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No, No, Not Quite: or, Again, The Real Story of Babe, Harry, and a Certain Broadway Hit . . .
Throneberry Fields Forever ^ | 16 March 2012 | Yours truly

Posted on 03/16/2012 4:18:28 PM PDT by BluesDuke

Says Tracy Ringolsby, Hall of Fame baseball writer ruminating over baseball’s long enough history of ownership troubles: “There’s been troubled ownership in baseball since at least the days of Babe Ruth, who in 1919 was sold by Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to the New York Yankees for $125,000 because Frazee needed money to fund his Broadway musical No, No, Nannette.”

Say I: Aw, jeez, not this crap again.

Ringolsby, customarily one of the game’s better writers, seems blissfully unaware that the No, No, Nanette myth (notice he couldn’t even spell it right) was debunked several years ago. As a matter of fact, you don’t have go back any further than 2003 to begin discovering some of the actual facts behind the Ruth sale, even if you did know that No, No, Nanette didn’t hit Broadway running until five years after Ruth was sold to the Yankees.

In 2003, Glenn Stout published Impossible Dreams: A Red Sox Collection, a splendid anthology of journalism covering the Olde Towne Team since the formation of the American League a century earlier. Concluding the opening section, “Glory Days,” there appears a Boston Post article, by Paul H. Shannon, datelined 6 January 1920. The headline: “New York Club Gives $125,000 for Battering Babe—Biggest Price Ever Paid for Player.” Included in the article is the quote of a formal statement by Frazee in which he outlined his reasons for selling Ruth to the Yankees in the first place:

Ruth had become simply impossible, and the Boston club could no longer put up with his eccentricities. While Ruth without question is the greatest hitter that the game has ever seen, he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform., and the baseball public, according to press reports from all over the country, are beginning to wake up to the fact.

Some people may say that the Boston club sold Babe Ruth simply because of the tremendous sum of money handed over by the New York club, but let them listen to a few facts and perhaps they will change their mind. Ruth is a wonderful box-office attraction and he drew many thousands of people to see the Sox play all over the circuit. Had he been possessed of the right disposition, had he been willing to take orders and work for the good of the club like the other men on the team I would never have dared let him go, for he has youth and strength, baseball intelligence, and was a popular idol. But lately this idol has been shattered in the public estimation because of the way in which he has refused to respect his contract and his given word. But I shall enlighten the public some more.

Twice within the past two seasons Babe has jumped the club and revolted. He refused to obey the orders of the manager and he finally became so arrogant that discipline in his case was ruined.

. . . He left us in the lurch many times and just because of his abnormal swatting powers and the fact that he had been given such tremendous advertising by the newspapers he obeyed none but his own sweet will. At the end you could not talk to him . . . Fans, attracted by the fame of his hitting, went out to Fenway Park unmindful of the steady work of (Stuffy) McInnis, (Harry) Hooper, (Wally) Schang, (Everett) Scott and others who were playing the same steady and brilliant ball, oftentimes handicapped by injuries that should rightfully have kept them out of the lineup. There was no longer any interest in the pennant race. And these same faithful, loyal players really felt it . . .

. . . How many games can you point out that he won single-handed and unaided last season? He won some, I will admit, but many a time it has been some other player on the team that contributed the deciding smash. Only Babe’s long hit always got the credit. We finished in sixth place in spite of Babe and his 29 home runs. This will bring out, I think, very clearly the fact that one star on a team doesn’t make a winning ball club. Cleveland had the great (Nap) Lajoie for years and couldn’t win, Detroit has its Ty Cobb and Boston had its Ruth. A team of players working harmoniously together is always to be preferred to that possessing one star who hugs the limelight to himself . . .

. . . Harmony had departed when Ruth began to swell and I doubt if we could have kept out of the second division this year with Ruth in the lineup. After all, the baseball fans pay to see games won and championships achieved. They soon tire of circus attractions. And this is just what Ruth has become.

. . . I might say in conclusion that the New York club was the only outfit in baseball that could have bought Ruth. Had they been willing to trade players, I would have preferred the exchange, but to make a trade for Ruth, Huggins would have had to wreck his ball club. They could not afford to give me the men I wanted.

This was hardly the first time Frazee chose to rid himself of a malcontent by trading or selling him. During the 1919 season, in fact, when talented but troubled pitcher Carl Mays walked off the mound in the middle of a game, Frazee defied American League president Ban Johnson’s expressed wish for a suspension and sold Mays to the Yankees. Johnson’s bid to block the sale (it took a court order in New York for the deal to stand) provoked the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Chicago White Sox, in turn, to band up against and, in due course, provoke the dumping of Johnson, though not necessarily out of the same motives.

Note the language of Frazee’s statement, however. He was willing to unload Ruth because Ruth, essentially, had become a law unto himself on the Red Sox, even before he launched the contract dispute that led directly to the Yankee sale. Red Sox manager Ed Barrow had made one factor difficult for Frazee: he told Frazee, apparently, that the Yankees had no players in whom he’d be interested.

However, if you’re wondering about whether Ruth moving to the Yankees suddenly launched the Yankees from also-rans (which they’d been until Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston bought them in 1914, beginning to show some real competitive over the rest of the decade), you might care to make note what was recalled in Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg’s 1921: The Yankees, The Giants, & the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York: the Yankees were actually beginning to be seen as a powerhouse before they had Babe Ruth on their radar.

The Yankees had some powerful bats in their lineup late in the second decade of the twentieth century. “Murderer’s Row” was a phrase New York sportswriters began calling the Yankees as early as 1918, long before Babe Ruth joined the team. “The renowned ‘Murderer’s Row’—this mob of baseball criminals and pitcher beaters,” wrote columnist and cartoonist Robert Ripley that year, “are apt to break out at any moment.” Less than two weeks later Fred Lieb also used the phrase. On June 23 he wrote of “Murderer’s Row, the greatest collection of pitcher thumpers in baseball to-day.”

This group consisted of outfielder Ping Bodie and the entire Yankees infield: first baseman Wally Pipp, second baseman Del Pratt, shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, and third baseman Frank Baker.

As a matter of fact, Spatz and Steinberg, harking again to the writings of the time and place, uncovered the actuality that several baseball observers were picking the Yankees to challenge for and even win the 1920 American League pennant before Babe Ruth walked into the Yankees’ spring training camp. (If you give Frazee the benefit of the doubt, when he said Miller Huggins would have wrecked his team with such a deal, that may or may not call into question just why Ed Barrow—who eventually went to the Yankee front office, about which more anon—didn’t want any Yankee players if the Ruth deal had to be done.)

The Ruth deal did include the infamous $300,000 loan to Frazee, which the Red Sox owner secured with a mortgage on Fenway Park. Frazee wasn’t exactly in solid financial straits. Aside from his theatrical woes of the time, the Red Sox had actually lost money in 1918—the Red Sox had been hit by attrition because of World War I, and Frazee spent heavily to replace them, throwing in $60,000 with three second-string players to get Philadelphia’s Schang, Joe Bush, and Amos Strunk, then dealing cash and players to get McInnis from the A’s.

There was also the little matter of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. In July 1918, with the Red Sox leading the American League pack, Baker—who couldn’t possibly have known the war would end 11 November—ordered baseball shut down by Labour Day 1918 or its players would be slapped with a “work or fight” order. Come Labour Day, the Red Sox were pennant winners but losing the revenues for the rest of the month was a big financial hit on the team. By the time the fifth game of the World Series approached, with the Red Sox on the way to winning a low-scoring set, the low attendance looked to mean far less than the promised $2,000-a-man winners’ shares. Both the Red Sox and the opposing Chicago Cubs were ready to sit out Game Five until Ban Johnson appealed to the honour of Red Sox star Harry Hooper. The Sox won the Series in six games and the players accepted far less than promised.

Frazee in 1919 also faced pressure from Joe Lannin, from whom Frazee bought the Red Sox and who was now demanding final payments. Whatever else was or wasn’t true about Frazee’s theatrical productions (he’d had a few hits and a few more flops, like any producer), the real impetus for thinking about a Babe Ruth sale and the monies to be reaped—a sale Ruth certainly made easier to swallow with his behaviour aside from the contract threat—seems to have been completing the purchase of the Red Sox.

Now, hark to Peter Golenbock’s Fenway: An Unexpurgated History of the Boston Red Sox: “With Ruth gone, the 1920 Red Sox finished fifth. Frazee’s financial slide continued. He needed more money to finance his new production, No, No, Nanette (which featured the song ‘Tea for Two’).

In October 1920, Frazee advised Barrow that the ship of state was about to sink to the bottom. He also told his manager that Yankee (co-)owner Cap Huston wanted to talk to him about working for the Yankees.

“I’d advise you to see him, and anything you do is fine with me,” Frazee said. Barrow moved into the Yankee front office on October 29, 1920, and during the next three years continued what historians have called “the rape of the Red Sox.”

That referred to the coming deals which made Yankees out of such Red Sox as Schang, Waite Hoyt, Mike McNally, Jumpin’ Joe Dugan, Elmer Smith, and Herb Pennock. The so-called rape didn’t involve the Yankees exclusively; when Hooper held out for $15,000 for 1921, Frazee sold him to the White Sox, who’d just been wrecked by the suspensions of the Eight Men Out. By 1923, Frazee—facing a divorce settlement that ordered him to pay his wife $12,000 a year, an extra $40,000 over the first two years, and some properties—sold the Red Sox to Bob Quinn for $1 million, though it took awhile to finalise the deal while Frazee settled some unpaid bills to concession titan Harry M. Stevens.

The Yankees with Ruth were in the thick of the 1920 pennant race, but they didn’t win the pennant despite Ruth having his single greatest season, to date and, as it turned out, for his entire career. (Yes, you can look it up.) The Cleveland Indians—rallying out of their grief over shortstop Ray Chapman’s death, after being skulled by a Carl Mays fastball—managed to eke out the pennant on the final regular-season weekend, once the 1919 World Series scandal exploded in earnest and drydocked seven of the Eight Men Out as the final weekend began. (First baseman Chick Gandil, the reputed mastermind behind the fix, had already left the team.) The White Sox lost two of their final three, against the St. Louis Browns; the Indians split four with the Detroit Tigers to take the pennant and went on to beat the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) in the World Series.

Finishing third in 1920, a mere four games out of first place, the Yankees would go on to win pennants from 1921-23 but not wrap up their first Series conquest until 1923. The Red Sox didn’t win a thing but they actually improved to fifth place in 1920 and 1921, with their wins increasing incrementally over both seasons. Then the Red Sox fell to the basement, in 1922, a year before Frazee was finally forced to sell the team, and stayed there for nine of the following twelve seasons, in the twelfth of which Quinn sold the team to Tom Yawkey.

Re-read the foregoing very carefully. Harry Frazee did sell or swap Red Sox assets, and financing No, No, Nanette—which became a hit, landing Frazee a cool $2 million in the bargain—was one of the reasons. But Babe Ruth was not one of the assets he sold to finance the musical, which would enjoy a briefly popular Broadway revival in the 1970s. So how else could the Ruth sale have been tied to No, No, Nanette?

Again, it’s easy to answer if you know where to look. No, No, Nanette was the musical adaptation of a stage play known as My Lady Friends, by Emil Nyitray and Frank Mandel. My Lady Friends was written and staged in 1919. And it was My Lady Friends—not No, No, Nanette, whose book Mandel and co-lyricist (with Irving Caesar) Otto Harbach adapted from the earlier play (with Vincent Youmans writing the music)—which benefitted from financing with a portion of what Harry Frazee got for Babe Ruth.

The photographs other than Frazee, the No, No, Nanette poster, and Babe Ruth: Home Run Baker (in Yankee uniform), Secretary of War Baker, and Ed Barrow.

P.S. Yes, it was that Robert Ripley. Believe it . . . or not. ;)

TOPICS: Sports
KEYWORDS: baberuth; baseball; harryfrazee; tracyringolsby

1 posted on 03/16/2012 4:18:37 PM PDT by BluesDuke
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To: BluesDuke

Bookmarking for later. I read a book on Ruth recently by a guy who spent years researching every one of Ruth’s home runs and fly balls. He proved, actually proved, that in today’s parks Ruth would have ended up with a career 1,000 plus home runs, and would have hit 102 in 1922 alone. In every park he played in, and those parks were like pastures with the fences so far back that Hank Aaron would have had only half the home runs he ended up with, Ruth had the longest home run in every park’s history. Seriously, Ruth, somehow, was so far ahead of anyone else in the history of the game that it’s so overwhelming that it’s seldom talked about. In the 1910’s he was the best pitcher in the game, and his team removed him from the mound so he could play the outfield and hit every day. That alone is overwhelming, the best pitcher in the game, removed from the mound!

2 posted on 03/16/2012 6:00:49 PM PDT by BlueStateBlues (Blue State business, Red State heart. . . . 2012 for change, this time for the people)
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To: BlueStateBlues
Glad you bookmarked. However, a few things:

1) Ruth's home parks were anything but pastures . . . for him. Fenway Park wasn't that difficult for a lefthanded hitter to hit in, it merely came to look that way with the advent of the famous left field wall. For his first three Yankee seasons, their home park was the Polo Grounds---they were tenants of the New York Giants---and the Polo Grounds had the shortest foul lines in baseball on both sides. Ruth didn't exactly have to pump full power to hit them out in the Polo Grounds even if he did have a few long blasts. (He never reached the dead center field bleachers on either side of the elevated clubhouse in that yard, though---that feat wouldn't be done until a) Luke Easter, in a 1940s Negro Leagues game; b) Joe Adcock, of the Milwaukee Braves in the late 1950s; and---and on back-to-back nights yet---Lou Brock and Hank Aaron in 1962.) Yankee Stadium in fact was built to accommodate Ruth's power, with that famous shorter right field porch, though nothing anywhere near the shortness of the Polo Grounds' foul line dimensions. (Ruth probably should have been grateful for that cavernous center field spread in the Polo Grounds and that just-as-crazy left-center-field in Yankee Stadium; they probably helped him collect more triples with his opposite-field hits than his actual speed---in a word, he ran like a cement mixer with two flat tires, though they say when he was a real young sprout he could haul it a bit---would have allowed.)

2) Seriously, Ruth, somehow, was so far ahead of anyone else in the history of the game that it’s so overwhelming that it’s seldom talked about. Are you kidding me? It was always talked about, and for years after Ruth's career ended, for years after his death in 1948. A lot of it was quite hyperbolic, but it's just not true that Babe Ruth's actual or alleged distance from everyone else in the game "is seldom talked about," even now, even with some debunkings of his mythology.

3) In the 1910’s he was the best pitcher in the game, and his team removed him from the mound so he could play the outfield and hit every day. Babe Ruth wasn't the best pitcher in the game, but he was no questions asked the best pitcher on the Red Sox---at least after the Sox disposed of Carl Mays (their best pitcher in 1917-18) and you eliminated Bullet Joe Bush (their second-best pitcher in 1918) or Herb Pennock (their best pitcher in 1919).

Ruth was actually a good number three starter who had, regardless, comparatively low strikeout totals, a very lame strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a walks/hits-per-inning-pitch rate (1.55 in 1919, a whopping raise from his 1.06 over 1917-18) that might make him a number 3-5 starter in today's game. He looks better than he really was, mostly thanks a) to his 1917, when he led the team in wins (by two, over Mays), and b) his performance in the 1918 World Series, but Babe Ruth wasn't close to the best pitcher on his own teams, never mind the league, never mind the game.

Who were the best pitchers in the game in the 1910s? Arguably, by season, they were:

1910---Jack Coombs.
1911---Grover Cleveland Alexander.
1912-14---Walter Johnson.
1915-17---Grover Cleveland Alexander.
1918---Walter Johnson.
1919---Eddie Cicotte.
In case you were wondering further, Johnson had both the most wins in any season in that decade (36) and for the entire decade (265), not to mention the most strikeouts by season (313, in 1910) and for the decade (2,219). Smokey Joe Wood had the best winning percentage in any season in that decade (.872, in 1912) and for the entire decade (.680).

Babe Ruth was a good pitcher who had his moments approaching or meeting greatness, notably in the 1918 World Series. But in fact the Red Sox resisted Ruth's move to everyday play in the outfield because they needed him on the mound that much more, especially after losing Carl Mays. The Red Sox were a potent and pennant-winning team before him as well as with him; he was no questions asked the best player in the game for the final two seasons of the 1910s. Without just him alone, the Red Sox could have survived and thrived; it took Ed Barrow's soon-to-come raiding of Red Sox talent, when he moved later to the Yankee front office, to begin the zombiehood of the Red Sox in earnest.

None of which makes him any less Babe Ruth, of course.

3 posted on 03/16/2012 6:50:51 PM PDT by BluesDuke (Another brief interlude from the small apartment halfway up in the middle of nowhere in particular)
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