Red Sox owner Harry Frazee buys a World Series title for Boston in 1918

BOSTON - 1918: The top officials of the Boston Red Sox, Ed Barrow, left, and Harry Frazee, seated center, talk with Babe Ruth, center top, and Stuffy McInnis about the upcoming baseball season in 1918. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
BOSTON - 1918: The top officials of the Boston Red Sox, Ed Barrow, left, and Harry Frazee, seated center, talk with Babe Ruth, center top, and Stuffy McInnis about the upcoming baseball season in 1918. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images) /

Is this the Boston Red Sox world turned upside down? The facts are Frazee spent freely to build a champion in 1918.

Just the mention of the name Harry Frazee brings up visions of the devil incarnate over Frazee’s dismantling of a successful team and tossing the Red Sox into an 86 year funk, but there is another side to Frazee – his successful maneuvering and spending money to secure a 1918 championship.

Frazee as most Red Sox fans know was a theatrical producer and that is a high-risk business as the show becomes a hit or the curtain closes after opening night. Frazee was also a noted boxing promoter so you have a nice connection to baseball – entertainment and sports. Frazee stepped in with two other investors and bought the Red Sox from Joseph Lannin for $675,000 just after the Red Sox had won another title in 1916.

What is skipped over is Frazee’s ongoing issues with league president Ban Johnson who had not handpicked Frazee to run the club. Frazee was certainly not bashful and was critical of Johnson especially in regards to baseball issues resulting from World War I. The final issue was regarding pitcher Carl Mays who had jumped the team in 1919 and was sold off to the Yankees.  But back to 1918.

The Red Sox were hit by the War draft as a total of 11 players were drafted, but their commitments to military service were undefined. Jack Barry the player-manager already joined as did Duffy Lewis. Righty Ernie Shore was 13-10 in 1917 and now out of the picture. Lefty Herb Pennock was 5-5 in the previous season and joined the navy.

In early June pitcher Dutch Leonard (8-6) circumvented the draft by working in the defense industry at Fore River Ship Yard. Dutch went 3-0 for the shipyard team. The Red Sox had holes to fill and the first hole filled was hiring Ed Barrow as the manager to replace Barry.

In December of 1917, Frazee made his first big move in restructuring the team for 1918 and the port of call was the A’s. Connie Mack had been stripping down the A’s over fiscal issues and Frazee with some warm bodies and $60,000 brought Amos Strunk, Wally Schang, and Bullet Joe Bush to Boston. All three became key drivers in the championship 1918 team in a war shortened schedule. The Red Sox would finish at 75-51.

"“The way to get a ballplayer, to my way of thinking, is to buy him. Money talks louder than newspaper chatter.” – Harry Frazee"

Bush (15-15, 2.11) made 31 starts and finished 26. In the World Series against the Cubs, the right-handed Bush made one start and absorbed a loss. Schang a switch-hitting catcher shared backstop duties with Sam Agnew as both were gifted defensively. Hitting was a different tale as Schang hit .244 and Agnew a Sandy Leon like .166. Schang hit .444 in the WS. The last was Strunk who hit .257 for the season while gluing down centerfield.

Frazee was not done as more trades where expected. A rumor even surfaced that Frazee was attempting to purchase Ty Cobb from the Tigers as Cobb was in one of his usual salary spats with Tigers owner Frank Navin, but the next to come on board was Stuffy McInnis.

To the surprise of no one, McInnis was with the A’s and on 01/10/1918 Frazee swung a deal with Mack sweetened considerably with cash to bring the career .300 hitter to Boston. McInnis a native of Glouster Massachusetts hit just .272 as a first baseman/third baseman but added versatility and a veteran presence despite being 27-years-old. McInnis would hit .250 in the WS.

It is nice to have friends in high places and Frazee brought to town – again – a 35-year-old journeyman outfielder George Whiteman. Whiteman – who had briefly played with Boston in 1907 – and Frazee reportedly knew each other casually from growing up in the same town. Whiteman has an interesting and extensive history that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Whiteman shared outfield duties with a part-time pitcher named Babe Ruth. Whiteman arguably became a hero of the WS and kicked in with a .266 average in 71 games during the season.  His outfield accomplice – that Ruth fellow – played 59 games in the garden and slammed a league-leading 11 home runs. As a team, the Red Sox hit just 15 home runs for the season and Ruth? Babe hit just .200 for the WS but went 2-0 on the mound.

"“Yes, Sir, I was offered $150,000 for that Baby and I would not think of selling him” – Harry Frazee"

More from Red Sox History

The Red Sox were in Hot Springs for spring training when on April first they made another significant trade getting Dave Shean from Cincinnati for Rube Foster.  When Foster balked at going to Boston Frazee opened his wallet and it was a done deal Shean was a local product from Arlington and had a career year with the Red Sox batting .264 in 115 games all at second base with Everett Scott holding down shortstop.  Shean hit .211 in the WS against the Cubs.

Frazee had reconstructed the Red Sox in preparation for the 1918 season by an open wallet and players traded who were considered expendable. This was a quality roster rebuild for a team that had finished nine games behind the White Sox in 1917.

"“I might as well sell the franchise and the whole club as sell Ruth.” – Harry Frazee"

Frazee also contemplated another change and that was Fenway Park that was just six years old. A large portion of the park was still wooden and Frazee thought aesthetically it would be more presentable with concrete and steel. I am sure the lower insurance rates were no enticement. Frazee at least had some foresight as in 1926 the wooden left-field stands when up in a blaze of last place glory not to be replaced until Tom Yawkey came to town.

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The history is rather clear in that Frazee spent the necessary dollars and players shipped players to build a winner, but Frazee was as fiscally stable as Venezuela. The paper was out there and the notes were coming due. Despite a solid team, the Red Sox attendance was under 250,000 – down from the 387,000 of 1917. Even with the lost games, this was a ship taking on water. Eventually, we all know how badly this ended.

Sources SABR

“The Year the Red Sox Won the Series”  Ty Waterman and Mel Springer – source of quotes in article