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).