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The story of the first time the Yankees fleeced the Red Sox

The Babe Ruth trade is rightly more famous, but it wasn’t the first time the Yankees got a good player away from Boston.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The first even trade between the franchises now known as the Yankees and the Red Sox happened on December 20, 1903. New York sent pitcher Jesse Tannehill to Boston in exchange for pitcher Tom Hughes. Boston got the better of that deal as Tannehill had a couple decent seasons with the team. Meanwhile, New York traded Hughes to Washington in the middle of the 1904 season after just 19 less than stellar appearances.

A month before the Highlanders traded Hughes to Washington, they had made another trade. The second ever trade between Boston and New York happened on June 17, 1904. The Highlanders got the better of that one. It wasn’t quite the fleecing that the Babe Ruth acquisition would later be, but it did cause quite a bit of consternation in Boston.

Patsy Dougherty made his debut for the Boston Americans in 1902. He had an impressive rookie campaign, hitting .342/.407/.397. In his second season, he led the league in hits as Boston finished first in the American League.

The 1903 season was the first one in which the World Series was played. Dougherty and Boston won the best of nine series in eight games, and the outfielder was one of Boston’s best players. Dougherty hit two home runs in a 3-0 victory in game two after the Pittsburgh Pirates took game one. The first was an inside-the-park home run to lead off the game, a feat that wasn’t duplicated until Alcides Escobar did it in 2015. Had there been a series MVP award in 1903, Dougherty might not have won it, but he would have been in the running.

Boston got off to another good start in 1904. They lost to the White Sox on June 16th, but still held a 3.5 game lead over Chicago. Dougherty wasn’t hitting quite as well as he had in 1903, but was still one of Boston’s best. That made it extremely shocking when, on June 17th, Dougherty was traded to New York in exchange for infielder Bob Unglaub who had played just six major league games and was in the hospital due to alcohol poisoning at the time of the trade.

Predictably, the trade did not go down well with Boston fans. Some rumors at the time stated that American League president Ban Johnson orchestrated the trade to try and improve the league’s team in New York. That might have had something to do with it, but the real reason is probably less conspiracy theory-ish:

After the 1903 season, Boston was purchased by Charles Taylor, the publisher of the Boston Globe. Taylor turned over the running of his team to his son, John. In that offseason, Dougherty and Taylor had a disagreement over how much the outfielder should be paid. They resolved the issue, but their relationship would never recover.

It’s more likely that Taylor was looking to get rid of Dougherty and found a way to get him off the team. Taylor claimed that Dougherty’s exit was due to poor defense and the outfielder’s supposed refusal to listen to his manager or teammates. The fans and press never bought it. Boston was a first place team, and if Dougherty was playing bad, it wasn’t showing in the team’s results.

In his first season with his new team, Dougherty showed he was still the impressive young player that he was in 1903. He had a three-hit game in his first matchup against Boston. Over the course of the next couple months, Dougherty and the Highlanders climbed back into contention in the American League.

On October 7th, the Highlanders beat Boston to take a 0.5 game lead. Not knowing that his team would still be in contention at that point, New York owner Frank Farrell had previously rented out Hilltop Park for a college football game on October 8th. That caused a doubleheader on that day to be moved to Boston. The Highlanders lost both games and fell behind Boston once again. Back in New York two days later, Boston got the last laugh when Dougherty struck out to end the game and the Americans clinched the American League.

Dougherty had an average but unspectacular season in 1905. The following year, Dougherty struggled mightily and got into a contract dispute with Clark Griffith. The two eventually got into a fist fight over the matter. The outfielder left the team and was eventually sold to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished his career.

Despite the way both the 1904 season and Dougherty’s tenure in New York ended, the Highlanders still arguably won the trade. He was an above-average hitter and Bob Unglaub was below average. Even though it didn’t turn out as great as it could have, getting someone as good as Patsy Dougherty in exchange for someone who had only played six games at that point was definitely a coup.

Fifteen years after the Patsy Dougherty trade, the Yankees acquired Babe Ruth. That trade is obviously a bit more famous, but it wasn’t the first time the Red Sox made an ill-advised trade with the Yankees.


Vaccaro, Mike. Emperors and idiots: the hundred year rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, from the very beginning to the end of the curse. New York: Doubleday, 2005.