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Today in Sports History: December 26th


12/26/1919 - Boston trades Babe Ruth

In a move that most historians regard as the biggest trade in American sports history, the Boston Red Sox sell 26 year-old George Herman "Babe" Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000 in cash. The deal, which wasn't announced until January of the following year, would live in infamy for Red Sox fans, as Ruth became the most prolific baseball player in the game, finishing his stellar career with 714 homers -- a record that stood for over four decades.

Prior to the Ruth trade, Boston had been New York's better, having won four of the previous eight World Series (the latest coming in 1918). But after the deal, the Yankees were the infinitely better franchise the remainder of the century. From 1920 to 2003, the Yankees managed to win 26 championships, while the Red Sox never won anything and always seemed to come up short to the Bronx Bombers. Boston's lack of success following the Ruth deal was so great that people attributed it to "The Curse of the Bambino" -- a legend that Ruth was haunting the team for selling him away. It wasn't until the Red Sox won it all in 2004, 86 years after their previous title, that the curse was said to have finally been lifted.

The person who signed off on the Babe's trade was Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, a man who had made his money in the theater industry. Frazee -- as legend has it -- had made a series of bad investments and was in need of cash in order to fund his upcoming theatrical projects, mainly the play "No, No Nanette." On top of that, he had to deal with the contract demands of Ruth, who was asking for his $10,000 salary to be doubled. Ruth, who had spent his early years as a left-handed pitcher, had made the transition to the outfield in 1919 and set a major league record with 29 homers. As such, the Babe was asking for a hefty payraise, and Frazee, who was getting tired of his antics, questioned if he was worth keeping around.

It was at that point that the New York Yankees, having been informed of his money issues, stepped in and gave Frazee an offer: he would not only receive $100,000 from the Yankees organization themselves, he would also get a $350,000 loan from the pockets of Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast Huston. Frazee accepted, and subsequently used the loan money to place a mortgage on Fenway Park.

When Frazee informed manager Ed Barrow of his intention to trade Ruth, and mentioned that the Yankees were offering "a few players," Barrow was livid. "To hell with the kind of players they'll give us," Barrow was quoted as saying. "No player deserves such an honor as being traded for Ruth. I don't want to make an utter fool of myself by taking some bushers for a player like the Babe." Feeling that no player would make the deal any sweeter, Barrow convinced Frazee not to receive a single player in the swap and to focus only on getting as much money as possible.

In a statement released days after the trade was announced, Frazee stated: "While Ruth, without question, is the greatest hitter that the game has ever seen, he is likewise one of the most selfish and inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform. Had he possessed the right disposition, had he been willing to take orders and work for the good of the club like the other men on the team. I would never have dared let him go. Twice during the past two seasons, Babed has jumped the club and revolted. He refused to obey orders of the manager."

"No other club could afford to give the amount the Yankees have paid for him, and I do not mind saying I think they are taking a gamble," the Boston Globe quoted Frazee as saying after the deal was made. "The Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team ... (than) if Ruth had remained with us."

In 1920, the Red Sox moved up from sixth in the American League to fifth, while the Yankees ended with a 95-59 record, just barely missing the AL pennant. That year, Babe Ruth batted .376, hit 54 home runs, drove in 137 RBI, had a slugging percentage of .849 and produced what was easily the greatest slugging season baseball had ever seen.

In later years, the estate of Harry Frazee attempted to debunk much of the trade's mythical portions, such as that Frazee was broke at the time and that the money from the Ruth trade was used to fund "No, No Nanette." Nonetheless, there was no excuse his descendants could use to possibly justify trading the most famous slugger in baseball history.

12/26/1977 - The Mud Bowl

Football fans tend to come up with nicknames for classic NFL games: the Ice Bowl, Freezer Bowl, Bounty Bowl, Heidi Bowl, Fog Bowl, etc. There are several games associated with the "Snow Bowl" and the "Mud Bowl" because of how generic the names are -- but in the latter's case, the most appropriate game to fit the title is also the earliest: a 1977 NFC playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams.

When the Vikings traveled to Los Angeles Coliseum to take on the Rams, no one gave them much of a chance. Besides getting up there in age, they had been destroyed by the Rams to the tune of 35-3 earlier in the year, and that was with star quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Now that Tarkenton was out with an injury, Bob Lee, a former 17th round draft pick who spent part of his career as a punter, would fill in for the Vikings great.

Minnesota didn't have a prayer... or at least that's what everyone thought. When both teams arrived at the coliseum, a miracle had happened. Rainfall from the night before had turned the field into a swamp, and now whatever advantage the Rams had playing at home was thrown out the window.

"We knew it was tough to hold onto the ball, so we just tried to hold on, get what we could and go down and score. It was no day for heroics," said Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, who provided his team with most of their offense. Lee completed only five passes in the entire game, including none in the second half. But the muddy conditions had thrown off the Rams enough that they didn't score until the final minute of the game. Minnesota won 14-7, shocking everyone at nine-and-a-half point underdogs.

The game is also notable for being the final contest in which Joe Namath was on the active roster. The former Jet had signed onto the Rams for one final season, but after a rough start to the year, he was benched for quarterback Pat Haden. In this game, Haden threw three interceptions and was not adept to playing in the muddy conditions. For a brief second, it appeared that Rams coach Chuck Knox was going to insert Namath for one final time -- at the last second he changed his mind, and Haden finished out the ballgame.

In the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings were smashed, 23-6, by the eventual NFL-champion Dallas Cowboys.