Babe Ruth : biography
Emergence as a hitter
In the years 1915–1917, Ruth had been used in just 44 games in which he had not pitched. After the 1917 season, in which he hit .325, albeit with limited at bats, teammate Harry Hooper suggested that Ruth might be more valuable in the lineup as an everyday player.
In 1918, he began playing in the outfield more and pitching less, making 75 hitting-only appearances. Former teammate Tris Speaker speculated that the move would shorten Ruth’s career, though Ruth himself wanted to hit more and pitch less. In 1918, Ruth batted .300 and led the A.L. in home runs with eleven despite having only 317 at-bats, well below the total for an everyday player.
During the 1919 season, Ruth pitched in only 17 of his 130 games. He also set his first single-season home run record that year with 29 surpassing Ned Williamson’s 27 in 1884 and batted .322, which convinced Red Sox manager Ed Barrow that Ruth was more useful as an everyday outfielder. Reisler, p. 1.
Sold to New York
On December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees. The transaction is still clouded in mystery. The popular legend of its day was that Frazee sold Ruth and several other of his best players to finance a play, No, No, Nanette, which did not premiere in Broadway until 1925.Montville, pp. 161–64. Another speculation concerns Ruth’s demand for a $20,000 raise ($ raise in current dollar terms), double his previous salary. Creamer, p. 205. Frazee refused, and Ruth let it be known he would not play until he got his raise, suggesting that he might retire to undertake other profitable ventures. A third explanation involved a debt Frazee had with former Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin in regards to Frazee’s purchase of the club in 1916. Reisler, p. 5.Creamer, pp. 205-206. He owed Lannin $125,000 and after the sale, the two businessmen settled the debt out of court.
Whatever the reason, Frazee had made his decision to trade Ruth. However, he was effectively limited to two trading partners—the Chicago White Sox and the then-moribund Yankees. The other five clubs rejected his overtures out of hand under pressure from American League president Ban Johnson, who had never liked Frazee and was actively trying to remove him from ownership of the Red Sox. The White Sox offered Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000 ($ in current dollar terms), but Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston offered an all-cash deal—$100,000 ($ in current dollar terms), a record at the time for any ballplayer. Creamer, p. 207. The trio agreed to a deal. In exchange for Ruth, the Red Sox would get $125,000 ($ million in current dollar terms) in cash and three $25,000 ($ in current dollar terms) notes payable every year at 6 percent interest. Ruppert and Huston also loaned Frazee $300,000 ($ million in current dollar terms), with the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral. Creamer, p. 208. The deal was contingent on Ruth signing a new contract, which was quickly accomplished, and Ruth officially became a member of the Yankees on December 26. The deal was announced ten days later.
In January 6, 1920, edition of The Boston Globe, Frazee described the transaction:
However, January 6, 1920, The New York Times was more prescient:
New York Yankees (1920–1934)
After moving to the Yankees, Ruth’s transition from a pitcher to a power-hitting outfielder became complete. In his fifteen-year Yankee career, consisting of over 2,000 games, Ruth re-wrote the record books in terms of his hitting achievements, while making only five widely scattered token appearances on the mound, winning all of them.
In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs and batted .376. His .847 slugging average was a Major League record until 2001. Aside from the Yankees, only the Philadelphia Phillies managed to hit more home runs as a team than Ruth did as an individual, slugging 64 in hitter-friendly Baker Bowl.
In 1921, Ruth improved to arguably the best year of his career, hitting 59 home runs, batting .378 and slugging .846 (the highest with 500+ at-bats in an MLB season) while leading the Yankees to their first league championship. On July 18, 1921, Babe Ruth hit career home run No. 139, breaking Roger Connor’s record of 138 in just the eighth year of his career.