Babe Ruth is one of the most legendary and iconic baseball players in history. While his prowess on the field plays a big role in that, the circumstances surrounding his transition from the Boston Red Sox to the rival New York Yankees also factors significantly into his lore. That transaction became official on this day in 1920.
Ruth started his career with the Red Sox as a pitcher, helping them become one of the most successful teams in baseball’s early history. Boston won five of the first fifteen World Series, with Ruth playing a pivotal role in three of those championships. But a year after signing a three-year contract that guaranteed him $10,000 a season in 1919, Ruth told Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that he would not play for less than double that going forward.
In response, Frazee sold him to the Yankees for the record-setting price of $125,000, which translates to roughly $1,737,175 today.
Frazee also received a personal loan of $300,000 from Yankees co-owner Jacob Ruppert five months later, with Boston’s Fenway Park put up as collateral. Frazee used the money to pay down part of his debt from buying the team in 1916 and to help finance one of his Broadway plays called My Lady Friends.
And thus the “Curse of the Bambino” was born.
The Yankees would go on to win four more championships with Ruth, plus another twenty-two before the turn of the century, cementing their legacy as the game’s most prominent franchise. By contrast, the Red Sox would appear in only four more World Series over the same time period, losing each in the final seventh game.
However, perhaps no moment represents the curse’s power in the minds of Boston fans more than game six of the 1986 World Series. Boston was up by two runs and one out away from the championship before the Mets rallied, with the winning run scored after Bill Buckner let a routine ground ball go through his legs.
The curse was finally broken in 2004 when the Red Sox became the first team in Major League history to come back from down three games to none in the playoffs to beat the Yankees, before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. That the final out was made by Cardinals shortstop Édgar Rentería while wearing Ruth’s number three added further significance to the moment for many fans.
But as much as I love baseball and the game’s history, I bring this story up today for a different reason.
Perception vs. reality
Our perception of reality is often shaped more by the stories we find most interesting than the objective truth of the situation.
With Babe Ruth, history remembers his sale from the Red Sox to the Yankees as a pivotal point in the shaping of both franchises. While it certainly played a role, I wonder how many people realize that the Yankees won as many championships (four) in the five years after trading Ruth to the Boston Braves as they won in fifteen years with him in pinstripes?
The perception of his impact largely outpaces the reality of the situation.
Now, with something like baseball, that tendency to let the narrative drive our understanding of the truth is part of the game’s charm. When we allow the same thing to happen in more important areas of life, however, the consequences can be far direr.
Many Christians in America today, for example, are growing increasingly concerned about the faith’s supposed decline in our culture. To be clear, that is happening within certain segments of the population, but overall 63 percent of Americans still claim an affiliation with the Christian faith, with most of the decline coming from non-Evangelical portions of the population. Moreover, Christianity is growing globally at roughly five times the rate of atheism.
As our culture continues to head in a direction that runs counter to the kingdom of God, the narrative we’re likely to hear is one that paints a rather bleak picture for the future of our faith. However, understanding that the reality of the situation, especially on a global scale, is far different can provide us with the necessary hope and perspective to continue serving Christ with confidence.
So the next time you’re tempted to look at our little slice of the world and grow discouraged with the prospect of what the Lord can accomplish, take some time to prayerfully ask God to help you see beyond your perceptions to the truth of what’s really going on.
When we do, we will often find the encouragement to press on with a renewed faith in what God is doing in our world.