At the end of the day on July 22nd, 1922, the New York Yankees found themselves in second place in the American League, 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Browns. At 52-41, the Yanks were in decent shape, but evidently felt like they needed to bolster their roster to win the pennant and chase their first World Series championship.
So the following day, New York found a willing partner to send some talent to the Bronx. The Boston Red Sox were, to be charitable, awful in 1922 (I like to think that even then, Yankees fans enjoyed life just a little bit more when Beantowners were down in the dumps). And so, the two teams, one in the thick of the pennant race and the other 15 games out of first place with six teams ahead of them, exchanged players.
Boston received four players: OF Elmer Miller, SS Chick Fewster, SS Johnny Mitchell, and P Lefty O’Doul. Oh, and New York threw in a cool $50,000. The Red Sox did not exactly rake in a king’s ransom in the deal, with none of the four going on to any great success in Boston, although O’Doul later converted to an outfielder, won two NL batting crowns, hit .398 and .383 in back-to-back seasons, and finished in the top-3 of NL MVP voting twice.
For New York, two players joined as reinforcements. Veteran outfielder Elmer Smith and infielder Joe Dugan. Smith only brought a 116 OPS+ to that point in 1922 to the Bronx while Dugan’s OPS+ was a subpar 83. Nonetheless, the trade prompted outraged reactions, including from the Browns, whom the Yankees were set to face immediately following the acquisition.
The July 24th, 1922 edition of the New York Times chronicled the incensed utterances of the Yankees’ rivals. “It’s a crime,” opined Tris Speaker, manager of the Cleveland ballclub. “Either Dugan or Smith is worth $10,000 or more and the entire bunch of New York players traded is not worth $10,000.”
Increasing the anger was the fact that multiple teams, including Speaker’s Cleveland club and the Chicago White Sox, managed by “Kid” Gleason, had tried to obtain Smith from Boston, only to be rebuffed. Boston told Chicago there was “nothing doing,” while Speaker stated that Boston’s team president “imposed exorbitant terms” every time Cleveland tried to get Smith.
The Boston media was not much happier. The Boston Post lambasted the club. “Several months ago when the Red Sox were in Spring training Owner Harry Frazee caused the word to be spread broadcast that he had turned down an offer of a sum bigger than that he got for Babe Ruth for the sale of Dugan... and now Frazee trades Dugan and an ordinary ballplayer... even up for three or four players of doubtful ability without any money consideration, he says. It is to laugh, loudly and otherwise.”
Likewise the Boston Herald. “What offends good sportsmanship here more than anything else is that this trade should be reserved,” the paper argued, “until a time when the Yankees were on the brink of falling to pieces, Babe Ruth was not hitting, his outfielding was atrocious and the Browns of St. Louis were starting to make a runaway race for the A.L. flag.” Geez. Seems that at least one Boston sportswriter had some sour grapes over the Ruth deal.
The ire did not stop with opposing clubs and media in envious cities. American League president Ban Johnson waded into the fray. “BAN JOHNSON AGAINST MID-SEASON DEALS. Declares trades of that That Charactetr (sp) Should be Discouraged” blared the July 24th, 1922 copy of the Lewiston Daily Sun.
After wading in on the talents of the new Yankees, opining that Dugan might “prove a liability rather than an asset” and calling Smith “a splendid character but an ordinary fielder and a fair hitter,” Johnson went on to call for legislation in the game preventing such “regrettable” mid-season deals. Tell us how you really felt, Mr. President.
There was perhaps a reason Johnson was upset. He stated that the Washington Senators had tried to pass legislation that would have prohibited non-waiver deals in the American League after July 1st, but “the owners of the New York club prevailed upon him to withdraw the resolution,” with the fixed date ending up at August 1st. Three weeks after what would have been the deadline, the Yankees obtained Dugan and Smith.
It took a few months, but Johnson eventually got his wish. Sort of. In December 1922, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis presided over a joint meeting of the major leagues at the Hotel Commodore in New York. The New York Times summarized the meeting:
“A curb on trades after June 15, designed to prevent the two New York clubs and any others from... buying star players in the heat of the pennant races, was the chief action taken” at the meeting. “By a big majority the magnates decided that such purchases and deals have become an issue, tending to weaken the smaller clubs and benefit only the powerful and wealthy clubs.” Huh. The more things change...
Johnson paid a price for his victory, however. The American League president had been in a power struggle with Landis, and the latter managed to pass a rule at the joint session that cut Johnson off at the knees. Simple on the surface, the rule stated that when the Commissioner called for a joint session, the number necessary for a quorum would simply be the number of clubs that attended.
By doing so, Landis removed an arrow from Johnson’s quiver, namely the AL president’s ability to no-show a joint meeting by calling an American League meeting in a different place. Even if only the National League clubs attended a Landis-called session, it would still be a joint meeting, binding on both major leagues.
Ultimately, the Yankees’ acquisition of Dugan and Smith did not immediately pay championship dividends. While New York went on to win the American League pennant, they fell in the World Series to their cross-city rivals, the New York Giants. One year later, however, the Bronx Bombers reached the promised land and won their first World Series.
That 1922 trade, however, inarguably helped change the game. Outrage over the one-sided nature of the deal catalyzed the sport to institute a non-waiver trade deadline, one that has since moved from mid-June to the end of July.
And now here we are, 100 years later. Wondering and hoping if perhaps the Yankees can pull off another mid-season heist that would bring a key player to the Bronx so the club can hopefully break a championship drought that, while it is only 12 years and counting, feels like a century of its own.