The Boston Red Sox are an American professional baseball team based in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) East division. The Red Sox have won eight World Series championships and have played in 13. Founded in 1901 as one of the American League’s eight charter franchises, the Red Sox’ home ballpark has been Fenway Park since 1912. The “Red Sox” name was chosen by the team owner, John I. Taylor, around 1908, following the lead of previous teams that had been known as the “Boston Red Stockings”, including the forerunner of the Atlanta Braves.
Boston was a dominant team in the new league, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series in 1903 and winning four more championships by 1918. However, they then went into one of the longest championship droughts in baseball history, dubbed the “Curse of the Bambino” after its alleged beginning with the Red Sox’ sale of Babe Ruth to the rival New York Yankees two years after their world championship in 1918, an 86-year wait before the team’s sixth World Championship in 2004. The team’s history during that period was punctuated with some of the most memorable moments in World Series history, including Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” in 1946, the “Impossible Dream” of 1967, Carlton Fisk’s home run in 1975, and Bill Buckner’s error in 1986. Following their victory in the 2013 World Series, they became the first team to win three World Series trophies in the 21st century, including championships in 2004 and 2007. Red Sox history has also been marked by the team’s intense rivalry with the Yankees, arguably the fiercest and most historic in North American professional sports.
The Boston Red Sox are owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Liverpool F.C. of the Premier League in England. The Red Sox are consistently one of the top MLB teams in average road attendance, while the small capacity of Fenway Park prevents them from leading in overall attendance. From May 15, 2003 to April 10, 2013, the Red Sox sold out every home game—a total of 820 games (794 regular season) for a major professional sports record.Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” has become an anthem for the Red Sox.
In 1901, the minor Western League, led by Ban Johnson, declared its equality with the National League, then the only major league in baseball. Johnson changed the name of the league to the American League, leading teams in his league to be christened with the unofficial nickname “Americans”. This was especially true in the case of the new Boston franchise, which would not adopt an official nickname until 1908.
The upstart league placed franchises in Baltimore, Maryland and Buffalo. After looking at his new league, Ban Johnson decided that he would need a team in Boston to compete with the National League team there, and so cancelled the Buffalo club’s franchise, offering one to a new club in Boston. The Boston franchise was purchased in 1903 by Milwaukee publisher, George Brumder who sold the team one year later. Playing their home games at Huntington Avenue Grounds, the Boston franchise finished second and third before capturing their first pennant in 1903 and repeating the next year. Those teams were led by manager and star third baseman Jimmy Collins, outfielders Chick Stahl, Buck Freeman, and Patsy Dougherty, and pitcher Cy Young, who in 1901 won the pitching Triple Crown with 33 wins (41.8% of the team’s 79 games), 1.62 ERA and 158 strikeouts. His 1901 to 1904 seasons rank among the best four-year runs ever.
In 1903, Boston participated in the first modern World Series, going up against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates were heavily favored as they had won the NL pennant by 6½ games. Aided by the modified chants of “Tessie” by the Royal Rooters fan club and by its stronger pitching staff, the Americans managed to overcome the odds, and win the best-of-nine series five games to three.
Unfortunately, the NL champion New York Giants declined to play any postseason series, fearing it would give their New York rivals credibility (they had expected the Highlanders to win), but a sharp public reaction led the two leagues immediately to make the World Series a permanent championship, starting in 1905. These successful times soon ended, however, as Boston lost 100 games in 1906. However, several new star players helped the newly renamed Red Sox improve almost immediately.
By 1909, legendary center fielder Tris Speaker had become a fixture in the Boston outfield, and the team worked their way to third place. However, the Red Sox would not win the pennant again until their 105-win 1912 season, finishing with a club record .691 winning percentage. Anchored by an outfield considered to be among the finest in the game—Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis—and superstar pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, the Red Sox beat the New York Giants 4–3–1 in the classic 1912 World Series best known for Snodgrass’s Muff. From 1913 to 1916 the Red Sox were owned by Joseph Lannin, who signed Babe Ruth, soon the best-known and one of the best players ever. Another 101 wins in 1915 propelled the Red Sox to the 1915 World Series, where they beat the Philadelphia Phillies four games to one. Following the 1915 season, Tris Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians. His departure was more than compensated for, however, by the emergence of star pitcher Babe Ruth. The Red Sox went on to win the 1916 World Series, this time defeating the Brooklyn Robins. In 1918, Babe Ruth led his team to another World Series championship, this time over the Chicago Cubs.
Sale of Babe Ruth and Aftermath (1920–38)
Babe Ruth in 1916.
Harry Frazee bought the Red Sox from Joseph Lannin in 1916 for about $500,000. A couple of notable trades involving Harry Frazee and the Yankees occurred before the Babe Ruth sale. On December 18, 1918, outstanding outfielder Duffy Lewis, pitcher Dutch Leonard (who had posted a modern record 0.96 ERA in 1914), and pitcher Ernie Shore were traded to the Yankees for pitcher Ray Caldwell, Slim Love, Roxy Walters, Frank Gilhooley and $15,000. As all three players were well regarded in Boston—Lewis had been a key player on the 1910s championship teams, Shore had famously relieved Babe Ruth and retired 27 straight, and Leonard had only four years before setting a modern record for earned run average—this trade was regarded as a poor one in Boston. Then, on July 13, 1919, submarine-style pitching star Carl Mays was traded to the Yankees for Bob McGraw, Allan Russell and $40,000. Mays would go on to have several good years for the Yankees, but had been a discipline problem for the Red Sox.
On December 26, 1919, Frazee sold Babe Ruth, who had played the previous six seasons for the Red Sox, to the rival New York Yankees (Ruth had just broken the single-season home run record, hitting 29 in 1919.) Legend has it that Frazee did so in order to finance the Broadway play No, No, Nanette. That play did not actually open on Broadway until 1925, but as Leigh Montville discovered during research for his book, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919. My Lady Friends had, indeed, been financed by the Ruth sale to the Yankees.
During that period, the Red Sox, Yankees and Chicago White Sox had a détente; they were called “Insurrectos” because their actions antagonized league president Ban Johnson. Although Frazee owned the Boston Red Sox franchise, he did not own Fenway Park (it was owned by the Fenway Park Trust), making his ownership a precarious one; Johnson could move another team into the ballpark. His club was in debt, but Frazee felt the need to purchase its playing site (which he did in 1920). Further, providing the Yankees with a box office attraction would help that mediocre club, which had sided with him against Johnson and “the Loyal Five” clubs. Finally, Ruth was considered a serious disciplinary problem, a reputation he amply confirmed while playing for the Yankees. Frazee moved Ruth to stabilize Red Sox finances and cut distractions. It was a straight sale, no players in return.
New York achieved great success after acquiring Ruth and several other very good players. The sale of Babe Ruth came to be viewed as the beginning of the Yankees–Red Sox rivalry, considered the “Greatest Rivalry on Earth” by American sports journalists.
After deciding to get out of baseball, Frazee began selling many of his star players. In the winter of 1920, Wally Schang, Waite Hoyt, Harry Harper and Mike McNally were traded to the Yankees for Del Pratt, Muddy Ruel, John Costello, Hank Thormahlen, Sammy Vick and cash.The following winter, iron man shortstop Everett Scott, and pitchers Bullet Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones were traded to the Yankees for Roger Peckinpaugh (who would be immediately shipped to the Washington Senators), Jack Quinn, Rip Collins, Bill Piercy and $50,000.On July 23, 1922, Joe Dugan and Elmer Smith were traded to the Yankees for Elmer Miller, Chick Fewster, Johnny Mitchell, and Lefty O’Doul, who was at the time a mediocre pitching prospect. Acquiring Dugan helped the Yankees edge the St. Louis Browns in a tight pennant race, and the resulting uproar helped create a June 15 trading deadline that went into effect the next year. Perhaps an even more outrageous deal was the trade of Herb Pennock, occurring in early 1923. Pennock was traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees for Camp Skinner, Norm McMillan, George Murray and $50,000.
The loss of so much talent sent the Red Sox into free fall, even with the money Frazee earned from the trades. During the 1920s and early 1930s, they were fixtures in the second division, never finishing closer than 20 games out of first. The losses only mounted when Frazee sold the team to Bob Quinn in 1923. During an eight-year period from 1925 to 1932, the Red Sox averaged over 100 losses per season, bottoming out in 1932 with a record of 43-111, still the worst record in franchise history. One of the few bright spots on these teams was Earl Webb, who set the all-time mark for most doubles in a season in 1931 with 67. The BoSox’ fortunes began to change in 1933 when Tom Yawkey bought the team. Yawkey acquired pitcher Wes Ferrell and one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, Lefty Grove, making his team competitive once again in the late thirties. He also acquired Joe Cronin, an outstanding shortstop and manager and slugging first baseman Jimmie Foxx whose 50 home runs in 1938 would stand as a club record for 68 years. Foxx also drove in a club record 175 runs.
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