in the American League with a record of 66-71. The end of the season brought in the new owner, Harry Frazee, and he immediately decided to sell off the team’s most valuable player, a decision that many people question still to this day. The deal called for the Yankees to take over the last two years of Ruth’s contract and pay him a salary of $10,000 per year. But since the Babe had become so popular, he knew he was worth quite a bit more to the Yankees. He demanded a salary increase, and the Yankees wanted to make their new slugger happy so they decided to pay him a bonus of $20,000 payable over two seasons. Ruth had essentially doubled his salary just by signing his name on the new contract.
Needless to say, the deal paid off ten fold for the Yankees. The Great Bambino went out for his first season and smashed his previous home run record by hitting 54 in 1920. The following year he beat it again when he hit 59! Revenue from the Yankee games increased dramatically thanks to Ruth. They even made enough money to leave the stadium they shared with the New York Giants called the Polo Grounds and opened Yankee Stadium in 1923. This is why it was commonly referred to as “the house that Ruth built.”
The Yankees went on to become one of the most dominating teams in baseball, winning a total of 26 World Series titles and 39 American League pennants. The Red Sox, however, did not have such luck. They didn’t make it to the World Series for 86 straight years and many people blamed it on what became known as the “Curse of the Bambino.” The curse was finally broken, ironically, when the Red Sox beat none other than the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship, which sent them to the Wold Series for the first time since 1918.