Mid-Season Blockbusters:  August

We’ve seen the highest-profile talent transfers that have taken place in the months of April, and those of May, and June as well, and then July. Now it’s time for the Dog Day deals.

August 7, 1904: In a three-club deal, the New York Giants sent outfielder Moose McCormick to the Pittsburgh Pirates; the Pirates sent outfielder Jimmy Sebring to the Cincinnati Reds; and the Reds sent outfielder Mike Donlin to the Giants.

A most interesting three-way switcheroo of young outfielders. McCormick was a 23-year-old rookie, an impressive hitter who was challenged defensively. Sebring was in his second full year but was just 22, a so-so hitter but a highly regarded defensive right fielder. Donlin was the “old man” at 26, a superb all-around player, established as a star.

But “Turkey Mike” was quite the free spirit; at the point of this trade he was sitting out a month’s suspension for drunkenness, and had a record of run-ins with the law, including a six-month jail term for assault in 1902. One presumes it was this manner of baggage that prompted the Reds to unload him. But Giants’ manager John McGraw had no hesitation in taking on troubled types (in later years McGraw would acquire such unloveables as Hal Chase, Shufflin’ Phil Douglas, and Rogers Hornsby), and Donlin would play sensationally well for him—although a serious broken leg (1906), a season-long holdout (1907), and two additional temporary retirements (1909-10 and 1913) were also yet to come in Donlin’s wild career.

August 21, 1915: The Chicago White Sox traded outfielders Braggo Roth and Larry Chappell, pitcher Ed Klepfer, and $31,500 cash to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Joe Jackson.

I don’t know the story behind it, but I do find it curious that the Indians, presumably strapped for cash, essentially sold their 25-year-old superstar Jackson in August of 1915, and then turned around just eight months later and essentially bought the 28-year-old Tris Speaker for the huge sum of $55,000.

Great though Jackson was, Speaker was of course even greater, so financial considerations aside it would turn out to be an upgrade for Cleveland. But what an outfield they’d have had if they’d managed to keep Shoeless Joe and get Speaker.

August 28, 1916: The New York Giants traded second baseman Larry Doyle, infielder Herb Hunter, and outfielder Merwin Jacobson to the Chicago Cubs for third baseman Heinie Zimmerman and shortstop Mickey Doolan.

This was a very big deal. Doyle and Zimmerman were both major stars, both 29 years old, both still healthy and highly productive. (Hunter and Jacobson were prospects; Doolan was a veteran throw-in.) So what was the purpose of swapping them, and why at this point in the season? There’s no clear reason: both the Giants and Cubs were far out of the race (the Giants were in fourth, 15 games behind, while the Cubs were in seventh, 20 games out), and neither team had an obvious replacement for their departed star. My guess is it was just a situation in which both teams were looking toward next year, but shaking things up in a way that might stimulate some fan interest over this season’s final month.

Here’s the weird part: the Giants following this trade would suddenly get white-hot, going 32-8 the rest of the way, including an all-time record 26-game winning streak—yet Zimmerman wasn’t of much help, hitting .272 but with no power at all, generating an OPS+ of just 89, far below his standard. And despite the Giants’ incredible hot streak, they still finished in fourth place.

For his part, Doyle would get hurt and play in just nine games for the Cubs in 1916.

August 1, 1919: The New York Giants traded pitchers Joe Oeschger, Red Causey, and Johnny Jones, catcher Mickey O’Neil, and $55,000 cash to the Boston Braves for pitcher Art Nehf.

August 29, 1951: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Lew Burdette and $50,000 cash to the Boston Braves for pitcher Johnny Sain.

Taking place in Augusts more than 30 years apart, these two deals are interestingly similar: the non-contending Boston Braves sell an ace pitcher to a New York contender for the stretch run. The cash sums of $55,000 in 1919 dollars versus $50,000 in 1951 dollars are striking; Nehf was 26, and just entering his prime, whereas Sain was 33, and leaving his, which stands as some explanation as to why Nehf commanded an enormously greater relative price.

Burdette wasn’t really a grade-A prospect; he was 24, and not a hard thrower, and though he was enjoying a solid 14-12, 3.21 AAA season in 1951, in his previous two years in triple-A Burdette had gone 6-7, 5.26 and 7-7, 4.79. Nevertheless, he would emerge a few years later as a star, and accumulate 203 career major league victories—more than either Nehf or Sain.

August 14, 1952: The St. Louis Browns traded pitchers Ned Garver, Dave Madison, and Bud Black and outfielder Jim Delsing to the Detroit Tigers with for outfielders Vic Wertz and Don Lenhardt and pitchers Dick Littlefield and Marlin Stuart.

As we observed here, the notable thing about this blockbuster was that even though it occurred two months past the trading deadline, all these guys were able to pass through waivers simply because the Tigers were in last place, and the Browns next-to-last: all each team had to do was claim each other’s offerings, and the deal was done.

But that raises the question about waivers in many of these other deals: they were a requirement in all August trades after the mid-1920s. One can understand, for instance, National League teams having passed on Johnny Sain in 1951, as he appeared to be on the downside of his career, but an awful lot of the players in the deals we’ll cover below were pretty attractive. The obvious general explanation is the “gentleman’s agreement” treatment of waivers, in which the informal quid pro quo is that I’ll let your trade go through, since you let mine go through. I’ve never been completely comfortable with this practice, as it clearly raises competitive integrity questions, but on the other hand the waiver process is entirely voluntary; it’s up to each team to decide to claim or not to claim each player placed on the waiver wire.

August 28, 1952: The New York Yankees traded pitchers Johnny Schmitz and Ernie Nevel, outfielders Jim Greengrass and Bob Marquis, and $35,000 cash to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Ewell Blackwell.

Blackwell had been devastatingly effective for the Reds, when healthy. A 6’6″, 195-pound stringbean, he earned the nickname “The Whip” for his long-arms-and-legs sidearm motion and snapping fastball that terrified right-handed batters. But at age 29 in 1952, Blackwell was badly struggling, obviously not throwing well.

The Yankees saw that Blackwell had worked his way through arm trouble before, and thus were willing to surrender a pretty nice package to take a chance on him. Schmitz was dealing with his own arm issues, but had been a star a few years before, and would eventually re-establish himself as a solid pitcher, and Greengrass would briefly make quite a splash as a power hitter in Cincinnati. But Blackwell’s arm would prove to be shot for good; he would appear in just 15 more major league games.

August 3, 1960: The Cleveland Indians traded manager Joe Gordon to the Detroit Tigers for manager Jimmy Dykes.

This is one of the more notorious transactions in the long career of GM Frantic Frankie Lane, then plying his trade for Cleveland. Trading managers is something that had never been done before, and it was widely hooted as a bizarre stunt. But I’ve never quite seen it that way: in the first place, Lane didn’t do this all by himself; he had a trading partner here in Tiger GM Rick Ferrell, so it wasn’t as though Lane was the only one who thought this would be a good idea. And fundamentally, why would it necessarily have been a bad idea? Teams trade players all the time, reasoning that this player’s set of strengths and weaknesses matches up better to the team’s current and/or future needs than that player’s set. Why couldn’t the same dynamic apply to managers, who after all, have their own strengths and weaknesses that may fit the profile of some teams at some times better than others?

In any case, no other set of general managers has seen it the way Lane and Ferrell did in early August of 1960; this remains the only trade of managers in history.

August 1, 1979: The Texas Rangers traded outfielder Oscar Gamble, minor league third baseman Amos Lewis, and players to be named later to the New York Yankees for outfielder Mickey Rivers and players to be named later. (On October 8, 1979, the Rangers sent pitchers Ray Fontenot and Gene Nelson to the Yankees for minor league pitchers Bob Polinsky, Neal Mersch, and Mark Softy, completing the deal.)

Oscar Gamble didn’t turn out to be the player he was expected to be. Zander Hollander wrote in the The Complete Handbook of Baseball: 1971 Edition, “This 21-year-old whippet can be another Lou Brock … has great speed, good power, and is [a] fine defensive outfielder … can beat out a bunt or infield single with ease.” At that point it appeared as though Gamble would be a player along the lines of a Brock, or perhaps more even more extreme, along the lines of the primary guy he was traded for here: “Mick the Quick” Rivers, a slap-hitting center fielder with blinding speed.

But that didn’t materialize. The great wheels Gamble flashed as a youngster quickly faded, and he was nothing more than an average base runner. And the “fine defensive outfielder” piece never came around either; Gamble was tried as a center fielder but found wanting, and turned out to be a corner outfielder with an average-at-best glove.

Such a player needs to hit to have a career, and for a while it looked as though Gamble wouldn’t do that, either. Rushed to the majors as a teenager, through his first four big league seasons he compiled a batting average of .239 with 9 homers in 761 at-bats (an OPS+ of 79), and oblivion seemed to be beckoning. But the Indians acquired him, and deploying him primarily as a DH at the age of 23 (which tells you all you need to know about his defense), Gamble’s bat suddenly burst to life. He was just a little guy (5’11″, 165), but he generated remarkable power with a decided twist of the hips (I’ve tried but failed to locate a wonderful Roger Angell description of Gamble’s sweet swing I recall reading in about 1978), yet Gamble was also tough to strike out. For a full decade he would perform exquisitely well, truly among the better pure hitters in baseball, though Gamble was always used in a strictly limited platoon role (not necessarily wisely, as he hit southpaws fairly well in limited exposure).

Gamble’s billowing mushroom-cloud Afro, with the batting helmet crazily tucked somewhere atop, was among the many ways in which the 1970s were, well, special. And I did find this Angell line regarding the affable Gamble: “Oscar is remembered in many dugouts as one of the most enjoyable teammates in the game.”

August 30, 1982: The Milwaukee Brewers traded players to be named later and cash to the Houston Astros for pitcher Don Sutton. (On September 3, 1982, the Brewers sent outfielder Kevin Bass and pitchers Frank DiPino and Mike Madden to the Astros, completing the deal.)

A classic in the “trade that helped both teams” genre.

On August 30th, Harvey’s Wallbangers were in first place by 4.5 games, and though they would wind up winning the AL East, it would be by the margin of just a single game over the onrushing Orioles. It’s likely that the Brewers wouldn’t have been able to hang on without the solid contribution of the 37-year-old Sutton, who went 4-1 and never lasted fewer than 6.2 innings in any of his seven starts. In the ALCS, with the Brewers down 2 games to 0 and facing elimination, it would be Sutton’s nine-strikeout victory in Game 3 that would turn the tide and allow Milwaukee to win its only American League pennant.

For the Astros, Bass would emerge as a very solid regular, and DiPino would develop into a useful reliever.

August 28, 1983: The Atlanta Braves traded players to be named later and $150,000 cash to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Len Barker. (On September 2, 1983, the Braves sent pitcher Rick Behenna to the Indians. On October 21, 1983, the Braves sent outfielder Brett Butler and third baseman Brook Jacoby to the Indians, completing the deal.)

And then there are those trades that quite decidedly don’t help both teams; this one would quickly establish itself as one of the all-time fleecings. While, to be fair, no one at the time expected it would turn out as disastrously for the Braves as it did, it is the case that they seemed to be paying an awfully high price for Barker, who had filthy stuff and was only 27, but who still hadn’t fully established himself as a consistently effective pitcher.

To get him, Braves’ GM John Mullen surrendered not just $150 grand, but also the 26-year-old Butler, who’d just enjoyed a very solid first season as a regular, as well as the 23-year-old Jacoby, who would settle in as a regular in Cleveland and become a two-time All-Star. Meanwhile Mullen signed Barker to a lucrative four-year contract, only to see him vaporize. Mullen would be fired in October of 1985.

August 1, 1985: The Minnesota Twins traded infielder Jay Bell, outfielder Jim Weaver, pitcher Curt Wardle, and a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Bert Blyleven. (On September 17, 1985, the Twins sent pitcher Rich Yett to the Indians, completing the deal.)

This one might have turned out to be a trade that helped both teams, had the Indians exercised the patience to hang onto Bell instead of dumping him off to the Pirates just as he was about to become a solid major leaguer. None of the other three prospects really panned out, while Blyleven would enjoy a grand return to the ball club with whom he’d begun his career 15 years before. Despite a disturbing propensity to serve up gopher balls, especially in Minnesota’s cozy Metrodome (Blyleven would surrender the staggering total of 96 home runs in 1986-87), the curveballing Dutchman remained remarkably durable and was solidly effective for the Twins, and would be a key to their surprising 1987 pennant and World Series triumph.

August 31, 1985: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded players to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for third baseman Bill Madlock. (On September 3, 1985, the Dodgers sent outfielder R.J. Reynolds to the Pirates. On September 9, 1985, the Dodgers sent first baseman Sid Bream and outfielder Cecil Espy to the Pirates, completing the deal.)

The Dodgers were in first place by a seven-game margin, but still they could really use some help at third base. So GM Al Campanis pulled the trigger on this one, giving up a pretty decent package of young talent in exchange for the 34-year-old Madlock, who was hitting just .251 in Pittsburgh and was quite deeply into his Fat Period. But Mad Dog had room enough left to feast in September at the savory rate of .360. And having been acquired before September 1, Madlock was eligible for the post-season, and in the NLCS against the Cardinals he would pile on a .333 average with a double and three homers—for dessert, as it were.

August 12, 1987: The Detroit Tigers traded pitcher John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Doyle Alexander.

What’s the risk in trading a 20-year-old AA pitcher? The vast majority of them never reach the majors at all, let alone become stars. But: once in a blue moon, such a prospect will not only reach the majors, but become a superstar, pitching for close to 20 years and almost certainly making the Hall of Fame.

What’s the upside of trading such a prospect in August to pick up a 36-year-old warhorse whose current record is 5-10 with a 106 ERA+, and whose record last year was 11-10 with a 99 ERA+? Chances are slim he’s going to have a big impact on this year’s race, and his future value is likely meager. But: once in a blue moon, such a veteran will be lights out down the stretch, going 9-0 with a 278 ERA+, and be the key element in a 33-18 run that lifts a team from second place to the division flag.

This trade represents the perfect test of the degree to which a late-season prospect-for-veteran-help exchange can help both teams. It didn’t appear to be an especially major transaction when it was made, but it would immediately prove to enormously help the Tigers, and over the long term to be of an even more enormous help to the Braves. It was the Platonic Ideal of a Trade.

August 21, 1987: The San Francisco Giants traded pitchers Jeff Robinson and Scott Medvin to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Rick Reuschel.

This was the third excellent major trade in a two-month period pulled off by San Francisco GM Al Rosen, a feat that, as we discussed last month, kicked the Giants into overdrive. The team had been a 100-game-losing cellar-dweller when Rosen took over following the 1985 season, and the ’87 Giants were under .500 and in third place as last as August 5, but then thundered down the stretch at 37-17 to run away with the division by six games, before losing an excruciatingly close seven-game NLCS to the Cardinals.

August 16, 1988: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitcher John Tudor to the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder-outfielder Pedro Guerrero.

An interesting move by Dodger GM Fred Claire to surrender one of his precious few dangerous bats in order to add yet another excellent arm to an already thin-hitting, stout-pitching roster. It would work out fine in the short run, as Tudor did well and the Dodgers, in first place by 3.5 games at this point, would win the division going away, and go on to a stunning World Series triumph over the heavily-favored Oakland A’s. It wasn’t so favorable the following season, however, as Tudor came up lame-armed while Guerrero delivered an outstanding year for St. Louis.

August 29, 1990: The Oakland Athletics traded outfielder Felix Jose, third baseman Stan Royer, and minor league pitcher Daryl Green to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Willie McGee.

Running away with the division and looking ahead to the postseason, the defending World Champ A’s were a powerhouse, beefing up their lineup still more by replacing the talented-but-raw Jose in their outfield with the steady veteran McGee. However, it wouldn’t turn out all that well, as Oakland, after waltzing into the World Series (see below), was stunningly swept by the Reds in the World Series, all the while getting an ineffectual contribution from McGee. It would be the second of three straight Fall Classic appearances by that A’s team that ended in lopsided upset defeats.

But the more interesting aspect of this trade is regarding McGee and that season’s NL batting crown: at the time of the trade, McGee was leading the league with a .335 average, and had already amassed enough plate appearances to qualify for the full-season championship. He would end up with that batting title, as the next-highest average would be compiled by the Dodgers’ Eddie Murray, at .330. McGee thus became the only batting champ in history to have been traded out of the league before the season’s end, and moreover, the .274 rate he would hit for the A’s over the balance of the regular season gave him a composite season’s batting average of .324, which would have left him fourth in the National League, and third in the AL.

August 30, 1990: The Boston Red Sox traded third baseman Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for pitcher Larry Andersen.

An infamous deal for Red Sox fans, that obviously had a lot in common with the Smoltz-for-Alexander Tigers-Braves trade of 1987. The Red Sox were a strong team, but they did need bullpen help (as we discussed back in May), and Andersen was a very fine reliever, who would perform exquisitely well for Boston that September.

But there were several key differences between this situation and that of the Tigers in 1987:

- The Red Sox were in first place by 6.5 games when this trade was made, whereas the Tigers were in second, a game and a half out. While every team can always look to improve, the Red Sox didn’t face the same degree of urgency.

- The Red Sox made this deal on the August 30, whereas the Tigers had made theirs on the 12th. Two-and-a-half weeks is a huge difference at that point in the season; the Tigers’ trade had the likelihood of having a greater impact on that season’s race than Boston’s.

- Alexander was a starting pitcher, a more impactful role than reliever. While both pitched brilliantly, when combined with the greater span of time with his new team, Alexander’s 278 ERA+ in 11 starts and 88 innings was of far greater help to the ’87 Tigers than Andersen’s 332 ERA+ in 15 relief appearances and 22 innings was to the ’90 Red Sox.

- Both Smoltz and Bagwell were double-A prospects, but Smoltz was a 20-year-old pitcher, and Bagwell a 22-year-old third baseman. Not only are young pitchers inherently less predictable in their development than young hitters, two years’ difference in age at that point is a lot in terms of projectability.

- Moreover, for the Tigers’ affiliate in the Eastern League in 1987, Smoltz went 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA. In that same league in 1990, Bagwell hit .333, led the league in hits and doubles, and was named MVP. Clearly, while no one could have known just what tremendous players both would become, one could be far more confident about Bagwell’s eventual major league success in 1990 than about Smoltz’s in 1987.

So Red Sox GM Lou Gorman’s decision to surrender Bagwell for Andersen was distinctly more questionable than Tiger GM Bill Lajoie’s decision to offer up Smoltz for Alexander. And the final difference was that the Tigers got hot after their trade, while the Red Sox, despite Andersen’s strong contribution, limped home at 15-17 and just barely ended up winning the division. In the 1990 ALCS, the Red Sox would be blown out in four straight games by the A’s (see above), with Andersen taking one of the losses.

August 27, 1992: The Toronto Blue Jays traded infielder Jeff Kent and a player to be named later to the New York Mets for pitcher David Cone. (On September 1, 1992, the Blue Jays sent outfielder Ryan Thompson to the Mets, completing the deal.)

This was one of the youth-for-veteran-stretch-run-help deals that turned out to be a win-win. Kent was a highly regarded rookie infielder, and Thompson a toolsy young center fielder; both would get a chance at regular play with the rebuilding Mets, and Kent would do quite well. But they were a fair price for the Blue Jays to pay for Cone, who was a terrific pitcher in peak form at age 29. Even though he was poised to enter the free agent market that off-season, renting Cone for the stretch run and possible post-season was a smart move for Toronto. It would work out wonderfully: Cone would pitch very well as the Jays would enjoy a 23-11 run to the division flag, then capture their first-ever pennant and World Series titles.

August 31, 1992: The Texas Rangers traded outfielder Ruben Sierra, pitchers Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt, and cash to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Jose Canseco.

Just a few years earlier, this seismic event would have been unthinkable, as both Sierra and Canseco had been among the most prodigiously talented and accomplished young outfielders to come along in a very long time. But though Sierra was still just 26 and Canseco 27, by late 1992 the bloom was a bit off the rose for both. The switch-hitting Sierra hadn’t conclusively taken the step forward into superstardom that had seemed inevitable, while the huge-bodied Canseco was proving prone to injury and appeared to be receding from the superstardom he’d attained. And neither young slugger, it’s fair to say, had endeared himself to management through quiet maturity and dedication to team interests.

So despite the fact that the A’s were in first place by 6.5 games, and on the verge of capturing their fourth division title in five years, they pulled the trigger on this behemoth, in which, interestingly, Oakland GM Sandy Alderson was able to collect two pretty decent pitchers from the Rangers in the bargain. Overall, the deal wouldn’t turn out especially well for either team: the Athletics would win the division, but be defeated in the ALCS by the Blue Jays (see above). And neither of the principal talents in the exchange would flourish in his new environment: Sierra’s performance would continue to stagnate, and he would eventually be classified by exasperated A’s manager Tony LaRussa as “The Village Idiot,” while in Texas Canseco’s injury woes would rapidly mount. Both careers would serve as prominent demonstrations as to just how very far the journey is from early-20s greatness to Cooperstown.

August 28, 1996: The Atlanta Braves traded minor league infielder Ron Wright and a player to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Denny Neagle. (On August 30, 1996, the Braves sent pitcher Jason Schmidt to the Pirates, completing the deal.)

Usually the player-to-be-named-later is a throw-in, but sometimes he’s the key guy, and that was the case here: it was the 23-year-old Schmidt, highly regarded but not yet established, who was the fellow the Pirates were after. As for the Braves, they didn’t pick up Neagle so much for that season’s stretch drive, as they had the NL East race pretty much wrapped up already, but more as post-season help, and with the intent of persuading him to sign with them instead of entering the free agent market.

Though Neagle wouldn’t pitch well that September, he did all right in the postseason; the Braves would succed in signing him, and he would perform wonderfully for them over the next couple of years. As for Schmidt, he would settle in as a solid major leaguer in Pittsburgh, but fail to make the step forward to stardom until, as we saw last month, immediately after the Pirates would trade him away in mid-2001.

August 26, 2003: The San Diego Padres traded outfielder Jason Bay, pitcher Oliver Perez, and a player to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Brian Giles. (On October 2, 2003, the Padres sent minor league pitcher Corey Stewart to the Pirates, completing the deal.)

It’s abundantly clear that nobody, certainly including the Padres and probably including the Pirates, had any idea just what a terrific player Bay would become. Here’s a guy who was drafted by the Expos in the 22nd round at age 21, then in spring training a couple of years later traded to the Mets as part of the package for the immortal Lou Collier, and then that summer traded to the Padres as part of the package for those legends, Steve Reed and Jason Middlebrook. So a year later when San Diego included Bay as part of their offer for Giles, they became the third organization willing to part with the 24-year-old, and Pirates’ GM Dave Littlefield might well have been tempted to chuckle at that, and request that Padres’ GM Kevin Towers include a real prospect instead.

But wisely or not, Littlefield accepted Bay, and as predictably well as Giles has performed in San Diego, one imagines the Padres would really rather have the 27-year-old Bay than the 35-year-old Giles in their outfield right now. Perez, meanwhile, rocketed to fast stardom in Pittsburgh but has imploded just as quickly, proving once again that the behavior of young pitchers is surely the least predictable among all species in captivity, even more so than thrice-traded young outfielders.

August 6, 2004: The St. Louis Cardinals traded minor league pitcher Jason Burch and players to be named later to the Colorado Rockies for outfielder Larry Walker. (On August 11, 2004, the Cardinals sent pitcher Luis Martinez and minor league pitcher Chris Narveson to the Rockies, completing the deal.)

Salary-dumped by the Rockies, the fading-but-still-dangerous 37-year-old Walker was happily taken on by the running-away-with-it Cardinals for what help he could provide in the upcoming post-season. And he would provide substantial help indeed, hitting .293 with four doubles, a triple, and six homers in 58 at-bats in the Cards’ 15 post-season games, one of the very few St. Louis bats not completely thwarted by the Red Sox in that season’s one-sided World Series.

August Bonus!

The month of September has generally featured little-to-no trading activity. Waivers have been a requirement since the 1920s, and contenders apparently rarely figure they’ll get enough value out of a veteran acquisition over just a few weeks to expend valuable prospects, especially since September acquisitions are ineligible for post-season play. As a result, what transactions have occurred in September have almost always involved fringe players. So this will be our final installment of this series.

However, there was one big deal that took place in September of 1964 …

September 5, 1964: The New York Yankees traded players to be named later and $75,000 cash to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Pedro Ramos. (On October 21, 1964, the Yankees sent pitcher Ralph Terry to the Indians. On November 27, 1964, the Yankees sent pitcher Bud Daley to the Indians, completing the deal.)

The Yankees at that point were in third place, and had been stuck there since early August, behind the White Sox and Orioles. All was truly not well in the Bronx, as it had been only a couple of weeks earlier that, after being swept in four games by the White Sox, Yankees’ infielder Phil Linz provoked the ire of manager Yogi Berra by playing his harmonica on the team bus. The Yankees, accustomed to being in first place in September, were in a foul mood.

The 29-year-old Ramos at that point was 7-10 with a 5.14 ERA for the Indians, hardly the kind of numbers that would in themselves inspire confidence that he would be of much help in brightening the situation. But Yankee GM Ralph Houk looked past that, and saw these peripherals: 67 walks allowed and 267 strikeouts in 318 innings over 1963-64. Houk likely reasoned that a strike-thrower such as that might thrive in the Yankees’ bullpen, and The Major might also have been aware that Ramos’s ERA in 31 relief appearances over that same period had been 3.39, as opposed to 4.11 in his 41 starts.

The deal was swung, and yielded benefit immediately: on September 6th, Ramos was inserted in the ninth inning against the A’s and closed out the save in a one-run victory. He would prove to be virtually unhittable as the Yankee relief ace down the stretch, appearing in 13 games overall, going 1-0 with a 1.25 ERA in 22 innings, allowing just 13 hits and zero walks, while striking out 21. The Yankees would catch fire and go 21-7 after Ramos’s arrival, surpassing both the Orioles and White Sox at the wire and capturing their fifth straight pennant, and 14th in 16 years. (Ramos had been acquired too late to be eligible for the World Series roster, which may have been significant, as the Yankees, receiving spotty bullpen work, would lose a seven-game epic to the Cardinals.)

I don’t know whether Terry and/or Daley had been agreed upon as the players to be named later at the time of the deal. Daley was 31 and had been battling severe arm trouble for a couple of years, but Terry constituted a substantial payment: although he’d struggled in 1964, Terry had won 56 games for the Yankees in 1961-63, and was still only 28 years old. Perhaps the phenomenal contribution Ramos provided the Yankees prompted the Indians that fall to demand more than they’d initially expected to receive in the deal’s final settlement.

References & Resources
The Complete Handbook of Baseball series edited by Zander Hollander was excellent, appearing through the 1970s and ’80s. (The annual paperbacks were published by Lancer in the early years, and then by Signet.) They got a few prognostications wrong, of course, such as that for Oscar Gamble above, but who doesn’t? Hollander’s style was refreshingly candid and direct, and his observations keen.

The Roger Angell quote is from the “Voices of Spring” chapter in Late Innings: A Baseball Companion (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982), pp. 63-64.

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