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August 30, 2005
You Could Look It Up
More Than Just The Babe
After last Wednesday's YCLIU on the trades that built the 1964 Phillies, reader B. asked:
Has anyone at BP done any writing regarding the numerous lopsided trades between the Yankees and Red Sox between 1918 and 1929? Ruth, Mays, Hoyte, Ruffing and others went to the Yanks, many times with cash going to the Red Sox. I think the AL president tried to void the Mays deal and it ended up in court. It was all shady. I'd love to see how much WARP went to the Yanks in those years.
BP has written extensively about the trades that the Yankees conducted with Red Sox owner Harry Frazee but you haven't seen it yet because it's chapter one of Mind Game, still a few weeks away. However, we didn't break down the trades and the WARP figures individually so we can go into that here without spoiling the beginning of the book.
One thing worth bearing in mind: there was nothing shady about any of those deals. With the exception of the last two deals out of a total of ten, they can't automatically be viewed as a betrayal of Boston's interests, even the Mays deal, which did end up in court but not because the trade was lopsided but rather because it became part of a political struggle between Frazee, the Yankees owners, and the imperial president of the American League, Ban Johnson.
Note also that the Ruffing deal was not part of the Frazee trades, but came under the next ownership, that of the bankrupt but goodhearted J.A. Robert Quinn--whose son John was the subject of our last installment (shameless plug: for more on J.A. Robert Quinn, read my Forging Genius; he's a main character).
This deal was a housecleaning by the Red Sox, eliminating players who had been replaced while in service during World War I. The best player in the deal was Dutch Leonard. He refused to report to New York but the Yankees let the deal stand. The Sox later dealt him to the Tigers. None of these players had much left to give; Caldwell had been a pretty good pitcher back in the day, but that day was done; Boston got most of its value from Walters, a good defensive catcher. The Yankees got nothing from Shore and a few ergs of production from Lewis, who was just a couple of years away from his proper role as Boston traveling secretary.
Yes, the Yankees sold a player to the Red Sox. No doubt the money changing hands wasn't much, but the money still went south, not north. This was a waiver claim on a 22-year-old prospect. The Red Sox didn't get much from "Good Time Bill," nor did his next team, the Dodgers, but Connie Mack got .345/.372/.471 from him from 1924 to 1925 (decent, not great, numbers in those years). Perhaps the sober Mack was able to get Lamar to curtail the good times for a little while.
The Mays trade was forced on both teams, though no doubt the Yankees were thankful for the opportunity. Mays, a right-hander with a devastating submarine delivery, was a difficult personality who was sometimes referred to as "the most hated man in baseball." In the middle of the game of July 19, 1919 he stalked off the field, vowing never again to pitch for the Red Sox. Given the imbalance between owners and players at that time, Frazee could have had Mays blackballed from the majors. Instead, he decided to make Mays someone else's problem. He entertained numerous offers for the pitcher, who to that point in his career was 72-51 with a 2.21 ERA. Some teams offered players, others offered money. Only the Yankees offered both. Frazee accepted their offer of a league-average starter, a highly thought-of pitching prospect, and cash.
Mays' demands became entangled with American League politics to such a catastrophic degree that it threatened to split the league in two; Ban Johnson felt that Mays' defiance of the reserve clause--we can't have our employees choose where they're going to play!--should be met with punishment, not a trade. After litigation and a number of dramatic, high-level confrontations, the Red Sox and Yankees were able to consummate the Mays deal, at the cost of alienating every other team owner except for Chicago's Charles Comiskey. The developing Black Sox scandal would soon remove Comiskey as a trading partner. The Yankees and Red Sox now had only each other to trade with. The stage for the Babe Ruth deal had been set.
We talk about this a lot in Mind Game, so let's just let the numbers speak for themselves for now. One note: as the Black Sox scandal hadn't yet played out, Comiskey offered Joe Jackson in exchange for Ruth. Thanks a lot, pal. One can only imagine how much more self-pity the Curse of the Bambino would have created after the player acquired for Ruth got banned from baseball.
Yankees manager Miller Huggins regretted for the rest of his life, retroactively, the inclusion of Muddy Ruel, 24. Not yet established at the time of the trade, Ruel wasn't much of a hitter, but he rapidly earned a reputation as one of the game's best receivers (BP's Davenport Translations agree, crediting him with 94 fielding runs above average during his career, peaking at 20 for the champion Washington Senators in 1924). A lawyer, Ruel's reputation for intelligence kept him in the game almost continuously as a player, coach, or manager from 1915 to 1950.
It should be noted that although Huggins was gleeful at netting Hoyt, the "Brooklyn Schoolboy" was just a 21-year-old pitching prospect with the usual amount of uncertainty that such prospects entail (plus he was threatening to hold out). The main priority for the deal was to get the Yankees a catcher with a bit more oomph. Schang was the rare catcher of the period who could flat-out hit. Hoyt was just a 21-year-old that had never done anything. Since coming to the bigs in 1913, Schang had posted EqAs of .299, .289, .297, .300, .291, .269, .309, and .301. The Yankees were more interested in making a deal for Mike Piazza than one for King Felix.
The Red Sox not only got the Joe Girardi of the day, but Del Pratt, slugging second baseman. After Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins, he was probably the best two-way keystone cop in the game at that time. The trade was not lopsided at the outset.
This is an odd trade all around. At the time it was not considered an automatic win for the Yankees. First, the Yankees traded their starting shortstop, Peckinpaugh, for a slightly younger shortstop (31 vs. 29) who was perhaps a steadier fielder but couldn't hit at all. Peck had been with the Yankees since 1913 and had even briefly managed the team, but the Yankees were looking for a little payback after Peckinpaugh's error let in the winning run of the 1921 World Series. Little did they know there was an MVP award in Peckinpaugh's future.
Boston included two strong starters in this deal, but one of the two, Jones, had already peaked. In return, the Red Sox got legal spitballer Jack Quinn, who had three seasons for the Red Sox that were the equal of anything that Jones or Bush did for the Yankees, with the possible exception of Bush's 1924. Peckinpaugh's three-year WARP from 1922-1924 totaled 17.5 (note the too-good-to-be-true +33 FRAA in his MVP season of 1924; Ozzie Smith, Honus Wagner, Phil Rizzuto, Marty Marion--you name it--never had a season like that, at least according to our system).
Frazee's big mistake was taking Peckinpaugh and flipping him to the Senators as part of a three-way deal with the A's in which the Red Sox got the vastly overrated third baseman Joe Dugan. Had the Sox simply held on to Peck, they would have won the trade according to the standards we're using here.
A good move; in 1924 and 1925 the Red Sox got the only good pitching Ferguson ever did. Later on, Ferguson spent three years with the Phillies and was evil bad for an evil bad team, posting a deserved .333 winning percentage and an ERA about a run and a half above league average (the park helped).
Home Run Baker had been the starting third baseman for the Yankees since 1916, but he was 36 and visibly slowing down. Frazee, who by now was pretty sure he would be leaving baseball, decided to thumb his nose at the St. Louis Browns, whose owner had been one of those loyal to Ban Johnson in the dispute over Mays (and about another dozen issues big and small) by giving Dugan to the Yankees. The Browns were enjoying the first of two pennant races they would have in the history of the franchise. They lost to the Yankees by just one game. Even before then, this deal was was widely criticized as having been dirty pool. In response, the first trading deadline in baseball history was imposed.
Good news: the Lefty O'Doul listed here is the same one that would hit for some gaudy batting averages in the 1930s. Bad news: he didn't do it for the Red Sox.
Planning on leaving baseball? Sell off your excess inventory to your only friends! Pipgras was a 23-year-old pitching prospect who didn't fully establish himself until 1928, when he went 24-13, 3.38 for the champion Yankees. There would be no follow-up. Though Pipgras had a few more seasons with high win totals, he never was much more than a decent pitcher with excellent run support. Hendrick, a 25-year-old major league virgin out of the Texas League, eventually established himself, batting .308/.364/.443 (.279 EqA) in a career of 922 games in which he played first, third, and the outfield. He wouldn't do it with the Yankees, though, being incapable of breaking into an outfield that had Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel playing the wings.
In exchange, Frazee acquired a 31-year-old fringe catcher who had first appeared in the majors with the White Sox in 1918 and had been sent back to the minors before resurfacing as a rarely used backup with the Yankees in 1921 and 1922. The Red Sox gave him 74 games and found out he couldn't hit, something that should have been clear from his minor league stats. Playing with Vernon of the Pacific Coast League from 1918 through 1920, Devormer hit .248 with five home runs in 1156 at bats.
Harry's last hurrah, as he did what he could to squeeze the last out from the Red Sox before departing. The Red Sox got three young(ish) players in the deal. Skinner was a 26-year-old rookie, McMillan a 27-year-old rookie, and Murray a 24-year-old sophomore. None of the three developed, while Pennock gave the all-righty Yankees rotation a different look, not to mention a key advantage as they moved into their new Stadium, which would turn out to favor lefties.