Sunday, November 07, 2004

You can buy the contract of Babe Ruth, pitcher -- if you can top what the Yankees paid.

The original 1919 contract selling Babe Ruth, pitcher, from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees is being auctioned at e-bay. Bidding right now is a bit over $1 million -- just about the price paid by Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Yankees, inflation adjusted. You have until shortly after Tuesday noon (ET) to get your bid in.

Babe's salary at the time was $10,000, near $110,000 in today's money. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee decided he couldn't afford it because the team's attendance was dropping -- and Babe was also becoming something of a troublemaker. Among other complaints, he wanted to play outfield rather than pitch. Thus the sale that visited "The Curse of the Bambino" upon the Red Sox into the 21st Century.

Included on e-bay is a report by Ty Cobb sizing up Babe as a pitcher:

"I can testify that he was left-handed dynamite. Could have been among the greats had he not turned to outfielding... I never touched him for more than a single. He had a pretty fair curve, a big fastball and excellent control... The best solution seemed to be to distract him -- to get his goat. Should have squeezed in a few more good years but drank too much...."

Well, as things turned out, Babe's standing among the greats wasn't really hurt by his turning to outfielding. If he'd spent his first four years outfielding instead of pitching, and had squeezed in a few more years at the end by not drinking so much, his home run total might have been closer to 1,000 than 714.

It's tough but just barely possible to argue that some other ballplayer has matched Babe as a hitter (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds) but nobody's ever come anywhere close to matching Babe as an all-round baseball player.

As Yankee teammate Joe Dugan once said about the Babe's apparently super-human baseball abilities, "Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't born. The son of a bitch fell from a tree."