Tris Speaker was the Red Sox biggest star before Babe Ruth, one of the finest offensive and defensive center fielders of his era. He was the centerpiece of the Red Sox “Million-Dollar Outfield” from 1910-1915 alongside Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis. While he played during the waning years of the dead-ball era, Speaker was one of the best power hitters of his time.
In his nine seasons with the Red Sox, Speaker put up a .309 average with 39 home runs and 542 RBI (remember, this was the dead-ball era). He also had 1327 hits, hit 241 doubles, and stole 267 bases. By the metrics of his day, he was a superstar. Speaker clashed with Sox president Joseph Lannin, who asked Speaker to take a pay cut from $15,000 to $9,000 after the 1915 season.
His rationale for this request was the dip in Speaker’s batting average which went from .338 to .322, which hardly seems worth demanding a 40% pay cut over! When Speaker countered with $12,000, Lannin traded him to the Cleveland Indians right at the start of the 1916 season. In return, Boston got Sad Sam Jones, Fred Thomas, and some cash.
Speaker went on to win another World Series in Cleveland in 1920 while the Red Sox won two more in 1916 and 1918. Even after the trade/sale of Ruth to the Yankees, many Red Sox fans considered this, the Speaker deal, as the worst trade in team history. Many think that trading Speaker did more damage to the Red Sox than trading Ruth in 1920.
While the Babe was an excellent pitcher and was starting to show power at the plate, no one back then could have in their wildest dreams imagined what kind of hitter he’d eventually turn into in New York. By contrast, Speaker was already a superstar and the best player on the Red Sox. It’s a pattern that sadly would be repeated again multiple times in baseball history, even by the Red Sox themselves.