Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26, 1919: My Lady Friends

NEW YORK - No, No, Nanette was a musical comedy that debuted on Broadway in 1925. It told the story of Jimmy Smith, a millionaire Bible publisher, and his wife Sue, as they try to teach their ward, Nanette, how to be a respectable member of society. Of course, Nanette would rather spend time in Atlantic City, gambling and having fun and being courted by Tom Trainor. Meanwhile, Jimmy wants to find more ways to spread his income, so he becomes the benefactor to three young women, who .... well, really, it's not important. At least not to this story.

It was a long-held belief that Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to help fund the Broadway production of No, No, Nanette. This rumor is hurt a bit by the fact that No, No, Nanette was released in 1925, by which point Ruth had already led the Yankees to three American League pennants and one World Series title. No, the real play that Frazee was trying to fund was My Lady Friends, which, though not a musical, was the play from which No, No, Nanette took most of its story.

So I guess it's true that in a roundabout way, Ruth's sale led to the production of No, No, Nanette. But if Red Sox fans want to place blame somewhere for the Curse of the Bambino, they should look to My Lady Friends. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to meet Ruth's contract demands, and needing money to fund his latest play, Frazee looked for people willing to trade for Ruth. He got only two responses. The White Sox offered Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000, which Frazee turned down (which, it turns out, was quite smart, considering Jackson's subsequent banishment the next year). The Yankees offered a straight cash deal, which was much more appealing to Frazee.

A deal was struck quickly. On December 26, 1919, Frazee agreed to sell Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 cash ($1.37 million in today's dollars), three $25,000 notes paid over three years with 6 percent interest, and a $300,000 loan, with the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral. With the deal, Frazee hoped he could both keep his team competitive and keep his Broadway interests successful.

Everybody knows what happened next. The Red Sox, who had won five of the first 15 World Series played, including three in four years with Ruth, didn't win another one until 2004. The Yankees, who had never played in the World Series, would win seven American League pennants and four World Series with Ruth in their outfield, kicking off the greatest dynasty in American sports.

It was the start of the Curse of the Bambino. And it all started with a play called My Lady Friends.

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