110 Years Of Buying The Best – Updated

After Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox tonight, I got a tweet reading “damn u Sox and Yanks trying to buy all the best players!!”

I felt compelled to reply that yeah, it was bad, and it had just started. In fact it had suddenly dawned on me that this has been going on in twelve different decades. Consider: in the winter of 1900-01 the Boston club of the brand new American League signed away future Hall of Famers Cy Young and Jimmy Collins (along with practically everybody else on the team) from National League clubs as – in effect – Free Agents. The next winter it would be Bill Dinneen, signed away from the crosstown N.L. club and paying off with three consecutive 20-win seasons.
In 1908, the newly-christened Red Sox would buy pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Smoky Joe Wood (34 wins in 1912) and Hall of Fame outfielder Tris Speaker from minor league teams. A year later they got another Famer, Harry Hooper, the same way. In 1914 they bought a first-year professional pitcher named George Herman Ruth from the minor league Baltimore Orioles. In 1934 it would be Lefty Grove from the A’s for $125,000. That winter, $225,000 to Washington for their player-manager Joe Cronin. For 1936, another $150,000 to Philadelphia for Jimmie Foxx. After that it was Ted Williams ($20,000) and Bobby Doerr from the minor league San Diego Padres. In the winter of 1947 they bought slugging shortstop Bobby Doerr and soon-to-be 18-game winner Jack Kramer from the St. Louis Browns for $310,000.
The Yankees, of course, owe their existence to “buying all the best players.” Owners Big Bill Devery and Frank Ferrell bought the bankrupt Baltimore franchise from the American League in January, 1903, for $18,000, and then went out and signed away Hall of Famers Wee Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro from the National League. It was the last spending spree until the era of owners Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston. Carl Mays from the Red Sox in 1919 ($40,000). Babe Ruth a year later ($125,000 and a mortgage), shortstop Everett Scott ($100,000) for 1922, and Hall of Fame pitchers Herb Pennock ($50,000) in 1923, and Red Ruffing ($50,000) in 1930. Second baseman Tony Lazzeri was purchased from the PCL for $50,000 in 1926 and Joe DiMaggio for $25,000 and a peck of players a decade later. Thereafter they largely confined their money-showers to getting role-players like Johnny Mize ($40,000 from the Giants in 1949), and reliever Johnny Sain ($50,000 from the Braves in 1951).
And those are just the ones I can remember – before the days of free agency, and before buying players began to be “frowned upon.”
Welcome to the club, Carl Crawford. It’s a very large one.
UPDATE 12/9: A great note by commenter RRHersh:
Yeah, well, in 1875 the Chicago club (which would eventually come to be known as the Cubs) hired away four stars from the perennial champion Boston club (which would eventually come to be known as the Braves) for the 1876 season. This was before the reserve clause, so that wasn’t a problem, but the negotiations occurred, and went public, before the end of the 1875 season, which wasn’t kosher. 
Ah, but the hiring away stuff with the Boston stars (Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, foremost among them), actually goes back further still. Most of the original Boston dynasty of the National Association era (1871-1875) had in fact been hired away from the original Cincinnati Red Stockings (1869-1870), baseball’s first professional team, unbeaten until the middle of its second season. Harry Wright, and his brother George, came in to run the show, and hired away stars from other clubs, too – like Spalding.
But of course none of those guys had started in Cincinnati. The Wrights, and players like second baseman Charlie Sweasy, were originally the stars of top semi-pro clubs… in New York!
This also reminds me that the Boston team actually did rebound from the wholesale defection of its talent to Chicago in 1876. By 1887, the Red Stockings began to buy Chicago’s stars, most notably Hall of Famers John Clarkson and Mike “King” Kelly, who instantly became known as “$10,000 Kelly” because that was the phenomenal price Boston paid for him (the equivalent of only about $235,000 today – which gives you a real picture of just how much baseball has grown in 123 years).

10 Comments

Is there anywhere near as long a history of the two clubs competing for the same players? *Glances at each corner of the New York infield*

Thanks for the article. The one thing I can’t figure out is why do all the clubs trade at a premium with the Yankees, but they give up their stars for scrubs when trading with Boston?

Yeah, well, in 1875 the Chicago club (which would eventually come to be known as the Cubs) hired away four stars from the perennial champion Boston club (which would eventually come to be known as the Braves) for the 1876 season. This was before the reserve clause, so that wasn’t a problem, but the negotiations occurred, and went public, before the end of the 1875 season, which wasn’t kosher. The Boston club would have some good years, but it would never again be anything like a perennial champion.

I’m getting kind of tired of the whining over the Yankees “buying” players/championships and the results of that. How many teams can compete with the Yankees but chose not to?

The Angels were owned by *Disney* for a while.

Before free agency — before the era of buying players — the Yankees won 20 championships in 62 years. That’s one every 3.1 years.

After free agency, they won 7 titles in 34 years, or one every 4.8 years.

Money isn’t everything.

I yearn for the good old days when the Kansas City Athletics were the Yankees top farm club. … Seriously, enjoying when the Yankees and Red Sox lose is not too bad either. … I think the Yankees spent around $1 billion between 2001-08 for all kinds of big name players and failed to win any world series during that time frame. Sweet.

I love this article.

Smoky Joe Wood. Tris Speaker. Eddie Cicotte. How I love seeing those names pop up. I recently packed up a box of books to send to Afghanistan/Iraq for our troops. I parted with a lot of my sports books – such as books on Johnny Unitas, Louis v. Schmeling, History of the Super Bowl, The Chicago Black Sox, The Bullpen Gospels, Jackie Robinson, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty and my three all time favorite bb books – The Echoing Green, The Glory of Their Times and a book on Ty Cobb & Babe Ruth and the friendship they had despite their fierce rivalry on the field. Baseball players back then for the most part liked Cobb. He seemed to have more friends than Ruth did. It was quite a story about these two giants of baseball. I hated to part with these books but then I realized that sports is the one thing that you pass on to each generation. So I hope our troops enjoy reading these wonderful stories. For the baseball books especially, reading them is like taking a walk through the Baseball Hall of Fame. At least for me it is.

The Carl Crawford deal threw us all for a loop. Nothing was leaked to even suggest a deal was coming. We were like – what? How did this happen?

Thank you for the article Keith. It was fascinating.

“He (Leo Durocher) had the ability of taking a bad situation and making it immediately worse.” LOL.
~Branch Rickey~

Hey Keith, just found the blog and love it. Thanks for this article because growing up a big baseball/Yankee fan it seems the media often thinks that one or only a couple of teams consuming talent started in the early 2000′s with the Yankees… And I just wanted to add this little bit of info from my own research I have done lately because buying players and dominating the market went on even before the 1900′s. It seems one of the earliest open professional teams, or baseball clubs, that took to acquiring talent was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. They toured the country and were almost unbeatable, 69-1 when all was said and done. They only lost one game to the Brooklyn Atlantics. Anyway, back to point, at the time is was inconceivable to pay baseball players, at least in public view. It was a game, and most clubs were formed by fellow workers (like dockworkers) or as some form of athletic social club for residents of the city or town (like the New York Knickerbockers). Players weren’t recruited from other parts of country… that is until the Red Stockings, who in order to skirt the issue of paying baseball players, scouting and acquired players from around the east coast, paying moving expenses and appointing them to cushy, well paid roles in city hall and/or in other various forms of working for the city of Cincinnati, a role which they most likely didn’t fulfill. (The Washington Nationals players were rumored to be paid by the national government to play baseball at the time). But they were good baseball players. After the Red Stockings disbanded, as the city eventually turned there back on the practices that were going on with the club, their manager and star player, Harry Wright, took the club and his professional baseball practices to Boston and formed the Boston Red Stockings, 30+ years before the Yankees signed a single free agent.

Just thought I would share. Look forward to reading more articles and comments.

Hey Keith, just found the blog and love it. Thanks for this article because growing up a big baseball/Yankee fan it seems the media often thinks that one or only a couple of teams consuming talent started in the early 2000′s with the Yankees… And I just wanted to add this little bit of info from my own research I have done lately because buying players and dominating the market went on even before the 1900′s. It seems one of the earliest open professional teams, or baseball clubs, that took to acquiring talent was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. They toured the country and were almost unbeatable, 69-1 when all was said and done. They only lost one game to the Brooklyn Atlantics. Anyway, back to point, at the time is was inconceivable to pay baseball players, at least in public view. It was a game, and most clubs were formed by fellow workers (like dockworkers) or as some form of athletic social club for residents of the city or town (like the New York Knickerbockers). Players weren’t recruited from other parts of country… that is until the Red Stockings, who in order to skirt the issue of paying baseball players, scouting and acquired players from around the east coast, paying moving expenses and appointing them to cushy, well paid roles in city hall and/or in other various forms of working for the city of Cincinnati, a role which they most likely didn’t fulfill. (The Washington Nationals players were rumored to be paid by the national government to play baseball at the time). But they were good baseball players. After the Red Stockings disbanded, as the city eventually turned there back on the practices that were going on with the club, their manager and star player, Harry Wright, took the club and his professional baseball practices to Boston and formed the Boston Red Stockings, 30+ years before the Yankees signed a single free agent.

Just thought I would share. Look forward to reading more articles and comments.

And I just wanted to add this little bit of info from my own research I have done lately because buying players and dominating the market went on even before the 1900′s. It seems one of the earliest open professional teams, or baseball clubs, that took to acquiring talent was the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. They toured the country and were almost unbeatable, 69-1 when all was said and done. They only lost one game to the Brooklyn Atlantics. Anyway, back to point, at the time is was inconceivable to pay baseball players, at least in public view. It was a game, and most clubs were formed by fellow workers (like dockworkers) or as some form of athletic social club for residents of the city or town (like the New York Knickerbockers).

I love this article, its inspiring me

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