Harry Frazee

A photo of Harry Frazee.

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 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. He was the subject of an unflattering portrait in Fred Lieb's account of the Red Sox, which 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 (see below). 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 SaleEdit

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 Lannin and the Taylors and place the team and Fenway Park in his hands. 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 $350,000 loan from the Yankees and used a second mortgage on Fenway as collateral.

Other deals with the YankeesEdit

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, the "Loyal Five" refused to make any deals with Frazee 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.


File:1 Harry Frazee 800.jpg
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...Edit

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.
  • 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: 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.

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