Offseason blockbusters: February (Part 1: 1893-1957)by Steve Treder
February 19, 2008
Our autumn-and-winter tour of mega-moves has taken us through October, November, December and January. Now we're ready to begin examining the month that rests on the cusp of spring.
Feb. 28, 1893: The Cleveland Spiders traded third baseman-outfielder George Davis to the New York Giants for infielder-catcher Buck Ewing.
Ewing had been the best catcher in baseball in the 1880s. At this point he was 33, and no longer doing much catching, but could still handle first base, second base or the outfield, and he was still hitting up a storm. The Giants, pennant winners in 1888 and '89, had dropped all the way to eighth by 1892, and decided it was time to get younger.
The Spiders had finished second in '92 (which qualified them for that year's World's Championship Series, which they lost), and were going pedal-to-the-metal (or whatever version of that phrase applied in those days—whip-to-the-steed?) for 1893. Thus, to get the veteran star Ewing, they surrendered the 22-year-old Davis, who hadn't yet blossomed into a star himself but seemed poised to do so.
Davis would indeed blossom for the Giants, eventually taking over as their shortstop, and he would remain a top-tier performer for well over a decade. Ewing would give the Spiders a strong season as their right fielder in 1893, but they dropped to third that season, and following that Ewing began his decline. The Spiders would never capture a championship, and their franchise would meet an ignominious end with the disastrous talent-stripped roster that went 20-134 in 1899.
Both Ewing and Davis are in the Hall of Fame, as well as the Hall of Merit.
Feb. 16, 1909: The Cleveland Naps traded pitchers Charlie Chech and Jack Ryan and $12,500 cash to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Cy Young.
The new Cleveland franchise was in the American League, and nicknamed for its superstar second baseman. Here the team arranged a homecoming, as the Ohio-born-and-bred Young had been the ace of the Spiders in the 1890s.
Young was at this point nearly 42 and rather corpulent, but still among the better pitchers in the game. Chech was a journeyman and Ryan a prospect; this was largely a sale, as $12,500 was a lot of money in those days. Old Cy would give the Cleveland fans one last big year before at long last slowing down, but even in his final season at age 44 Young wouldn't be less than a league-average pitcher.
Feb. 11, 1914: The Boston Braves traded second baseman Bill Sweeney and cash to the Chicago Cubs for second baseman Johnny Evers.
Evers was a long-established star, an outstanding all-around player, but he would turn 33 in July of 1914, and thus it was reasonable to anticipate he would soon decline. Sweeney had suffered on off-year in 1913, but he wasn't yet 28 and had hit exceptionally well in 1911 and 1912. It was hard to figure why the Braves, a 69-82, fifth-place club in 1913, would want to make such a short-term-oriented move.
Yet this bold challenge trade would pay off beautifully for the Braves. Evers would indeed prove to have just one more good year in him, but his outstanding 1914 season was among the keys to Boston's "miracle" pennant. Meanwhile Sweeney would completely fall apart for the Cubs, and then vanish from the major leagues altogether.
Feb. 14, 1915: The Boston Braves traded outfielder-infielder Possum Whitted, infielder Oscar Dugey and cash to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder-infielder Sherry Magee.
Well, trading for an established star had worked wonders for the Braves in 1914: why not do it again? And the package the Phillies asked in exchange for the power-hitting superstar Magee, who wasn't yet 30 years old and was coming off of one of his best seasons, was unbelievably light, in just the journeyman Whitted, the scrubeenie Dugey and cash. I'm thinking that must have been a pretty hefty sum of cash.
Alas Magee, though he would certainly improve the Braves in 1915, would rapidly break down after that.
Feb. 1, 1919: The Cincinnati Reds traded outfielder Tommy Griffith to the Brooklyn Robins for first baseman Jake Daubert.
Since 1910, Daubert had been one of the best first basemen in the game. But he would be 35 for the 1919 season and apparently Wilbert Robinson felt it would be better to trade him a year too soon than a year too late, accepting the Reds' offer of the solid-but-unexciting 29-year-old Griffith.
It would prove to be more than a year too soon to unload Daubert, who, while no longer the consistent hitter he'd once been, would have a couple more big seasons.
Feb. 23, 1921: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielders Billy Southworth and Fred Nicholson, infielder Walter Barbare and $15,000 cash to the Boston Braves for shortstop Rabbit Maranville.
This was a substantial package the Pirates put together to snag Maranville, universally acclaimed as the best defensive shortstop of his era, and still only 29. He would have several fine years for the Pirates.
For the Braves, Southworth would be a solid regular, and Barbare would have one decent year as Maranville's replacement before flopping. But the interesting guy is the utility outfielder Nicholson: all he'd done for the Pirates in 1920 was hit a cool .360, with an OPS+ of 163, in a backup role.
The Braves would deploy Nicholson in a left-right platoon in left field in 1921, and he'd continue to hit up a storm. Somehow I overlooked this humdinger when I compiled my list of Great Platoons:
1921 Boston Braves: Left field
Player B G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS+ Walton Cruise L 108 344 47 119 16 7 8 55 48 24 .346 .429 .503 152 Fred Nicholson R 83 245 36 80 11 7 5 41 17 29 .327 .370 .490 131 Total 589 83 199 27 14 13 96 65 53 .338 .407 .497 144
Nicholson would slump in 1922, and then disappear from the majors. But, man, he put together a couple of killer role-player seasons.
Feb. 15, 1923: The Brooklyn Robins traded outfielder-infielder Hy Myers and first baseman Ray Schmandt to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Jack Fournier.
So am I the only one who routinely confuses Jake Daubert and Jack Fournier?
Perhaps Wilbert Robinson regretted having traded away one hard-hitting French-American first baseman, so decided he'd better get another. In any case, Robinson made a terrific deal here: One didn't often pick Branch Rickey's pocket, but that's what Uncle Robbie did in this case.
Feb. 9, 1927: The New York Giants traded first baseman-second baseman George Kelly and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Edd Roush.
Though Highpockets Kelly's election to the Hall of Fame was ridiculous, he was an outstanding all-around player. But by this point the emergence of Bill Terry made Kelly expendable, and so John McGraw exchanged him for the superb veteran center fielder Roush.
The Giants had previously had Roush, way back in 1916, before he'd established himself as a star. McGraw had traded him away, and no doubt regretted it ever since. Alas, here he re-acquired Roush just in time for him to enter his decline phase. McGraw's only solace was that Kelly would hit the downslope himself in Cincinnati.
Feb. 11, 1928: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Vic Aldridge to the New York Giants for pitcher Burleigh Grimes.
We saw last month that McGraw had pulled off a nice trade to acquire Grimes just a year earlier, and the veteran spitballer had delivered an outstanding year for the Giants. Yet here McGraw was dealing Grimes for Aldridge, who was the same age as Grimes and had never been as good.
It would be a disastrous trade, as Aldridge would crash and burn while Grimes was putting together back-to-back great years in Pittsburgh.
Feb. 5, 1946: The Boston Braves traded shortstop Eddie Joost and $40,000 cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder-first baseman Johnny Hopp.
Joost at this point was highly regarded defensively, but was a woeful hitter; he hadn't yet reached his late-career offensive blossoming (which as I understand it was stimulated by wearing eyeglasses). The Cardinals didn't have a place for Joost anyway, and sent him to Triple-A. So this was effectively just a sale of Hopp, one of four such deals the farm-system-rich Cardinals would execute in the winter/spring of 1946 (that would net the franchise $270,000 in cash) as their roster became overloaded with returning servicemen.
Feb. 7, 1948: The Philadelphia Phillies traded outfielder Johnny Wyrostek and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Eddie Miller.
Miller was a seven-time All-Star on the basis of his fielding; he was among the finest defensive shortstops of his era. But his hitting was another matter altogether: inconsistent, but most often bad, and sometimes downright terrible. Thus it was a stunner when in 1947 Miller, at the age of 30, bounced back from a dismal .194 campaign to hit .268, and moreover to do it with substantial power, leading the league in doubles, and placing 10th in homers and RBIs.
Give credit then to Cincinnati GM Warren Giles, who recognized that there was no better time to sell high on Miller than now. Giles netted a fine return in the solid all-around performer Wyrostek, while Miller would quickly decline for the Phillies.
Feb. 24, 1948: The New York Yankees traded catcher Aaron Robinson and pitchers Bill Wight and Fred Bradley to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Eddie Lopat.
This was the first trade George Weiss would execute upon having taken over as Yankees GM. What an elegant piece of work it was, the first in a long line of beauties: Weiss deftly leveraged his depth at one position, and tossed in a couple of grade-B prospects as sweeteners, to yield a talent ideally suited to meet a need.
Over the previous 15 years, Weiss had performed a masterful job of building the vast Yankee farm system. Now he began his masterful performance of running the entire show.
Feb. 16, 1953: In a four-club deal, the Brooklyn Dodgers sent infielder Rocky Bridges to the Cincinnati Reds, and infielder-outfielder Jim Pendleton to the Milwaukee Braves; the Braves sent first baseman Earl Torgeson to the Philadelphia Phillies, and cash to the Reds; the Reds sent outfielder-first baseman Joe Adcock to the Braves; and the Phillies sent pitcher Russ Meyer to the Dodgers, and cash to the Braves.
Okay, so how does this elaborate roundelay settle out?
The Dodgers traded Bridges and Pendleton for Meyer. Both of the guys they gave up were useful role players, but neither was good enough to be a regular, and the Dodgers had such extraordinary depth in this period that they could slough off talents such as these without skipping a beat. In Meyer they got a solid starter who would give them a couple of decent years before breaking down. This was clearly a win for GM Buzzie Bavasi.
For the Reds it was Adcock for Bridges and cash. Adcock was a terrific young hitter but an extremely poor fielder with whom the Reds had been getting nowhere in left field, and first base was occupied by Ted Kluszewski. Thus, trading Adcock was a sensible idea; so far, so good. But apparently taken in by Dodger organization hype that all of its prospects were star-quality, Reds GM Gabe Paul swapped Adcock for Bridges and directed that Bridges should be installed as the first-string Cincinnati second baseman. What followed was a clear demonstration that Bridges was a good-field, no-hit utilityman-caliber talent. This was one of Paul's most terrible trades, and in his three-decade career he would execute several.
The Braves swapped Torgeson and cash for Adcock, Pendleton and cash. This was a nifty piece of work by GM John Quinn, as he replaced Torgeson just as he was leaving his peak with Adcock just as he was entering his. As a bonus, Quinn nabbed the utilityman Pendleton and balanced out his cash paid with cash received.
Phillies' owner-GM Bob Carpenter made a sound move in exchanging Meyer and cash for Torgeson; it wasn't a steal but it helped his ball club. Torgeson was no longer a star, but he would be a highly effective platoon first baseman for the rest of the decade. However, Carpenter would allow his subsequent GM Roy Hamey to foolishly surrender Torgeson in a straight cash transaction in mid-1955.
Feb. 1, 1954: The Milwaukee Braves traded pitchers Johnny Antonelli and Don Liddle, catcher Ebba St. Claire, infielder Billy Klaus and $50,000 cash to the New York Giants for outfielder Bobby Thomson and catcher Sam Calderone.
Flush with his team's breakthrough second-place finish of 1953, with major-league-leading attendance in the Braves' newfound Milwaukee home to boot, John Quinn went for broke with this deal, as well as with the Danny O'Connell acquisition we discussed in December. The O'Connell deal wouldn't go well for the Braves because he would fall far short of expectations, but at least in that exchange the Braves didn't give up a great deal of talent. But this one ... oh, my.
Thomson would suffer a severely broken ankle in spring training of 1954; he'd miss most of that season and would never again be close to the all-around star he'd been for the Giants. One can't fault Quinn for that; these things happen sometimes, and besides, Thomson's injury made room in the lineup for some rookie named Aaron. But the package Quinn expended for Thomson was just too rich; even if Thomson hadn't gotten hurt the deal would have been lopsided.
The Braves had signed Antonelli as a bonus baby back in 1948. They'd patiently nurtured him through the hard knocks of his development, and patiently waited while Antonelli spent two years in the military. Finally, in 1953, the young lefthander had emerged as a solid starter—but just as Antonelli was poised to blossom into stardom, here Quinn traded him away. What's more, Quinn sweetened the offer not only with the 50 grand, but with the useful swingman Liddle, and with the capable young infielder Klaus (though the Giants would let him slip through their fingers too).
It was a simply disastrous deal for the Braves, and a ripe juicy peach for the Giants. For all the success the Braves would enjoy over the remainder of the decade—a strong contender every season, and a pennant-winner in 1957 and '58—it's intriguing to consider just how much better they'd have been without having committed this blunder.
Feb. 8, 1956: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Bob Wiesler, catcher Lou Berberet, second baseman Herb Plews and outfielders Whitey Herzog and Dick Tettelbach to the Washington Senators for pitcher Mickey McDermott and infielder Bobby Kline.
As we saw in December, the Senators had expended Jackie Jensen to acquire the abundantly talented McDermott, but the young southpaw had steadily regressed. Thus the decision of Senators owner/GM Calvin Griffith to trade McDermott made sense, yet it was a measure of just how impressive McDermott's talent was that Griffith was able to attract this kind of offer, and from no less than the Yankees' brilliant trader Weiss.
None of the five prospects Weiss sent Griffith was star-quality, but neither was any a throwaway. Wiesler and Tettelbach would each fizzle, but Berberet, Plews and Herzog would all prove to be solid, useful major league role players. For his part, McDermott would ... well ...
Feb. 19, 1957: The New York Yankees traded pitchers Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan and Rip Coleman, outfielder Irv Noren, infielders Billy Hunter and Milt Graff and a player to be named later to the Kansas City Athletics for pitchers Art Ditmar, Bobby Shantz and Jack McMahan, first baseman Wayne Belardi and players to be named later.
(On April 4, 1957, the Athletics sent infielder Curt Roberts to the Yankees. On April 5, 1957, the Yankees sent pitcher Jack Urban to the Athletics. On June 4, 1957, the Athletics sent infielder Clete Boyer to the Yankees, completing the deal.)
McDermott would be rotten for the Yankees; with his 1956 performance the hard-drinking left hander's sad career fully assumed its circling-the-drain trajectory. Thus the wisdom of yet another team expending anything of serious value to trade for McDermott at this point was laughable.
Which apparently was the cue for Arnold Johnson's Kansas City A's to come on in.
Ever accommodating, the Athletics were ready to take the troublesome McDermott off the Yankees' hands. More than that, the A's were ready to take McDermott as well as a long list of tired-out, all-but-useless odds and ends off the Yankees' roster. And for this privilege, the A's were ready to provide the Yankees with Kansas City's two best pitchers.
Was that bad enough? Apparently not. In June of 1955 the A's had expended a big bonus on teenaged infielder Clete Boyer. Under the bonus baby rules in effect, the Athletics were required to keep the youngster on the big league roster for two full calendar years before farming him out. So in June of 1957, just at that point when Boyer was finally eligible to be sent to the minors to gain some regular playing time and serious skill development, why not just hand him over to the Yankees instead, and completely waste that bonus investment?
Of all the many highly questionable arrangements between the Athletics and Yankees organizations in this period (fundamentally questionable because Johnson, holding the deed to Yankee Stadium, was the Yankees' landlord), this particular deal might well be the fishiest.
Steve Treder can often be found spending way too much time talking baseball at Baseball Primer. He welcomes your questions and comments via e-mail.