Separating myth from truth in the most infamous trade in baseball history.
The myth goes as follows: in 1920, the New York Yankees fleeced a cash-strapped Boston Red Sox owner, Harry Frazee, and in so doing got the game’s greatest star, Babe Ruth. This lopsided trade resulted in the so-called Curse of the Bambino, which saw the Yankees become the most dominant team in all of professional sports while the Red Sox embarked on an 86-year championship drought that they only broke in 2004. The Yankees got the Sultan of Swat, and Frazee used his money to finance No, No, Nanette, the Broadway musical. In this crisp history, veteran baseball historian Stout (Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year, 2011, etc.) shatters the myth, providing an important corrective to the legend while also offering a fascinating history of baseball during a period of transition from 1918 to 1920. Ruth was a dominant player, but he was also a petulant, lousy teammate, inordinately selfish, and a far cry from what he would become. Frazee was not at all broke; indeed, he was thriving as a Broadway producer and owner. The mortgage on Fenway was a savvy business decision, not an act of Frazee being fleeced. Underneath the surface percolated tensions between two groups of owners, with the Yankees and Red Sox as, of all things, allies. Ruth would unquestionably become a phenomenon, but Stout makes clear that only in retrospect was the trade quite so ridiculous as it now appears. The author tells a good, well-focused story and makes a compelling argument, but he occasionally lapses into cliché, and, as with any revisionist history, this one occasionally overstates its case—though it might be a case worth overstating.
Baseball history is full of hoary legends. Stout deftly challenges one of the game’s biggest.