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Harry Frazee: Wikis


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Harry Herbert Frazee
Owner of the Boston Red Sox
Birth: June 29, 1881
Peoria, Illinois
Death: June 4, 1929
New York City, New York (aged 48)
Ownership: 1916 – 1923
Predecessor: Joseph Lannin
Successor: J.A. Robert Quinn
Championships: 1916 World Series
1918 World Series
General Manager(s): None
Manager(s): Bill Carrigan (1916)
Jack Barry (1917)
Ed Barrow (1918-1920)
Hugh Duffy (1921-1922)

Harry Herbert Frazee (June 29, 1881 in Peoria, Illinois–June 4, 1929 in New York City) was an American theatrical agent, producer and director, and former owner of the Major League Baseball Boston Red Sox from 1916 to 1923.

Frazee bought the Red Sox from Joseph Lannin in 1916 for about $500,000. The Sox won a World Series title in 1918. The team finished in sixth in 1919, and it started selling off its players to the New York Yankees, most notoriously Babe Ruth after the 1919 season. After the sale of Ruth, the team crashed into the American League cellar and would not finish above .500 until 1934. The Red Sox would not win another World Series until 2004, the third longest drought in MLB history.

Frazee backed a number of New York theatrical productions (before and after Ruth's sale), the best known of which is probably No, No, Nanette, which was once claimed, and later (questionably) debunked, as the specific play that Ruth's sale financed. He was the subject of an unflattering portrait in Fred Lieb's account of the Red Sox, which further insinuated that he had sold Ruth to finance a Broadway musical. This would become a central element in the Curse of the Bambino.

The truth is somewhat more nuanced and dates to a long-running dispute between Frazee and American League founder and president Ban Johnson. Frazee had been the first American League owner who hadn't been essentially hand-picked by Johnson, and wasn't willing to simply do Johnson's bidding. This didn't sit well with Johnson, and he tried almost from the time Frazee closed on his purchase of the Red Sox to yank the team out from under him.

The dispute finally boiled over in the summer of 1919 when pitcher Carl Mays jumped the team. Johnson ordered him suspended, but Frazee instead sold him to the then-moribund Yankees. Johnson had promised Yankee owners Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston to get them better players, but never followed through. The Mays flap divided the American League into two factions--the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox on one side and the other five clubs, known as the "Loyal Five," on the other.

Under the circumstances, when Frazee finally lost patience with Ruth (see below), his options were severely limited. Under pressure from Johnson, the Loyal Five rejected Frazee's overtures almost out of hand. In effect, Johnson limited Frazee to dealing with either the White Sox or the Yankees. The White Sox offered Joe Jackson and $60,000, but the Yankees offered an all-cash deal--$100,000. Frazee, Ruppert and Huston quickly cut a deal, and Ruth became the property of the Yankees on December 26, 1919.

The 1925 play, No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919. That play had, indeed, been financed as a direct result of the Ruth sale to the Yankees and that "Harry Frazee was the bad guy", after all. However, he ignored the fact that, according to the Internet Braodway Database, after the production of My Lady Friends and long before No, No, Nannette went into production in 1925, Frazee produced two other very successful plays, Dulcy (1921-1922) and Her Temporary Husband, facts that call Montville's conclusion into question.[1]


Fenway Park

The Ruth sale cemented the Red Sox-Yankees alliance, which was ironic given their historically bitter rivalry. A few months later, the two teams drew even closer together in a dispute over Fenway Park.

When Frazee bought the Red Sox, Fenway Park was not part of the deal. Instead, he rented it for $30,000 per year from the Fenway Realty Trust. A majority of the trust's stock was controlled by the Taylor family, publishers of the Boston Globe. The Taylor family had owned the Red Sox from 1904 to 1911 and actually built Fenway in the first place. They still held a small ownership interest. This put Frazee in a very difficult spot. If Johnson ever revoked the franchise, it would be relatively easy for a new owner to get a lease for the park. In August 1919, Frazee began negotiations to buy out the shares in the trust held by Lannin and the Taylors. In this way, if Johnson ever yanked the franchise out from under Frazee, any prospective owner of a Boston American League team risked being left without a place to play.

However, Frazee had stopped paying installments because of a dispute over who owed Boston's share of MLB's settlement with the Federal League. In the spring of 1920, Lannin finally made good on a threat to slap a lien on the Red Sox. Since the lien barred Frazee from trading players or buying Fenway without Lannin's permission, Lannin effectively controlled the team. Lannin also threatened to sell his interest in the Fenway Realty Trust, which would have opened the door for a new owner to buy into the park if Frazee lost the franchise. Eventually, Lannin and Frazee reached a settlement. Lannin agreed to pay the Federal League bill and would not oppose Frazee's purchase of Fenway. In return, Frazee resumed payments. On May 3, Frazee and Taylor signed a deal to pay off the existing mortgage and make Frazee sole owner of Fenway Park.

As an additional security measure, Frazee secured a $300,000 loan from the Yankees and used a second mortgage on Fenway as collateral.

Other deals with the Yankees

Popular legend holds that the Ruppert loan forced Frazee to trade nearly every player of value to the Yankees for literally nothing in return, running the team into the ground. In truth, Frazee found it difficult to make deals with the "Loyal Five" even after Ruth left for the Bronx. With the White Sox' reputation in tatters following the Black Sox Scandal, Frazee was left with little choice but to deal with the Yankees. While the trades were not seen as particularly one-sided at the time, a turn of luck made them look like Yankee heists. While the players sent to New York were often stiffs who turned into stars, the ones sent to Boston suffered a rash of injuries.

However, when the Independent article came out, any chance Frazee had of rehabilitating himself evaporated. Although he was forced to sell to a syndicate of Midwestern businessmen fronted by Johnson crony Bob Quinn, he held out for $1.2 million--nearly double what he paid for the team in 1916. Ironically, the Red Sox had some of their worst seasons ever under Quinn's ownership after one of his principal investors died.

Notwithstanding the above, a record of the trades made from 1918 to 1923. The source for this information is Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia, 1988 edition, "Trade Section," pp. 2251-2709.

Bullet Joe Bush—December 1921. Pitched in two pennant seasons for the Yankees. Traded for Rip Collins (pitcher), Roger Peckinpaugh, Bill Piercy, Jack Quinn.

Joe Dugan—July 1922. Played for five Yankee pennant teams. Traded for Chick Fewster, Elmer Miller, Johnny Mitchell, Lefty O'Doul.

Harvey Hendrick—January 1923. Never played for Red Sox; was in 1923 World Series with Yankees. Traded for Al DeVormer, who batted .254 after trade (Hendrick’s lifetime average was .308).

Waite Hoyt—December 1920. Traded (with Harry Harper, Wally Schang, and Mike McNally) for Del Pratt, Muddy Ruel, Hank Thormahlen, and Sammy Vick. Hoyt pitched for the Yankees in ten seasons, and was in seven World Series (including the 1931 Series, with the Philadelphia A’s).

Sad Sam Jones—December 1921. Traded with Joe Bush (q. v.). Pitched five seasons with Yankees.

Carl Mays—July 1919. Traded to Yankees for players Bob McGraw and Allan Russell. Became persona non grata after killing Ray Chapman with a beanball in a game in 1920, although absolved of criminal blame.

Herb Pennock—January 1923. Traded to Yankees for Camp Skinner, Norm McMillan, and George Murray. Pennock stayed with the Yankees until 1933, pitching in five Series.

George Pipgras—January 1923. Traded to the Yankees for Al DeVormer (supra). Pipgras never played for Boston; his eleven-year career included three Yankee pennant seasons.

Babe Ruth—the biggest sale Frazee made. He sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 plus a $300,000 mortgage on Fenway Park.

Wally Schang—December 1920. Traded to the Yankees for Pratt, Ruel, Thormahlen, and Vick. Caught for three Yankee pennant teams.

Everett Scott—traded along with Joe Bush (q.v.). Scott set consecutive-game playing record it took Lou Gehrig to break.

Elmer Smith—July 1922. Traded to Yankees with Joe Dugan (q. v.). Was famous as first player (with Indians in 1920) to hit grand slam homer in World Series.

The above only includes the trades Frazee made to the Yankees from 1918 to 1923, when he was owner of the Red Sox. The Encyclopedia lists about 40 trades in all made by the Red Sox in those years, including to teams other than the Yankees.


Harry Frazee's grave in Kensico Cemetery

In 1929, Harry Frazee died of kidney failure in his Park Avenue home with his wife and son at his side. He is interred at Kensico Cemetery. Lou Gehrig and Ed Barrow are also interred at Kensico.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame...

In 2005, ESPN Classic aired an episode in The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... series in which it examined the sale, and explained why Frazee cannot be held as the scapegoat:

  • 5. World War I With rosters depleted because of the war, Ruth saw action as both a pitcher and outfielder; the latter made him the home run hitter he would become. After the players returned, Ruth became bigger than the team because his home runs were the talk of baseball and he no longer wanted to pitch.
  • 4. Ban Johnson: The president of the American League since its debut in 1901 effectively limited Frazee to the Yankees and White Sox as the only teams with whom Frazee could make a deal by pressuring the other five teams (the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators) not to make any trades at all with Frazee.
  • 3. Babe Ruth's antics: He often spent evenings out in bars, often drunk only hours before games. He also jumped the team several times, the final straw being in the final game of the 1919 season.
  • 2. Ed Barrow: Frazee's right-hand man, Barrow served as general manager and field manager. Like Frazee, Barrow also knew how much of a troublemaker Ruth was. When Frazee wanted to send Ruth to the Yankees, Barrow, for reasons unknown, said the Yankees didn't have any players he wanted. In a bizarre twist of fate, Barrow left the Red Sox after the 1920 season to become general manager of none other than the Yankees and built the team to World Champions by 1923 by acquiring as many as seven players from the Red Sox (four of whom had won the World Series in Boston in 1918).
  • 1. Babe Ruth's holdout: Ruth forced Frazee's hand by holding out after the 1919 season, demanding $20,000 per year—twice as much as he had been making during the season. During the holdout, he planned other ventures, such as becoming a boxer and going into acting. Frazee was upset over the holdout because he had given Ruth bonuses after both the 1918 and 1919 seasons. Finally, with Ruth's demands so high and after several occasions in which Ruth had already jumped the team, Frazee felt he had no choice but to ship Ruth out.

An "honorable mention" was Shoeless Joe Jackson. Frazee wanted to trade Ruth to the White Sox for Jackson, but the Black Sox Scandal scuttled those plans.


  1. ^ Montville, Leigh (2006). The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Random House. pp. 161-164.  

See also

External links

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