On December 26, 1919, in perhaps the most talked about transaction in the history of baseball, the Boston Red Sox sold George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth to the New York Yankees for the princely sum of $100,000. That transaction would be blamed for the many failures of the Red Sox for the next 85 seasons.
The year before, 1918, with the Babe winning 13 and losing 7 as a pitcher and hitting .300 with 11 home runs, which tied him with Tillie Walker, of the Philadelphia Athletics, for the lead in all of baseball, the Sox had won the American League crown with a 75-51 record. They had gone on to win the World Series beating the Chicago Cubs in six games. In 1919, despite the Babe hitting .322, leading all of baseball with 29 homers and winning 9 while losing 5 with a 2.97 ERA while on the mound, the Sox had slipped to sixth place with a 66-71 record.
Red Sox fans couldn’t believe that the Babe was gone, to of all places, the Yankees. And so, the Curse of the Bambino was born. Red Sox fans would blame The Curse for every bad thing that happened to their Sox, until 2004, when the Sox finally broke The Curse winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. That year, as all Red Sox fans know, the Sox were down to the Yankees three games to none and facing elimination in the American League Championship Series but came back to win four in a row to defeat the Yankees and then went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.
Few, if any, Red Sox fans would be able to name the trade which was perhaps the second worst the Red Sox ever made. Four years after trading the Babe to the hated Yankees, on January 30, 1923, the Sox traded right handed pitcher Herb Pennock to the Yankees for Norm McMillan, George Murray and Camp Skinner and $50,000. cash. McMillan, an infielder, played one year with the Sox and hit .253 with no homers and 42 RBI’s. Murray, a pitcher, won 9 and lost 20 in two years in Boston with a 5.48 ERA. Camp Skinner, an outfielder, lasted just one year, getting 3 hits in 13 at bats.
On the other end of that trade, Pennock, who had won 62 and lost 59 with a 3.67 ERA at Boston in the eight years from 1915 to 1922 went on to win 162 while losing 90 for the Yankees in the next 11 years.
In that time, he played in four World Series with the Yankees. In 1923, when the Yankees beat the New York Giants in the Series, he started two games, won them both and had one complete game. In 1926, when the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, he started two games, pitched complete games and won both. In 1927, when the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, he started and completed one game and got the win. In 1932, when the Yankees defeated the Chicago Cubs, at age 38, he didn’t start a game but relieved in two and got the save in both. In four World Series with the Yankees, he was 5-0 with 4 complete games, 2 saves and a 2.07 ERA.
It probably didn’t hurt Pennock at all that, during the 11 years he played for the Yankees, he had an outfielder named Babe Ruth who hit .346 with 448 homers, 1,365 RBI’s and a .694 slugging percentage, playing behind him.
To make matters worse from a Red Sox point of view, Pennock had remarkable success against the Red Sox while with the Yankees. In his first year at New York, he won 19 and lost just six games but, remarkably, only faced the Sox once, in relief, pitching one inning and giving up one hit and no runs, with no decisions.
The next year, 1924, the Red Sox began to pay dearly for the trade. Pennock faced them in five starts, won four of them and the other was a tie called after five innings. He pitched two complete games, one of them a shutout, beating the Sox on September 3, 5-0, on five hits. He won 21 and lost 9 that year and finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting and had a 40-15 record overall since coming to New York from Boston.
In 1925, he started six games against them and won four while losing two, four of them, including one of the losses, were complete games. They beat him on May 26th, 3-2, despite him throwing a complete game and giving up only eight hits. In his first three years as a Yankee he had beaten the Sox 8 times while losing just 2 and had six complete games. His overall record slipped to 16-17 that year.
In 1926, while posting a 23-11 regular season record for the American League Champion Yankees, he started against the Red Sox five times, won four of them, all complete games and had one no decision. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting that year.
He only started against the Red Sox three times in 1927, beating them 7-3 on June 3rd in a complete game, 7-4 on July 1st and 14-2 in another complete game on September 6th. He had now won 15 and lost 2 against the Sox in the last four years, while compiling a 98-61 record.
In 1928, at the age of 34, he won 17 and lost 6 overall with a 2.56 ERA. He started four games against the Sox, beating them with a complete game, 7-2, on April 19th, losing to them 7-1 on June 23rd and shutting them out, on three hits, for a complete game win 8-0 on August 12th. He also started and went seven innings with no decision against them on July 24th, leaving behind 3-1 in a game the Yankees scored four runs to win 5-3 in the ninth.
From 1929 until 1933, his last year with the Yankees, Pennock won 47 and lost 33 and was 13-5 against the Red Sox with 11 complete games in 18 starts.
After the 1933 season in which he won 7 and lost 4 but was used mostly in relief, starting only five games, at age 39, he was released by the Yankees on January 5, 1934. The Red Sox signed him as a Free Agent on January 20th. That year, he started only two games and had a 2-0 record as a reliever. Ironically, after winning 30 and losing just 8 games for the Yankees against the Sox, he faced the Yankees three times in relief for the Red Sox and got no decisions but the Sox lost all three games. In games in which he pitched that year, the Sox won 6 and lost 24. He retired as a player after the 1934 season.
Herbert Jefferis Pennock was born on February 10, 1894 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He was signed as a Free Agent by the Philadelphia Athletics in May of 1912 at age 18 and went right to the Major Leagues. In four years with the Athletics, used primarily in relief, he pitched in 70 games and won 17 and lost 13 with a 3.77 ERA.
He spent 1912 until June of 1915 with the Athletics. In 1914, he won 11 and lost 4 as the Athletics won the American League League pennant with a 99-53 record. They were swept in the World Series by the Boston Braves and Pennock only got into one game in relief, pitching three scoreless innings and giving up two hits.
On June 6, 1915, the Red Sox claimed him off waivers from the Athletics and he won 55 and lost 52 with a 3.68 ERA from 1916 until 1922.
He had won 10 and lost 17, with a 4.32 ERA in 1922 and the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees and the Knight of Kennett Square, as he was known, made them pay for it in the next 11 years. In the 11 years Pennock and Ruth teamed up on the Yankees, they finished first five times, second four times, third once and seventh once. In the same period the Sox, without Ruth and Pennock, finished in last eight times, seventh once and sixth once.
Pennock was named to the Hall of Fame in 1948. In his career, he won 241 and lost 162 with a 3.60 earned run average. After he retired from play, he became General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and stayed in that position until he passed away in 1948.
The Curse of the Bambino got the publicity but the trade of Herb Pennock may have hurt the Sox just as much.