Slapdick #3 – Harry Fraze
This is an easy call. If you look up Harry Freeze on Wikipedia, the first thing it will tell is how he was a “theatrical agent, producer, and director.” Then, after that it says (paraphrasing) “Oh, by the way, he owned the Boston Red Sox, too.”
Obviously, Harry’s focus was not on the game of baseball. He took over the team in 1916 and they won another World Series title in 1918, before the wheels fell off (because the car hit a giant slapdick in the road, blowing the tires clean off).
With the title in 1918, the Red Sox secured ownership of a third of the 15 possible World Series titles to that point. It was a good time to be a Red Sox fan. By 1922, the Sox would be in last place.
The club began to struggle financially due to wartime attendance numbers. On top of this, Frazee’s theater production company was tanking in New York. At the same time, the meteoric rise of the greatest player to ever play was in full motion.
Babe Ruth was coming off a 1918 season in which he led the league in homers with eleven. He led the league in homers while pitching every fourth day. He led the league in homers despite only getting 317 at-bats. Remember, this was the dead ball era. Watching a ball bounce off of Ruth’s bat was like watching rays from a laser beam shoot into the sky.
Not only did Ruth dominate with the bat, but he set the pace in 1916 with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts. in 1917 he finished with 24 wins and a 2.01 ERA. His 1918 ERA came in at 2.22. Ruth was on the verge of forever changing the game and was the most popular player for the Red Sox.
At this point, Ruth began to demand a higher salary. He actually held out for it. Eventually Frazee and Ruth settled on an agreement. Frazee knew it wouldn’t last after Ruth pounded out an astonishing 29 homers in 1919.
Frazee and his partner were floundering with their theater company, and began selling the best Red Sox players away, mostly to the Yankees.
Following the 1919 season, Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston sensed blood in the water and made Frazee an offer he couldn’t refuse. They paid an astonishing $100,000 for the rights to George Herman Ruth. The structuring of the payments included a $25,000 down payment.
Legend has it that the money was necessary to finance a play his theater company was working on. It sounds like there are a lot of elements of truth to that, but the overall economic effect of the War probably paid a large part in all of this.
Either way, Frazee is credited with dismantling one of the most dominant stretches in Red Sox history and leaving them in the gutter. Frazee sold all of their top players away and made the deal that sent the great Bambino to the New York Yankees.
At the end of the day, this makes Harry Frazee a giant slapdick.