What if the Red Sox Had Traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1915?

May 30, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

I happened across an item in the Feb. 3, 1915 edition of The New York Times, about a trade rumor during the winter meetings, which were being held in a New York City hotel.

Here’s an excerpt: “As usual, the air was full of rumors of trades. The one rumor which seemed to carry the most weight was that the new owners of the Yankees had come to an agreement with Owner Joseph J. Lannin of the Boston Red Sox for a trade which would involve the transfer of one of the Boston left-handed pitchers to the Yankees.

“Owner Lannin has sent for Manager Bill Carrigan, who will be here today to complete the deal. It is stated that the Yankees will probably get Vean Gregg, the former Cleveland southpaw, or Babe Ruth, the young pitcher who was a sensation with the Baltimore Club early last season. It is expected that the Yankees will give some players besides cash for the pitcher.”

Neither trade was made. Gregg went 4-2 for the Red Sox in 1915 and Ruth went 18-8. Ruth also hit .315 with a .576 slugging percentage and four homers in 103 at-bats, good for ninth in the league. The leader, Braggo Roth, hit only seven home runs.

The Yankees did follow through on another rumor in that day’s Times by acquiring Wally Pipp and Hugh High from the Tigers, but the pitcher they wound up getting was George Mogridge, who the White Sox sold to New York.

(Read about the Babe hitting and pitching against the Yankees in spring 1915.)

I found this rumor mentioned only once in the Times’ archives, so it probably never got past the “floating in the air” stage. Still, you can’t really help speculating about what changes in baseball if the trade gets made. Putting the Red Sox Curse aside, it seems entirely fair to assume the shape of professional baseball would be different.

Instead of starting to play the outfield pretty regularly in 1918 for the Red Sox, the Babe does that in 1916, for the Yankees, who led the league in homers in 1916, but had just seven homers from their outfielders. If so, you can speculate that he starts breaking slugging records in 1917.

Baseball, following Ruth’s lead and hoping to stimulate attendance during a war by promoting offense, ends the deadball era in 1918 and bans the spitball. The White Sox can’t adjust, don’t win the 1919 pennant, and don’t become the Black Sox. Instead, the Yankees—who in reality finished 7.5 games back in 1919—win the pennant.

Or maybe the Yankees, whose best starter in a pretty nondescript rotation over the 1915-17 period was Bob Shawkey, would have told Babe to bear down on his pitching and put the bat aside. He follows orders, the Yankees become a better team, but still don’t win any pennants in the 1910s, and, if Ruth remains a pitcher, the dynasty never really gets started.

The Black Sox scandal still happens, and the deadball era still ends around 1920 because baseball wants more offense to help fans forget the scandal. But instead of winning three pennants in a row twice during the ’20s, the Yankees win maybe a couple.

Lou Gehrig signs with the Giants in 1923, not the Yankees, because he sees the Yankees aren’t anywhere near as good a team, and probably can’t afford to pay as much because they don’t have Yankee Stadium. John McGraw’s Giants, who’ve already appeared in five World Series since 1911, dominate baseball in the ‘20s and take the Yankees’ place as a dynasty up until World War II starts, or longer.

I could go on with other alternative scenarios for quite a while—that’s how important Ruth is to the shape of Major League Baseball.

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