It almost happened. Babe Ruth came extremely close to playing for the White Sox instead of the New York Yankees. The owner of the Red Sox was becoming frustrated with Babe Ruth's behavior, so at the end of the 1919 season, Harry Frazee decided to trade Babe Ruth.
The only two teams that could take on Babe Ruth were the White Sox and the Yankees. The White Sox were a powerhouse and the Yankees were bad, but improving a little each year. The White Sox had a deal in place with the Red Sox for Babe Ruth. In exchange for Ruth, the White Sox would send Shoeless Joe Jackson and $60,000.
The Red Sox franchise was in debt and in desperate need of money. When the Yankees offered a strictly cash deal of $100,000, Harry Frazee jumped at the offer. Frazee then worked out a deal where Red Sox would get $125,000 in cash and three $25,000 notes payable every year at 6 percent interest. Plus, the Yankees owners also secured a personal loan of $300,000 to Frazee with Fenway Park as collateral. Ruth signed a contract with the Yankees, sealing the financial deal given to the Red Sox owner.
Had Frazee contacted Charles Comiskey, they may have been able to work out a similar deal. Once Frazee sniffed out the cash deal, he concentrated only on that and let other offers fall to the wayside. We all know how Babe Ruth turned out for the Yankees.
Let's pretend that Frazee accepted the offer from the White Sox. They were able to work out additional monetary deals and the swap of Ruth for Jackson took place. Would this have been a good deal for the White Sox, right after the fixing of the 1919 World Series? I say yes. Let's explore this, shall we.
The 1920 White Sox finished in second place, two games behind the first place Indians and one game ahead of the Yankees with Babe Ruth. No players were banned at this point. We'll start with the eight players who were banned from baseball for their alleged parts in the World Series scandal.
Pitcher Eddie Cicotte
Eddie was already 36 in 1920. Realistically, he wouldn't have had too many more years left in the game. My guess is that the White Sox were already preparing for his eventual loss during the 1920 season, due to impending retirement or a possible trade. He was replaced in the rotation by a less than stellar Roy Wilkinson. Not a smart replacement.
First Baseman Chick Gandil
Chick had a dispute over the financial aspect of his contract at the end of the 1919 season. When he was refused a substantial raise for the 1920 season, he retired from the Major Leagues. The White Sox still won 96 games with 34 year old Shano Collins at first base.
Center Fielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch
Happy was a big loss. In 1920, he hit .338 and drove in 115 runs. He was 28 in 1920 and could potentially be the center field option for the rest of the decade. He was replaced in 1921 by Johnny Mostil and Amos Strunk. They put up respectable numbers, but not quite as good as Happy was.
Utility Infielder Fred McMullin
The average hitting McMullin turned into an anemic hitting McMullin in 1920. His usefulness was in his versatility. Harvey McClellan stepped up in the versatility role with a lower average, but a higher fielding percentage. No great loss. No great gain. The biggest loss was his head for baseball.
Shortstop Swede Risberg
33 year old Ernie Johnson filled in at shortstop in 1921. He sported a higher average and a higher fielding percentage in more games. Risberg had youth on his side and that is always a big loss, but not devastating.
Third Baseman Buck Weaver
The high average of Buck Weaver was a big loss. Eddie Mulligan appeared in more games and had a higher fielding percentage in 1921, but his average was eighty points lower than Buck's. Ouch! Plus, there have been indications that Buck Weaver was wrongfully accused. Double ouch!
Pitcher Claude "Lefty" Williams
His ERA took a giant leap in 1920. He had a .611 winning percentage, but gave up 15 home runs and 130 earned runs, which was the highest in the American League in 1920. He was replaced in the rotation by Dominic Mulrenan and a succession of others in 1921, none of which were eliciting many cheers.
Now let's say that Babe Ruth came to the White Sox and Joe Jackson went to the Red Sox. Babe Ruth played all three outfield positions in 1920 for the Yankees. If Bibb Falk was in left field, the platoon of Mostil and Strunk in center field and Babe Ruth in right field for the 1921 season, there would be no reason to trade for Harry Hooper, unless Comiskey wanted to split Ruth between the outfield and the pitcher's mound.
Babe Ruth would post league leading numbers in home runs, walks, runs, OBP and RBI in 1920. Joe Jackson would lead the league in triples and post a higher average than Ruth.
Joe Jackson would be out of baseball after the 1920 season, but there would be no way of knowing that when the trade would have been made. The Red Sox would have gotten one great year out of Shoeless Joe and would still potentially have their Hall of Fame outfielder Harry Hooper with them. Babe Ruth would have played for roughly a decade and a half for the White Sox, posting outrageous numbers for most of that time.
The Yankees may have continued their climb to the top, but it probably would have taken a few more years. The White Sox could have been saved from years of mediocrity by acquiring Ruth and trading away what appeared to be a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Jackson.
While this is all just speculation, the numbers and events after this potential trade support this theory. The biggest devastation of the Black Sox scandal was not Shoeless Joe or Buck Weaver being banned. Comiskey found a suitable defensive replacement for Buck Weaver and he almost found a permanent upgrade for the soon to be banned Jackson.
What Comiskey couldn't find was a suitable replacement for Cicotte and Williams. His answers for both pitchers were poor at best. That is what killed the White Sox for the next few decades. Great pitching would be just around the corner for the White Sox, but the bats that could keep them afloat until then were missing. If the Babe Ruth deal went through, chances are that the offense and defense would stay long enough for the pitching to come around.