His name was Babe. Have you ever heard of him? The New York Yankees signed this seldom known player back in 1920 to a then-massive contract of $125,000. Ruth came off six seasons with the Red Sox in which he led them to three World Series titles.
Up until that point, Ruth had yet to play outfield. He had pitched a total of 29 2/3 scoreless World Series innings which had set a new league record that would last another 43 years.
In 1914, Ruth signed his first minor-league contract for the Baltimore Orioles (Ruth was a Baltimore native). By 1916, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and made into a formidable major league pitcher.
During the 1919 season, Ruth pitched in just 17 of his team’s 130 games and the Red Sox quickly fell out of playoff contention. Still, the team saw record-breaking attendance that season mostly due to Ruth’s incredible home run show.
His long ball capabilities quickly became evident by May 1920 with the Yankees. Ruth set a major league baseball record that month with 11 home runs. By the end of July of that year, he tied his own record of 29 on July 15th. By the end of the month, he had 37 in total. 1920 was widely known as the start of the live ball era, and subsequently saw a major surge in home run power around the league.
This was also around the time that Ruth began living up to his now infamous status as perennial party boy. He would impress teammates and opponents around the league by filling bathtubs up with beer bottles and inviting scores of people back to his hotel suite on a nightly basis. According to teammate Waite Hoyt, “the puzzle of Ruth never was dull.”
In the early to mid-1920’s, the Yankees became the first team to clinch four consecutive pennants. Ruth was obviously the focal point of that streak, and for that reason he requested more money.
In 1929, New York came up short finishing 18 games back of rival Philadelphia Athletics. It was also the year that Ruth would request a new contract. He asked for, and received $80,000 a year—equal to $1,000,000 in today’s dollars. It was totally unprecedented for the era, and was more than the salary of the President of the United States.
Ruth’s time with the Yankees ended in 1935, and he would join the Boston Braves as a manager but only briefly.
Few people remember Babe Ruth with any other team besides the Yankees. If not for that move in 1920, he could have been a Red Sox player for life. Then we’d never hear about the “curse of the Bambino.”