History remembers Harry Frazee as the former Boston Red Sox owner who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and thus unwittingly started the “Curse of the Bambino.”
His grandson remembers him differently.
“It's so ridiculous,” said Harry Frazee III. “Whenever they fail they go back 80 years, as if nothing happened in between. The curse is no more than bad business decisions. I feel resentment that it has been allowed to go on so long and nobody stepped up to say it wasn't true.”
If the Red Sox fail to win a World Series again this year, blame the club’s long record of postseason futility on poor personnel decisions or a reluctance by previous owners to employ African Americans even long after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
For 84 years Red Sox fans have been blaming their postseason failures on Frazee’s decision to sell Ruth to the Red Sox in 1920. Now his grandson is out to debunk a myth and clear his family name. The former newspaperman and retired Gig Harbor, Wash., resident claims that his grandfather’s decision was more than justified considering Ruth’s behavior at the time. His claims are supported in the book “Red Sox Century,” a definitive book on Red Sox history, written by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson.
Harry Frazee was a theater mogul who bought the Red Sox in 1916 for $675,000. But instead of being remembered as the last Red Sox owner to win a World Series he’s considered the primary reason why the Red Sox haven’t won one since.
It has long been believed that Frazee was broke when he sold Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 in 1920 in order to fund his Broadway musical “No, No Nanette.”
His grandson started piecing together the story in 1992 when some of his grandfather’s papers were found in the attic of the family home. “Red Sox Century” only confirmed what he had already learned.
“The facts weren’t followed and that’s what makes it a sham,” Frazee III said. “My grandfather has a bad name for something he doesn’t deserve.”
In fact, there are no facts to suggest that Frazee’s fortune was dwindling and “No, No Nanette” didn’t open until four years later, which makes it unlikely that the money Frazee received for Ruth was used for that purpose, even if it has become part of lore.
The truth is Frazee sold Ruth, forever altering the histories of two of baseball’s most storied franchises, because he believed he had no other choice. The pitcher/slugger had become such a clubhouse cancer that he was threatening to undermine team chemistry.
“The more famous he got, the tougher he was to deal with,” Frazee III said. “There was resentment among the players. Harry was afraid he would wind up without anybody on his team. He wanted to get rid of his problem.”
His behavior, according to not only Frazee III but also to Stout and Johnson, became increasingly erratic during his years with the Red Sox.
His late-night carousing had already become legendary when he was involved in an accident with a woman who was not his wife. The woman was hospitalized. In 1917, he tried to punch an umpire and was suspended for nine games.
He was a more proven pitcher than hitter at this stage of his career but was adamant about playing the field, eventually pitching only reluctantly. At one point he refused to rejoin the rotation even though it was clearly in the best interest of the team.
He was fined for ignoring a “take” sign. Worst of all, he abandoned his teammates twice because he could earn more money playing exhibition games. During the 1918 World Series his immature behavior on a train (he reportedly punched out the tops of straw hats worn by other passengers) resulted in his injuring the middle finger of his pitching hand, casting his availability in doubt for the remainder of the series.
He had just received a new contract from the Red Sox making him the highest paid player in the game before he demanded another raise before the 1919 season. He even threatened to box or become an actor if his demands were not met.
Even his prodigious home runs were met with skepticism by many baseball insiders. He was prone to prolonged slumps, especially against left-handers, and insiders wondered if his newfound power wasn’t the product of diluted pitching resulting from so many quality players serving in the armed forces during World War I.
The Yankees, desperate for a superstar to attract fans, had made several unsuccessful inquiries before Frazee finally agreed to the trade.
Two of four Boston newspapers supported Frazee’s decision to trade Ruth.
“Babe Ruth in his last year (with Boston) was a big nuisance,” Frazee III said. “Granddad had a contract where it laid out his duties. He couldn't play for other teams and do a lot of things, but he did it anyway because he was Babe Ruth.”
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.