The Curse of the . . . Hurlers? Consequential Yankees–Red Sox Trades of Note

This article was written by Steve Steinberg

This article was published in the 2006 Baseball Research Journal


The Curse of the Bambino hovered over the Boston Red Sox for more than 80 years, from the time they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season until early in the 21st century. The team that won four world championships in the 1910s didn’t win another until 2004. A close look at the Red Sox–Yankee trades of that era reveals that—as great as the Babe was for the Yankees—it really was the trade of Boston pitching talent to New York that solidified the Yankees’ march to greatness in the 1920s. The Curse of the Hurlers would really have been a more appropriate moniker.

Carl Mays, Waite Hoyt, Sam Jones, Joe Bush, George Pipgras, and Herb Pennock—five of these six pitchers were members of the Boston Red Sox pitching staff before 1923. (George Pipgras was the property of the Red Sox, though he never played for them, at least not until 1933.) They were traded to the Yankees in a four-year span, from December 1918 to January 1923. They went on to win more than 600 games for the Yankees, more than 500 of them in the 1920s.

What was a greater loss to the Boston Red Sox, the mighty Ruth or this impressive collection of pitching talent? They got fewer headlines than the Babe got, and they were certainly less colorful. Yet without these men, how many pennants would the Yankees have won? The Yankees simply would not have dominated the 1920s without them, even though they had Ruth. This is especially true because in this first decade of the Lively Ball era, good pitching was at a premium.

In the 1920s, with Colonel Ruppert’s money, Ed Barrow’s trading acumen, and Paul Krichell’s scouting ability, whose numbers could the Yankees have replaced more easily, the run production of Ruth or the run prevention of these pitchers?

The following table presents the annual contributions of these pitchers and what they meant to both the Red Sox and the Yankees (OBA = opponents’ batting average; OOBA = opponents’ on-base average).

Two of the former Red Sox pitchers, Hoyt and Pennock, were with the Yankees for about a decade and consistently ranked at or near the top of the American League in many pitching categories.

 
Waite Hoyt
Year Category Stat Rank
1923 Win Percentage .654 3
  ERA 3.02 2
  OBA .253 2
  OOBA .307 2
1924 Games (tie) 46 3
1926 OOBA .316 3
1927 Wins (tie) 22 1
  Win Percentage .759 1
  ERA 2.63 2
  Complete Games 23 3
  Shutouts (tie) 3 2
1928 Wins 23 3
  Win Percentage .767 2

 

Herb Pennock
Year Category Stat Rank
1923 Win Percentage .760 1
1924 Wins 21 2
  Win Percentage .700 2
  Complete Games 25 3
  Shutouts (tie) 4 3
  Innings Pitched 286.1 3
  ERA 2.83 3
1925 ERA 2.96 2
  Complete Games 21 3
  Innings Pitched 277 1
  OBA .254 3
  OOBA .303 1
1926 Wins 23 2
  Win Percentage .676 2
  Innings Pitched 266.1 3
  OOBA .313 1
1928 Shutouts 5 1
  ERA 2.56 2

 

The others—Mays, Bush, Jones, and Pipgras—were with the Yankees an average of only four seasons each. They took turns having outstanding seasons, helping propel the Yankees to the top of the AL.

 

Carl Mays

Year

Category

Stat

Rank

1920

Shutouts

6

1

 

Wins

26

2

 

Win Percentage

.703

2

 

Games (tie)

45

3

1921

Wins (tie)

27

1

 

Win Percentage

.750

1

 

Innings

336.2

1

 

Games

49

1

 

Complete Games (tie)

30

2

 

ERA

3.05

3

 

OBA

257

2

 

OOBA

.303

2

 

Joe Bush

Year

Category

Stat

Rank

1922

Wins

26

2

 

Win Percentage

.788

1

 

OBA

.252

2

 

Strikeouts (tie)

125

2

 

Sam Jones

Year

Category

Stat

Rank

1923

Wins (tie)

21

2

 

Win Percentage

.724

2

1923

OBA

.257

3

 

George Pipgras

Year

Category

Stat

Rank

1928

Wins (tie)

24

1

 

Shutouts (tie)

4

2

 

Games

46

3

 

Innings

300.2

1

 

Strikeouts

139

2

1929

Strikeouts

125

3

 

The Trades

The New York Yankees acquired this pitching talent in a series of six trades with the Boston Red Sox. Baseball historian Fred Lieb and Boston reporter Burt Whitman referred to them as part of “The Rape of the Red Sox.” Red Sox owner Harry Frazee has been vilified for giving up the heart of his team in terrible one-sided deals. But how did these trades look at the time they were made, without the benefit of hindsight?

A close review of the deals reveals a very different picture. They were quite balanced and not one-sided. The recent performances of the players involved, as well as their potential and prospects in the future, suggested equitable trades. The comments in the press of both cities reflected the perceived evenness of the transactions. However, over time these deals did prove to be very one-sided in favor of the Yankees.

“His [Frazee’s] friends who are many admire his courage and energy; his enemies who are not few, must at least respect his aggressive fearlessness.” — F.C. Lane, Baseball Magazine, March 1919

Thus was Harry Frazee described before the controversial Carl Mays deal. He made two big trades with the Philadelphia Athletics before the start of the 1918 season. His acquisition of Stuffy McInnis, Amos Strunk, Wally Schang, and Joe Bush was a key driver of the last Red Sox world championship of the 20th century, in 1918. Frazee also spent $60,000 in one of those deals. He was aggressive in building a winner and spent money willingly. Moreover, he made deals that helped his ball club, as reflected in that 1918 title.

“Curious how this club is always able to supply a horde of fine players for the other teams, and yet put up a formidable front each season. Is Frazee a foxy baseball general or is the chubby magnate blessed with uncanny luck?” — W. A. Phelon, Baseball Magazine, February 1922

Thus was Harry Frazee described after the Ruth deal and two blockbuster December trades with New York, in 1920 and 1921. The 1918 world champion Red Sox finished in sixth place in 1919 with Ruth. They finished in fifth place in both 1920 and 1921 without him. They also improved their record from 1919 to 1921. Fred Lieb noted in the December 23, 1921, New York Evening Telegram that Harry Frazee couldn’t be accused of weakening his club the way Connie Mack did because Frazee always insisted on getting players in return in his deals.

Here is a close look at his six trades of pitchers to the Yankees, other than the Babe Ruth deal, starting with one he made less than three months after the Red Sox won that 1918 World Series.

 
Trade no. 1: December 18, 1918
To New York To Boston
Ernie Shore, P Ray Caldwell, P
Dutch Leonard, P Slim Love, P
Duffy Lewis, OF Frank Gilhooley, OF
  Roxy Walters, C
  $25,000 cash1

 

This trade seemed very favorable to the Yankees when it was made. They acquired three veterans with proven track records, stars of Boston’s 1915 and 1916 championship clubs. Shore was 3–1 in those two series; Leonard was 2–0; Lewis had hit .400.

The trio were still in the prime of their careers: Leonard was 26, Shore was 27, and Lewis was 30. From 1915 to 1917, Shore and Leonard won 97 games between them. Lewis had hit close to .300 in his Red Sox career and was part of baseball’s finest outfield along with Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper.

The Yankees gave up players who had not yet achieved their full potential. Caldwell, at 30, was the oldest. He was a very talented pitcher and a good hitter. He won 37 games for weak New York teams in 1914 and 1915. The Washington Senators had offered Walter Johnson for him straight up early in 1915 (when both were flirting with the Federal League), and the new Yankee owners turned the deal down.2 But Ray also had a strong affinity for alcohol and “not obeying training rules.”

Slim Love had an incredible fastball; the New York Evening Journal reported that only Walter Johnson threw faster than he did in the American League. But Love also had control problems; he led the league with 116 walks in 1918. Walters was a classic good-field, weak-hit catcher with a great arm. Gilhooley had otherwise promising seasons ended by injuries in 1916 and 1917, and had rebounded with a solid 1918 season, hitting .276.

Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald noted that the Red Sox had a surplus of talent that could be traded without hurting the team, as they did a year earlier. With Ruth, Mays, Bush, and Jones, he wrote that Boston still had the best pitching staff in the league. He continued, “Walters . . . may add strength and snap to the world champions where they need it considerably. Love may develop into a second Rube Waddell.”3

The New York press was enthusiastic; the New York Times called it “the most important baseball trade locally for years. In Shore,Huggins has one of the best pitchers of the game, and Lewis is the first real outfielder that the Yanks have been able to land in many seasons.” The New York Herald called it “a master stroke.”4

There seems to be an overall consensus that the Yankees had come out on top on this deal. The Sporting News wrote of Miller Huggins “electrifying the baseball world . . . in snaring three of the Red Sox most brilliant stars.” The paper continued, “Shore and Leonard are two great pitchers . . . while Lewis was a tower of strength in the offense and defense of the champions.”5

The paper noted the loss of the talented Caldwell, but seasoned their praise with a reference to his “frequent and prolonged”escapades. In the same issue Joe Vila wrote, “It’s a cinch that Shore and Leonard will prove their real worth in the box.”

The trade ended up a wash, helping neither team very much. The “sure deal” for New York was anything but, and Shore and Lewis, who missed the 1918 season in the Navy, never regained their old form. Shore won only seven games for New York, and Lewis played in only 275 more games. Leonard got into a contract dispute with the Yankees, who sent him to Detroit before he played a single game for New York. One report said that Leonard insisted his salary be placed in escrow to ensure that he would receive it. Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert apparently did not appreciate the implications of this proposal.

Caldwell lasted less than a season with Boston, but had a stunning comeback with the Cleveland Indians. Late in the 1919 season, he no-hit the Yankees, and he then won 20 games for the 1920 world champions. Love won only six more games in the bigs. Walters hung around for seven more years, yet he hit above .201 twice and played in more than 54 games only once. Frank Gilhooley’s last major league season was 1919, but he went on to a sensational career in the International League. Four times in the 1920s, he garnered 200 hits, and he hit above .340 three times in that decade.

 
Trade no. 2: July 29, 1919
To New York To Boston
Carl Mays, P Allan Russell, P
  Bob McGraw, P
  $40,000 cash

 

This trade is most remembered for the battle it triggered between American League president Ban Johnson and the Yankees’ owners, who were supported by Harry Frazee and the White Sox’s Charles Comiskey. Mays walked out on the Red Sox, and Frazee sent him to New York in July 1919. Johnson wanted the deal rescinded to punish Mays and the Red Sox and to keep players in line, but the Yankees prevailed in court. It was a setback that marked the beginning of the end of Ban Johnson’s iron rule over the league.

There is no doubt that Mays was a talented pitcher. He had won 61 games for the Red Sox the previous three years. He is also the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last pitcher to clinch a world championship for the Red Sox in the 20th century?” His 2–1 three-hitter on September 11, 1918, was his second win in the series by that score.

Mays was no stranger to controversy. In his few years in the majors, he had been involved with a number of beanball incidents. He was also not an easy person to get along with. Red Sox manager Ed Barrow didn’t want Mays back, calling the pitcher “a chronic malcontent.”6 In time, Yankees manager Miller Huggins would come to share this sentiment about Mays. The trade received a great deal of attention in the papers; most of it focused on Ban Johnson’s efforts to overturn the deal and the legal battles with the Yankees. There is little discussion about the merits of the trade itself.

Any evaluation of the trade must take into account the fact that Mays had put the Red Sox in a difficult position. It was likely that he would not pitch for the team again, so Frazee had cut the best deal he could. He insisted on getting pitching in return, not simply money. The White Sox, for example, wanted Mays and offered only cash. In his discussions with the Yankees, Ed Barrow expressed interest in “Rubberarm” Russell. The Yankees also included McGraw, whom the New York Evening Journal had once called a “real comer.”7

The trade seemed to favor the Yankees, and Frazee seemed to make the best of a bad situation. Even Ernest Lanigan, no fan of the Boston owner, noted Frazee would likely benefit from the deal: “Mays always was a trouble-maker in Boston . . . who came very near being expelled from the American League once.” In return, Frazee “gets a couple of pitchers who look like fair prospects and a wad of dough.”8 The “wad” was nearly as much as the Red Sox had received for selling Tris Speaker to Cleveland.9

That season Frazee’s side of the trade looked good. Mays went 9–3 for New York, but Russell had a record of 10–4 for Boston. Later Mays was instrumental in the Yankees’ pennant drives of 1920 and 1921. Allan Russell and Bob McGraw never rose above journeyman status; Russell ended his career as a key member of the 1924 and 1925 pennant winners, the Washington Senators, making 67 relief appearances those two seasons, and McGraw finished his career with an ERA of exactly 5.00.

The Yankee owners were eager to acquire Mays as a step in their building a winner, but manager Huggins was strangely silent about the deal. During the lengthy court battles between Ban Johnson and the Yankees, he showed little enthusiasm for his new pitcher. By 1922 the Yankees had soured on Mays and sold him to Cincinnati after the 1923 season for far less than Frazee got for him. Yet Mays still had some good years left. He won 20 games in 1924 and 19 games for the 1926 Reds, who fell just two games short of the pennant and a World Series matchup with his former team, the Yankees.

 
Trade no. 3: December 15, 1920
To Yankees To Boston
Waite Hoyt, P Hank Thormahlen, P
Harry Harper, P Muddy Ruel, C
Mike McNally, IF Del Pratt, IF
Wally Schang, C Sammy Vick, OF
  $50,000 cash

 

This was the first of two blockbuster deals transacted almost exactly one year apart. In this trade both teams gave up talent and promise to get the same in return. It seemed like a balanced deal at the time.

The teams traded promising pitchers, Hoyt and Thormahlen; they swapped catchers, a proven veteran (Schang) for a prospect (Ruel); they exchanged utility players McNally and Vick. (Sammy Vick had been the Yankees’ starting right fielder in 1919 before the arrival of Babe Ruth.) The Red Sox also got Del Pratt, one of the best second basemen in the game, and gave up marginal pitcher Harry Harper. Pratt had come to Yankees three years earlier and dramatically improved the team’s middle infield. He averaged close to .300 those seasons, including .314 in 1920.

At the time of the trade Hoyt seemed unpredictable at best, and unmanageable at worst. The New York Giants originally signed Hoyt, and when manager John McGraw assigned him to Newark late in 1918, he refused to report. He instead joined the Baltimore Dry Docks (a shipyard team). The following year McGraw assigned him to Rochester; again Hoyt ran off to join the Dry Docks. After refusing another assignment in New Orleans, the headstrong Hoyt ended up on the Boston Red Sox.

Hoyt’s 1920 season was shortened by a serious injury. A double hernia and a stomach abscess kept him out of the game for about three months. There was no question he had promise. Whether he would take direction from management and whether he would fully recover from his operation were open to speculation.

Hank Thormahlen seemed at least as promising as Hoyt. After winning 25 games for Baltimore of the International League in 1917, the Yankees bought him for about $7,500. He was a sensational prospect. Two of baseball’s most respected sportswriters wrote glowingly about him. Veteran scribe Sam Crane said, “He will show later and show big, mark me.”10 Joe Vila called Thormahlen “one of the best southpaw prospects I have ever seen.”11 While the pitcher’s 1920 season (9–6, 4.14 ERA) was less impressive than 1919 (12–10, 2.62 ERA), he still had stuff. A week after the trade The Sporting News wrote, “[Thormahlen] appears to have the makings of a fine pitcher, a much better prospect than Harper.”12

Fred Lieb was critical of this deal in his 1947 Red Sox team history, calling it “another of [Frazee’s] infamous deals with the Yankees.” Yet he wrote something quite different in his “Cutting the Plate” column that appeared in the New York Evening Journal in 1931: “That was one of the most even deals [the Yankees] made with Frazee.”13 Boston writers were positive about the trade, seeing it as a clear win for the Red Sox. Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald was ecstatic; he called Pratt and Ruel the keys to the deal, though he liked Thormahlen too. “The Red Sox got by far the best of the deal. All Boston fans must applaud the move.”14 He further gushed that the deal must have been “conscience money” from the Yankees for the Babe Ruth deal, “for surely the Sox get the cream of the talent.”

Whitman also noted (somewhat prophetically) that Hoyt “may make the trade look good for the Yankees.” The Boston Globe weighed in: “Schang and Pratt are the two big players in the deal, with Hoyt something of a speculation, and unless the latter should develop into a great pitcher, it looks as if the Yankees were stung.”15

The opinions of the New York press were balanced. The New York Times saw the deal as “even Steven,” and the New York Herald said that the deal would help both teams. Sam Crane recognized Pratt’s enormous value in the New York Evening Journal, calling the second baseman “a tower of strength for the Yankee team.” Yet there were problems. Dan Daniel noted that Pratt “is not a great organization man.”16 Miller Huggins faced criticism both inside and outside the clubhouse, and Pratt was stirring things up—even jockeying for Huggins’ job. “A lack of amenability to reason, or at least to the constitutional authority,” was how the Times phrased it.17

Joe Vila was more outspoken in The Sporting News: “Miller Huggins got out the old chloroform bottle Huggins actually gave up nothing for something.”18 Vila’s comments were based on the report that Pratt had left Organized Baseball for a coaching job at the University of Michigan—his relationship with Miller Huggins had deteriorated so badly that had he not been traded, Pratt would have stayed at the college job. The terms of the trade were that it would go through even if Pratt didn’t report.

Shortly after the trade, Baseball Magazine wrote, “Ruel is a classy little catcher who should improve greatly with age and experience.”19

The December 16, 1920, New York Tribune predicted Ruel would prove to be a better player than Schang in five years, but “New York is too valuable a territory to waste on architectural plans.” Win, and win now—Huggins was being pressured to deliver a pennant quickly. In Schang he was getting a proven star who had caught for two world champion teams, the 1913 Athletics and the 1918 Red Sox. If Pratt was the key to the deal for Boston, Schang was the man for New York.

Shrewd observer Sam Crane of the New York Evening Journal was noncommittal. “Let’s stand pat on the trade” before declaring who got the better of the deal, he wrote on December 16.

Hoyt was the wild card, a gamble. If he didn’t prove out, then “New York certainly got the worst of the deal.”20 The New York World summed it up: “Opinions have been freely expressed on the big baseball trade last week the value of the trade from a New York point of view hinges entirely on Waite Hoyt. The possibilities of this youthful pitcher cannot be overestimated.”21

Schang delivered for the Yankees, hitting .316 and .319 his first two seasons with the team, and New York won three straight pennants. Ruel did eventually become a star—for Washington. The Red Sox sent Allan Russell and Ruel to the Senators in 1923, where they became key parts of the 1924 and 1925 pennant winners.

Later, Miller Huggins said that giving up Muddy Ruel was his biggest trading mistake. The diminutive backstop (5’9”, 150 pounds) was durable—enough to play an average of more than 124 games a year, most as a catcher, hitting above .275 in six of eight seasons. Yet just what Huggins thought about Ruel as a ballplayer is unclear. Many years later, Frank Graham quoted Huggins in the New York Journal-American: “Muddy was one of the finest young men I’d ever known. If I ever had a son, I’d like him to be like Muddy. But I simply couldn’t see him as a catcher.”22

After the trade, Boston sent Pratt a blank contract and let him fill in the salary (he inserted $11,500 a year for two years). He resigned from his Michigan position23 and went on to hit .324 for the 1921 Red Sox. Pratt continued to excel with the bat and hit above .300 in each of his next three seasons, though he did slow down in the field by 1924, his final season.

Harper and Thormahlen never came close to stardom. Harper won only four more games, three more victories than Thormahlen tallied after the deal. McNally and Vick never became regulars; McNally was a key sub in 1921 when Frank Baker was injured, but Vick tore ligaments in his knee in the offseason following the trade and was out of the bigs after 1921.

Ultimately, Waite Hoyt “made” this deal for New York. He delivered 38 wins in his first two seasons in New York, and gave up no earned runs in 27 innings in the 1921 Series.

 
Trade no. 4: December 20, 1921
To Yankees To Boston
Joe Bush, P Jack Quinn, P
Sam Jones, P Bill Piercy, P
Everett Scott, IF Rip Collins, P
  Roger Peckinpaugh, IF
  $150,000 cash24

 

One year later the teams completed another blockbuster deal. The key for the Yankees was receiving two veteran pitchers (Bush and Jones, both 29 years old) in exchange for, in essence, two young arms (Piercy and Collins, both 25) and veteran spitballer Jack Quinn. Again, the Yankees were looking to “win now,” giving up prospects for proven veterans. The Sporting News noted something that has been true of the Yankees since the early 1920s: “The insistence of the [Yankees] club owners and their patrons on an immediate winner has worked against the retention and development of these prospects.”25

Quinn was 38 years old at the time of the deal and was an anchor on the 1920 Yankees staff with 18 wins—but he had slipped badly in 1921 (8–7). This was the second time New York had given up on him; they thought he was getting old when they sent him to Rochester in 1912. Jones had a fine season in 1921, winning 23 games for the Sox, and Bush continued a remarkable comeback from a “dead arm,” with a 16–9 record in 1921.

Rip Collins (not to be confused with Ripper Collins of the Cardinals in the 1930s) was a talented pitcher with a lot of promise. “He has blinding speed, more sheer stuff, perhaps, than any pitcher has shown since Walter Johnson,” wrote F.C. Lane in Baseball Magazine in August 1927. And Collins delivered, winning 25 games for the Yankees in 1920–1921 with only 13 losses.

Bill Piercy was another arm with potential. He was a Coast League star in 1919–1920, when he pitched more than 600 innings and won 39 games with an impressive 2.34 ERA. Piercy is perhaps best known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the pitcher that Judge Landis suspended along with Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel, for barnstorming after the 1921 World Series?” By the time Piercy served that suspension, he was a member of the Red Sox.

The swap of shortstops, two of the league’s best, seemed to be fair. Everett Scott, the younger of the pair, was not as accomplished a hitter as Roger Peckinpaugh, but had the edge with his glove. Peck had been an anchor on the Yankees since 1913—the heart of the team—and even managed New York briefly at the end of the 1914 season, when he was only 23 years old.

Peck had recently made a critical miscue in the eighth game of the just-concluded 1921 Series. A ground ball went through his legs and brought in the game’s only run, giving the New York Giants the clincher, a 1–0 win over Waite Hoyt. Yankees co-owner Til Huston was furious over the error, though just what role he played in trading Peckinpaugh remains unclear. (For what it’s worth, Peck would later commit a record eight errors in the 1925 Series.)

As with Del Pratt a year earlier, Miller Huggins was again dealing with unrest in the clubhouse. His detractors—Ruth reportedly being among them—pushed the Yankee shortstop as a replacement for Huggins. Peck was not party to this, but his transfer helped secure Huggins’ position.

Opinion was split as to who got the better end of the deal. The Boston Herald and the Boston Post were critical of Frazee. In the Herald, Burt Whitman called the trade “an insult to Boston fandom” and wailed that “the great Red Sox armada . . . has been scrapped Frazee has junked his ball club.” The Post’s Paul Shannon declared Boston was no longer a major-league city.26 The Globe rationalized that Jones and Bush “were as good as they were ever going to be.”

Joe Vila was of the opinion in The Sporting News that “Frazee was either chloroformed or hypnotized.”27 Focusing mainly on the pitching talent the Yankees received, the New York Times called the deal “a sensational surprise.”28

The December 21 New York World did not agree. “Both Bush and Quinn are about through as far as the major leagues are concerned,” and “Piercy and Collins are young pitchers of high promise.” Fred Lieb noted in the New York Evening Telegram that Collins had as much “latent talent” as any pitcher of his years. In the New York Evening Mail of December 17, 1921, Hugh Fullerton noted the Yankees were taking a chance of raising “two Shockers” against them, promising young arms that would come back to haunt—and beat—them.

The New York Tribune saw great promise in the young arms New York had surrendered:

“Piercy in every action and movement is the nearest approach of baseball history to the great and only Christy Mathewson. Collins has the speed of Walter Johnson. He was what Johnson never had in his prime—a good curve ball. They will come back next year, as Urban Shocker did after he was traded to the Browns, to make Huggins rue his bargain.” 29

While Piercy and Collins never lived up to these lofty expectations, the passage illustrates the luxury of hindsight. No less of an astute observer than John McGraw felt Frazee’s critics were being unduly harsh. “They are hopping a little hard on Frazee. If a couple of young pitchers show anything or get fixed up with ambition, that club may kick up trouble.”30

The Yankees had now given up on Quinn for the second time—and a second time he surprised them. He would go on to win another 122 games in 12 more years in the bigs, belying Joe Vila’s assertion that Quinn was “through.”31 The heralded Bush would win only 87 more games over seven years. The Yankees also gave up on Jones prematurely in 1926. He went on to win 94 more games in his career.

The Yankees got only two or three strong years from Jones and Bush. Unlike the Hoyt deal, the payoff was short-term. From 1922 to 1924, Jones and Bush helped New York to two pennants (and barely missing a third). Their timing was excellent; after terrific 1920 and1921 seasons, Carl Mays fell off badly. Bush took over with a 26–7 record in 1922, and Jones followed with a 21–8 mark the following year.

Collins won 14 games for the last-place Red Sox in 1922. Near the end of that season, Collins and Quinn beat the Yankees, 3–1 and 1–0 in back-to-back games, nearly denying them the pennant. In a 1927 Baseball Magazine article, F.C. Lane said of Collins, “He might have been a marvelous hurler. He has been merely good.” His obituary noted that Collins “loved a good time and liquid refreshment.” When he was once asked why he looked older than his 32 years, Collins replied, “You can’t buck liquor and Broadway lights without getting marked up.”

Scott would go on to play five more years and 558 games, and Peckinpaugh appeared in 707 games over the next six years. Yet Peck never took the field for the Red Sox. They traded him to Washington in a three-way deal three weeks later, bringing third baseman Joe Dugan to Boston.32 Peckinpaugh anchored the infield of the pennant-winning Senators of 1924 and 1925 and won the American League Award (forerunner of the MVP).

 
Trade no. 5: January 3, 1923
To Yankees To Boston
George Pipgras, P Al DeVormer, C
Harvey Hendrick, OF Cash?33

 

At the time this deal was considered a minor transaction and got little press. Pipgras and Hendrick were relatively obscure minor leaguers—the biggest name was DeVormer, a starting catcher in Vernon’s Coast League champions of 1918–1920. The Yankees had given the Vernon club three prospects for him late in 1920; when New York released Ping Bodie to Vernon a year later, the New York Times reported that he was sent as part of the DeVormer deal. Yet the catcher was no more than a reserve player for the Yankees, appearing in 46 games in 1921–1922.

What little coverage this transaction exists favors the Red Sox. The New York Times wondered what the Yankees would do with another right-handed pitcher (Pipgras). What they really lacked was a lefty in the rotation. In Boston, Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald was excited: “Keep your seats, fans and fannies, and get a double nelson on your hats. The Red Sox are on the big end of a deal.”34

This trade was significant for the Yankees, though it took five years for this to become apparent. Pipgras, 23 years old at the time of this trade, did not develop into a big winner for the Yankees until the late 1920s. At first he had control problems, then spent two years on the bench and two more in the minors. He didn’t begin to contribute for New York until late in the 1927 season.

The Yankees’ timing was either very good or very lucky. After the rest of the righties in their rotations of the early 1920s (other than Hoyt) were gone or at the end of the line, Pipgras took over. At the end of the decade, from late 1927 through 1929, he won 52 games for New York. Without his arm the Yankees would not have come close to winning the 1928 pennant.

“The first time I saw him I knew he was a good pitcher,” said Huggins of Pipgras in 1927. After Huggins’ death, Ford Frick noted in the September 26, 1929, New York Evening Journal, “Once Hug was convinced that a man would make a real ball player he would stay with him for years.”

DeVormer played in fewer than 200 games in the majors. Hendrick became a decent player, hitting .308 over an 11-year career, mainly with Brooklyn.

 
Trade no. 6: January 30, 1923
To Yankees To Boston
Herb Pennock, P George Murray, P
Harvey Hendrick, OF

Norm McMillan, OF–3B

 

Camp Skinner, OF

 

$55,00035

 

Less than a month later the Yankees acquired a lefty for the rotation: Herb Pennock. Pennock did not carry impressive credentials from Boston. In the preceding two years he had compiled a 23–31 record with an ERA of more than 4.00. The three players the Red Sox acquired were fairly young (mid-20s) and unproven, with Murray showing the most promise. Now that the Yankees had Joe Dugan at third base, McMillan had become expendable.

Once again the Yankees were thinking of their immediate needs, and had a couple of things on their minds when they made the deal. First, they had just come away from another World Series loss to the Giants. Unlike 1921, they didn’t even win one game in the 1922 series. They had to get a proven southpaw into their starting rotation— they really hadn’t had one since George Mogridge in 1915–1920.36 Second, they were working on a big trade for Eddie Collins, and the White Sox were insisting that Waite Hoyt be included in the deal— all the more reason for New York to add a veteran to the staff, to bolster their ranks for 1923. When Huggins decided not to offer Hoyt, the White Sox deal collapsed.

Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert found himself on the defensive after announcing the Pennock deal. The immediate sentiment was very negative. Ruppert emphasized that Huggins felt strongly about the lefty Pennock, and that he (Ruppert) felt strongly about Huggins. He then outlined the Yankees’ philosophy, one not unlike that of the present-day club:

“John McGraw once was accused of being an ‘opportunist.’ We are opportunists in this case. We are taking Pennock to make reasonably sure of the present. We are willing to take a chance on the future. Other Murrays and McMillans will come along.”37

In Boston there was a broad spectrum of opinion. Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald canvassed many baseball observers, who told him they weren’t concerned about the trade from Boston’s perspective. He went on to suggest that the Red Sox had acquired “all promising if not brilliant

material for [manager] Frank Chance.”38 The Boston Globe was mildly positive, yet the Boston Post was very critical:“Frazee took the leap yesterday, making the wreck of a once great aggregation complete.”39

In New York the writers were very clear: the Yankees had given up too much on a gamble for an average veteran. The New York World wrote that the Yankees had been “gypped” and that Miller Huggins was as much of a “sap” as when he traded Urban Shocker away in 1918.40

The New York Times wrote, “Murray, one of the best young pitchers in the big leagues, has been hailed by all good judges as a sure comer. Either Murray or McMillan is as valuable as the aging Pennock” and called it “one of the most one-sided trades in the history of the American League.”41 In a rare glimpse of organizational schism, the paper quoted an unnamed Yankees official who considered the deal to be “the worst trade the Yanks ever made.” The New York Herald’s Dan Daniel was equally concerned: “The Yankees have indulged in a flight of extravagance to land Pennock. In another year Murray may be one of the outstanding stars of the game.”42

In The Sporting News, Joe Vila noted the difference of opinion on the deal, yet came down on the side of the Red Sox. “The Boston manager has received three very promising colts in exchange for a passing veteran.”43

That “passing veteran” went on to a long Yankee career, one that garnered him entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considered one of the greatest clutch pitchers in World Series history, Herb Pennock won 162 games for the Yankees. Skinner played in a total of seven games for Boston, the balance of his major league career. “Can’t miss” Murray—whom Fred Lieb said had “the makings of a Johnson or Alexander”—won just 16 more games in the majors. He broke his arm in 1925 while throwing a curveball. McMillan had modest success as the starting third baseman on the 1929 pennant-winning Chicago Cubs. That was one of two years that he played in more than 76 games.

Summing Up

Six trades with the Red Sox for pitching talent helped build the Yankees dynasty of the 1920s. Six trades built the foundation of baseball’s most winning franchise. While so much attention has been focused on the acquisition of a former pitcher—the incomparable slugger Babe Ruth—six other trades brought the club a precious and rare 1920s commodity: pitching talent. The sale of Ruth symbolized the power shift to New York. The trades of these pitchers cemented that transfer of power.

History has been unkind to Harry Frazee, yet these transactions seemed quite equitable when they were made, in the eyes of the press as well as the past performances of the men involved. This analysis does not even include the cash Frazee received ($315,000) that could have been used to acquire other playing talent.

After the December 1921 blockbuster deal (Trade No. 4), F.C. Lane wrote, “Such are the uncertainties of baseball that no opinion beyond a guess can be hazarded as to the probable outcome of this deal.”44 Yet the fact remains that these trades turned out to be famously one-sided for New York. The Yankees ended up with a wealth of pitching talent without which their dynasty could not have risen. The Red Sox ended up with little to show for their side of the ledger. Why did so many trades turn out so favorably for the Yankees? Were they guessing? Were they simply lucky? Or were they good? Consider these factors.

1. Ed Barrow

The Red Sox manager of 1918–1920 became the Yankees’ business manager in October 1920, just before the first of the two blockbuster deals (Trade No. 3). When that deal was announced, Fred Lieb wrote in the New York Evening Journal, “The fine hand of Ed Barrow is seen in this latest deal.” Lieb noted that Barrow was the man “who made a real pitcher out of Sam Jones.”

Barrow knew these pitchers better than anyone else knew them. Jones and Bush played key roles for Boston’s 1918 pennant winners. Bush, Jones, and Pennock won well over 50% of the Red Sox 1920 victories, and Hoyt had glimpses of brilliance in Boston.

While Barrow was not a modest man and took credit for things that weren’t totally his doing (such as converting Ruth from a pitcher to an everyday hitter), did he have some special insight into the potential of these former Red Sox pitchers? Did he see the likelihood of success in a youngster like Hoyt and a veteran like Pennock that others could not see so clearly? Did he grasp that youngsters like Thormahlen and Collins and Murray would not become stars?

Barrow also had an acute understanding of the importance of the manager’s authority in the clubhouse. He therefore didn’t hesitate to deal away an active challenger to Huggins’ leadership— such as Del Pratt—or a passive lightning rod for an anti-Huggins clique—such as Roger Peckinpaugh. Finally, was it just a coincidence that Trade No. 1, which appeared to be so favorable to the Yankees but didn’t turn out that way, was made before Ed Barrow joined the Yankees?

2. Miller Huggins

Huggins had an uncanny knack for evaluating talent. He honed that skill as the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he gained the reputation as a shrewd trader. A close look at the December 1920 trade gives some insight to his capacity to assess personnel.

After working with Thormahlen for three years, Huggins saw his inconsistency and inability to deliver in the heat of the 1920 pennant race. The Sporting News reported on December 23, 1921, that the deal that brought Hoyt to New York was held up for two months by Huggins’ reluctance to part with Muddy Ruel. The Yankees skipper finally did go ahead with the deal, and a few months later he revealed a key reason for doing so. Huggins told the New York Evening Mail before the start of the 1921 season that Waite Hoyt was “a pitcher of infinite promise.”45

A year later, Huggins surprised many observers when he gave up on Collins and Piercy. Joe Vila of the New York Sun was the sportswriter with whom Huggins was closest and sometimes confided in. Vila was also the New York correspondent of The Sporting News, where he was probably reflecting the skipper’s assessment when he wrote on December 29, 1921, “Collins and Piercy never will make good in fast company.” He—Vila or Huggins, or both— was right.

Another year later, the New York World was shocked by the prospects the Yankees gave up in the Pennock deal. “The Yankees paid a big toll. They gave a stunning price.” Miller Huggins reacted with aplomb. He knew what he did, and why he did it. ”We must have a left-hander of experience . . . For my purposes, I had to have Pennock.”

Taken together, Barrow and Huggins had a powerful sense of evaluating personnel that left other teams behind. By the mid-1920s, other teams refused to make major deals with the Yankees, so fearful were they that they’d be taken advantage of. This forced the Yankees to turn to the minor leagues for personnel. Once again, Barrow and Huggins worked their magic. With the help of their scouts, first Bob Connery and then Paul Krichell, they also developed a system for identifying future Yankees. While Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri didn’t come cheaply, they came to the Yankees having never played a major league game . . . and succeeded brilliantly at baseball’s highest level.

Good Teams Make Good Players Better

Throughout Yankees history there have been players who excelled with the Yankees to a far greater degree than they did on other teams they played for, before and/or after their Yankee stints. Perhaps one of the best examples of this synergy was another Yankee acquisition from the Red Sox, one that is outside the time frame of this paper.

Red Ruffing, traded from Boston to New York in 1930, went from mediocrity to greatness as a pitcher once he joined the Yankees. Is there something to this phenomenon, something that can be measured?

It is ironic that until the Yankees built a winning tradition in the 1920s, they were known for a very different effect on ballplayers who joined them. Good players elsewhere seemed to play “down” when they joined the Yankees. The press often talked about a “fatality,” a bad karma that followed the team. Sportswriters referred to Frank “Home Run” Baker as an example of this in the early Ruppert years. His Yankee seasons were not nearly as good as his Philadelphia years, though he should have been entering the peak of his career. When Duffy Lewis and Ernie Shore were also unable to bring their great performances to New York, the “jinx” of the Yankees seemed to be continuing.

STEVE STEINBERG focuses on early 20th century baseball in New York and St. Louis. He is working with Lyle Spatz on a book on the 1921 season, tentatively entitled 1921, The Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York.

 

Acknowledgments

This article is based on many sources, including numerous primary source newspaper accounts. I want to acknowledge in particular the following sources: Ed Linn, The Great Rivalry; Lyle Spatz, Yankees Coming, Yankees Going; and Glenn Stout, Red Sox Century and Yankees Century, as well as Lenny Jacobson’s NWSABR presentation and Dan Levitt’s analysis of New York Yankees’ financial data.

 

Notes

  1. The amount of cash included in this and all the other deals has been gleaned from the New York Yankees’ general ledger and player salary notebooks, courtesy of SABR member Dan There were differing amounts mentioned in different newspaper accounts; the numbers were not made public. Ed Barrow says in his autobiography that this deal involved $50,000.
  2. Joe Vila, New York Sun, March 16, 1919, and Fred Lieb, New York Evening Telegram, January 15, 1922.
  3. Boston Herald, December 19, 1918.
  4. New York Herald, December 19, 1918.
  5. The Sporting News, December 26, 1918.
  6. Meany, Tom. The Yankee Story.
  7. New York Evening Journal, March 27, 1918.
  8. The Sporting News, August 14, 1919.
  9. During the Mays negotiations, the Red Sox made another transaction that was barely noticed. They purchased a young pitcher named Waite A few weeks later, on September 24, Hoytcaught the Yankees’ attention with a remarkable pitching performance, throwing nine perfect innings of relief against New York (though he lost in the 13th inning, 2–1).
  10. New York Evening Journal, April 27, 1918.
  11. The Sporting News, December 26, 1918.
  12. The Sporting News, December 23, 1920.
  13. New York Evening Journal, September 29, 1931.
  14. Boston Herald, December 16, 1920.
  15. Boston Globe, December 16, 1920.
  16. New York Herald, December 17, 1920.
  17. New York Times, December 16, 1920.
  18. The Sporting News, December 23, 1920.
  19. Baseball Magazine, February 1921.
  20. The Sporting News, December 23, 1920.
  21. New York World, December 20, 1920.
  22. New York Journal–American, November 7, 1945.
  23. Pratt’s former Yankees teammate Ray Fisher took the He would coach Michigan to 637 wins over the next 38 years, including 15 conference championships.
  24. Writing about this trade in his autobiography, Ed Barrow comments, “Of course, the hard-pressed Frazee also got a check.”
  25. The Sporting News, January 12, 1922.
  26. The Boston Post, December 21, 1921.
  27. The Sporting News, December 29, 1921.
  28. The New York Times, December 21, 1921.
  29. Quoted in The Sporting News, January 5, 1922.
  30. New York Evening Telegram, December 23, 1921.
  31. The Sporting News, December 29, 1921.
  32. The Red Sox dealt Dugan to the Yankees a few months later, in July The only pitcher involved in that deal went to the Red Sox. While he won only one big league game, this pitcher becameone of the game’s greatest hitters, with a .349 career batting average. His name? Lefty O’Doul.
  33. Cash for Boston was rumored to have been part of this deal but remains unconfirmed.
  34. Boston Herald, January 4, 1923.
  35. Sportswriter William McGeehan wrote of this deal: “Mr. Frazee now has the largest collection of Colonel Ruppert’s checks in ” New York Herald, January 31, 1923.
  36. The Yankees also gave up Mogridge too soon; he would win 65 games for Washington from 1921 to 1924.
  37. New York World, January 31, 1923.
  38. Boston Herald, January 31, 1923.
  39. Boston Post, January 31, 1923.
  40. New York World, February 1, 1923.
  41. New York Times, January 31, 1923.
  42. New York Herald, January 31, 1923
  43. The Sporting News, February 8, 1923.
  44. Baseball Magazine, February 1921.
  45. New York Evening Mail, April 9, 1921.

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