It was an optimistic Canadian named J.J. Lannin who secured the rights to Babe Ruth for the Boston Red Sox. Orphaned at age 14, Lannin had migrated from Quebec City to Boston in search of work in the 1880s. According to Bob Elliott’s groundbreaking book “The Northern Game,” the ambitious Lannin landed a job as a bellhop at the Adams Hotel in Beantown, where he learned about real estate and the commodities market by listening to wealthy patrons. A true rags-to-riches story, Lannin successfully invested his savings and eventually built an empire of hotels, apartment buildings and golf courses.
During that time, Lannin also became a devoted baseball fan and was able to buy the Boston Red Sox for a reported $200,000 in 1914. That same year, he also purchased the rights to Ruth from the International League’s Baltimore Orioles. According to Robert Creamer’s famous Ruth biography, Lannin initially met with Orioles’ owner Jack Dunn on July 5, 1914 in a hotel room in Washington, when the Sox were in town to battle the Senators. Though sitting atop the International League standings, the Orioles were struggling financially. A Federal League franchise in Baltimore had robbed the O’s of many of their fans, forcing Dunn to hold a mid-season fire sale of his best players. He approached other teams about Ruth – including Connie Mack and the Philadelphia A’s who weren’t interested – but settled on selling the promising left-hander, along with pitcher Ernie Shore and catcher Ben Egan to the Red Sox for around $30,000. Even for that time, it seems like a bargain, but big league owners were fearful that the players would jump to the competing Federal League after the season.
Ruth would pitch in four games with Boston before being shipped back to the Red Sox farm club in Providence on August 15, 1914. Later that month, Ruth would leave on a road trip with the team that would take him to Montreal and Toronto. In his September 5th start in Toronto at Hanlan’s Point, he would toss a one-hit shutout over the Leafs and belt his first professional – and only minor league – home run. There is now a plaque on Toronto Island commemorating this historic homer.
When The Sultan of Swat returned to the big club, the Red Sox would win World Series titles in 1915 and 1916. Because he considered himself too much of a fan, Lannin decided to sell the team to Harry Frazee after the second championship. It was Frazee who would then sell Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, initiating an 86-year championship drought for the Red Sox that superstitious supporters attributed to “The Curse of the Bambino.” Ironically, it was in 2004, the same year that Lannin was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., that the Sox championship drought would end.