In 1919, Harry Frazee was in a tough situation. His young star Babe Ruth had always been a discipline problem, jumping the team several times and spending many late nights drinking.
Now he was demanding a $20,000 salary, double his salary the previous year. Frazee decided that the team would be better off trading him.
At the time, the American League was still run by iron-fisted Ban Johnson, and the league had split into two factions. The Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox formed one faction, "The Insurrectos," and the Athletics, Browns (Orioles), Indians, Senators (Twins) and Tigers formed the "Loyal Five."
Due to this split, the Red Sox could only trade with the Yankees and White Sox. Both teams made an offer.
The Yankees offered $125,000, in addition to a $300,000 loan with Fenway Park as collateral. The White Sox offered $60,000 and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. Frazee accepted the Yankees offer and gave this explanation:
"I should have preferred to take players in exchange for Ruth, but no club could have given me the equivalent in men without wrecking itself, and so the deal had to be made on a cash basis. No other club could afford to give me the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I don't mind saying I think they are taking a gamble. With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us."
Another reason Frazee may have been reluctant to trade for Jackson was the rumor of his involvement in the Black Sox Scandal.
What if Harry Frazee accepted the White Sox offer?
In Boston, Shoeless Joe would have a great year in 1920 before he was banned from baseball, leaving the Red Sox with only the $60,000.
Ruth would have had to negotiate his contract demands with the notoriously cheap Charles Comiskey. It is very possible that Ruth would have left baseball and gone on to be a boxer or actor, as he planned to do when holding out with the Red Sox. The world may have never seen Ruth play again.
For the sake of argument, let's pretend Ruth agreed to Comiskey's demands and played for the White Sox.
In 1920, the White Sox finished two games behind the Indians for the pennant. Using fangraphs wins above replacement (WAR) it can be estimated that the White Sox would have finished three games ahead of Cleveland and won the pennant.
The Indians beat the Dodgers five game to two, and it is likely the White Sox would have done so as well.
The eight players would then be banned, and the White Sox would drift back, but would finish in fifth rather than seventh.
Would a World Series victory and an estimated 78-78 (rather than 68-92) post-scandal team convince Comiskey to keep improving the team, rather than making little attempt to replace the expelled players?
Would the Yankees still form a dynasty?
Would Babe Ruth be the legend he is today?
Would the dead ball era have ended without Ruth's dramatic counterexample?
We will never know.