Going from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees and having a Hall of Fame career only seems to apply to Babe Ruth. Of course, the sale of Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees for $125,000 seems to go down as the most lopsided moves in all of baseball history. The story of Babe Ruth does not need to be retold. The fact that Ruth will be forever remembered as (arguably) the greatest player to ever play the sport tells enough.
A story that is not told enough has to do with another player who came over from the Red Sox to play for the Yankees. It is amazing to think what would have become of this player had he not been traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees during the 1930 season.
Red Ruffing, born Charles Herbert Ruffing on May 3, 1905 in Illinois, would be 111 years old if he were still alive today. Ruffing made his major league debut on May 31, 1924 at the age of 19 pitching for the Red Sox. The Red Sox of that time had not had a winning season since their last World Series Championship season of 1918 and unfortunately, would fall on worse times going forward. While Ruffing would become a consistent member of the Red Sox rotation, the team would lose no less than 96 games over the next five seasons. Ruffing, himself, would compile a record of 39-93 over those five seasons.
Naturally, the story could be told that Ruffing was a very good pitcher stuck with the bad luck of pitching for a lousy team. However, Ruffing’s numbers were symptomatic of what was going wrong in Boston. Outside of his losing record, he pitched to an earned run average of 5.01 in 1925 and 4.86 in 1929. He gave up more than a hit per inning and it seemed as if his control was getting worse along the way. Ruffing walked 96 batters in 1928 and an alarming 118 in 1929. This was not bad luck, it was more like a bad pitcher pitching for a bad team.
After losing his first three starts and his rotation spot in the first month of the 1930 season, the Red Sox dealt Ruffing to the Yankees in exchange for back up outfielder Cedrick Durst.
Durst was never an everyday player, but had been an important member of the Yankees bench as he was part of the team that won the World Series in 1927 and the American League Pennant in 1928. While Durst was a useful player, he was expendable as he was entering his age-33 season.
Durst played his last major league game for the Red Sox in 1930 and though he spent the next 13 seasons playing in the American Association and Pacific Coast League, his impact on the Red Sox was very minimal. In 1930, he played in 102 games for the Red Sox, hitting .245 in 302 at-bats. The trade, at the time, seemed pretty even. A struggling starting pitcher for a fourth outfielder.
Back to Ruffing. He did manage to win 15 games in 1930 and another 16 in 1931 for the Yankees. Though the results were better, Ruffing clearly benefited from pitching for a much superior team. His earned run average for 1930 was 4.14 with the Yankees and he followed that up with an ERA of 4.41. In fact, Ruffing gave up 130 runs in 1930 and if all those runs were earned, his ERA would really be an unsightly 4.94.
It was not until the Yankees World Series Championship season of 1932 where Ruffing really made a statement. Ruffing would lead the American League with a career high 190 strikeouts and pitch to a 3.09 ERA, more than a run and a half lower than his career average coming into the season.
After continuing to be a stable member of the Yankees rotation for the next three seasons, which included his first All-Star appearance, Ruffing’s legend started to grow as he became the ace of a Yankees pitching staff that would win four consecutive World Series Championships from 1936-1939.
There is no doubt that Ruffing became a big time pitcher, as his postseason stats would back up. In his ten World Series starts from 1932-1942, Ruffing was 7-2, completing eight of the ten starts. His 85 2/3 innings pitched means that he averaged 8.57 innings pitched per World Series start. He would finish his career with a record of 273-225; 335 complete games and just less than 2000 strikeouts. He was also an accomplished hitter, hitting .269 with 26 home runs in just over 1900 career at-bats.
Ruffing was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967 in a special run-off election. His accomplishments are clearly worthy of such an honor. What does not get mentioned that often is how Ruffing benefited from being a New York Yankee.
Had he continued to pitch on those lousy Boston teams, who knows how long he would remain in the major leagues. He may have been finished by the mid-1930s, even if he did pitch better. Based off his numbers and the fact that he had become a very good pitcher, it is difficult to say how much more he would have regressed had he stayed in Boston. Odds are, he would have not become a Hall of Fame pitcher nor have ever pitched in a World Series game, let alone pitch in seven.
Red Ruffing was 39-96 during his time in Boston and 231-124 pitching for the Yankees. The Baseball Hall of Fame likely does not have a rags-to-riches story similar to that of Ruffing.