If you go to the Yankees’ franchise page at Baseball Reference and scroll down a little bit, there is a section of 24 players’ headshots. They are the 24 players who accumulated the most Baseball Reference WAR as a Yankee. While there are some famous names missing, it’s a pretty good ranking of 24 of the most important players in Yankees’ history.
The first six could pretty easily be guessed by even the most casual fans. The seventh player is Red Ruffing.
Ruffing was an extremely important part of the 1930’s and 40s Yankees teams. He was arguably the best pitcher on four of the six World Series winning teams he played on in New York. However, he is not a name a lot of the aforementioned casual fans would mention if you asked them to list players from that era. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio completely overshadow him in baseball lore, even as good as he was.
Before his long and successful career as a Yankee, Ruffing actually began his career with the Red Sox. Were it not for a group of trades that begun three years before his major league debut, there’s a chance he might never have worn pinstripes.
In December 1921, the Yankees and Red Sox made a trade. They had made several deals over the previous couple years, including the sale of Babe Ruth. The Red Sox had begun to have some financial troubles post-1918 World Series win, and owner Harry Frazee had shipped off the likes of Ruth and Carl Mays to New York. The December 1921 deal did include players on both sides instead of just money, but it’s another that the Yankees got the better of.
Sad Sam Jones and Bullet Joe Bush, the Red Sox best two pitchers in 1921, were sent to New York along with shortstop Everett Scott. All three of them would go on to be important parts of the first ever Yankees’ World Series team in 1923.
On the other side of the deal, the Yankees sent four players back to Boston in the swap: Jack Quinn, Rip Collins, Roger Peckinpaugh, and Bill Piercy. The four of them played a combined eight seasons with the Red Sox.
Jack Quinn gave the Red Sox a couple solid seasons on the mound, but got Jacob deGrom’d in his best year with the team, and finished with a losing record. They then waived him in 1925, but he would be picked up by the Philadelphia Athletics. The waiving would be premature, as Quinn put up a couple good seasons in Philadelphia, helping them to World Series titles in 1929 and 1930.
Elsewhere, Collins had one decent season in Boston, but was then included in a trade to the Tigers the very next offseason. Piercy played three years with the Red Sox, but was below average on the whole. Peckinpaugh never put on a Red Sox uniform, and was traded to Washington. The Red Sox got back Joe Dugan for Peckinpaugh, but Dugan would also end up a Yankee before the end of the 1922 season.
Shipping away their best pitchers in Jones and Bush wouldn’t exactly help the Red Sox in the win column after that. It also probably didn’t do that much to change their financial situation. More on that later.
Back on the Yankees, Bush put up a 118 ERA+ in three seasons in New York. The Yankees then managed to cash in on him at the exact right time and sent him to the St. Louis Browns in 1924. It was part of a multi-way deal that ended up with Urban Shocker on the Yankees. Bush had an ERA over 5.00 over the remaining four years of his career
Meanwhile, Jones gave the Yankees two good seasons before he went through some struggles in 1925-26. He too would be traded to St. Louis, as the Yankees got back Cedric Durst and Joe Giard ahead of the 1927 season. Funnily enough, Giard was one of the players who had ended up in St. Louis in the earlier multi-way Bush/Shocker trade.
Neither Durst or Giard would make a massive impact in New York. Giard was arguably the worst member of the 1927 Yankees, putting up a 8.00 ERA and -0.7 WAR in just 27 innings.
Durst hung around the Yankees for a couple years, but was used mostly as a backup outfielder. He was a part of two championship teams, and went 3-8 with two RBI in the 1928 World Series win over the Cardinals. Both RBI came on hits against Hall of Famer Pete Alexander, including a home run in the clinching Game Four win.
However, he was never really anything close to a good hitter, and would be used as the final piece of this puzzle two years later.
Nine years and a new owner after 1921, the Red Sox were still going through financial troubles. In May of 1930, Red Sox owner Bob Quinn was apparently in dire need of money, as he was reportedly just 48 hours away from foreclosure.
In a pinch, he sent star pitcher Red Ruffing to the Yankees in exchange for $50,000 and Durst.
The deal was far from big at the time. Ruffing wasn’t yet seen as a great player. Yankees’ manager Bob Shawkey would help remake his delivery, and Ruffing would go on to a Hall of Fame career in pinstripes.
Meanwhile, Durst would be out of the majors by the time 1930 was over, and the Red Sox didn’t win a World Series for over 70 more years.
Two trades with Boston nearly nine years apart helped set up and continue the Yankees’ dynasty.