Mid-Season Blockbusters:  June (Part Two:  1949-1969)

It’s time for our second of three installments covering the biggest trades in the very busy month of June.

June 15, 1949: The Cincinnati Reds traded outfielders Hank Sauer and Frank Baumholtz to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Harry Walker and outfielder/infielder Peanuts Lowrey.

Evidently, the Reds decided that they hadn’t done quite enough to botch their handling of the prodigiously powerful Hank Sauer. Farming him out following 1945, at which point he’d hit .290 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 169 at-bats over three separate big-league trials, wasn’t sufficient. Keeping him in the minors for all of 1946 and 1947 while the likes of Dain Clay, Al Libke, and Bert Haas were given regular jobs wasn’t sufficient. Failing to bring Sauer back to the majors until he’d completed a monster .336, 50-homer, 141-RBI Minor League Player of the Year Triple-A ’47 season wasn’t sufficient.

No, the Reds felt that there was still something more they could do to utterly waste his talent. So when the opportunity above presented itself, they jumped all over it: accept two over-30 singles-hitting journeymen in exchange for the package of Sauer and Bauhmoltz? Brilliant!

June 14, 1950: The Washington Senators traded pitcher Dick Weik to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Mickey Vernon.

Hank Greenberg was a tremendous ballplayer, but as a general manager he left a whole lot to be desired. Many of the moves he made in the role with the Indians from 1949 to 1957, and again with the White Sox from 1959 to 1961, were regrettable.

None more than this humdinger. Vernon had been a fine player for a long time, but in 1950, at the age of 32, he’d gotten off to a slow start and lost his Cleveland starting job to the slugging Luke Easter. So trading Vernon wasn’t a crazy idea (though given the way the skillsets of the slick-fielding, line-drive-hitting Vernon and the slow, poor-fielding, longballer Easter complemented one another, a job-sharing arrangement would have made a lot of sense), but trading a player of Vernon’s stature straight-up for a project like Weik was lunacy.

Weik was 22 years old and had been force-fed into the majors by the Senators. He’d struggled horribly, to the tune of 5-17 with a 5.09 ERA in 152 innings, with 172 walks allowed (yes, I’m afraid you read that right) and 92 strikeouts.

Post-trade, Vernon would make five more All-Star teams. Weik would go 1-5 with a 7.88 ERA.

June 15, 1950: The New York Yankees traded infielder George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss, pitchers Don Johnson and Duane Pillette, outfielder Jim Delsing, and $50,000 cash to the St. Louis Browns for pitchers Tom Ferrick and Joe Ostrowski and third baseman Leo Thomas.

June 15, 1951: The New York Yankees traded pitchers Tom Ferrick, Fred Sanford, and Bob Porterfield to the Washington Senators for pitcher Bob Kuzava.

Ferrick isn’t much known today, but he was one of the better relief specialists of his era. He was a big guy (6’2”, 220), but a soft-tosser, a sinker-slider control artist. Ferrick would be crucially valuable in the Yankees’ pennant drive in 1950, as erstwhile ace reliever Joe Page flamed out that year. Then in ’51 Ferrick got off to a bad start, and so he was included in the package to acquire Kuzava, who would team with Ostrowski to anchor the Yankee bullpen through that summer.

The Yankees’ capacity in those years to go to the trade market and pick up just what they needed, just when they needed it, was uncanny. GM George Weiss made trades the way you or I stop off at the corner 7-11 and grab a carton of milk and a tube of toothpaste. What made it possible, of course, was the Yankees’ immensely deep farm-raised inventory, a virtual no-limit ATM card. Of the prospects they surrendered in these deals, Pillette and Delsing would have solid major league careers, and Porterfield would (briefly) achieve stardom, but Weiss’s Yankees could shed talents like that and scarcely miss them.

June 15, 1951: The Brooklyn Dodgers traded infielder Eddie Miksis, outfielder Gene Hermanski, pitcher Joe Hatten, and catcher Bruce Edwards to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder-third baseman Andy Pafko, pitcher Johnny Schmitz, second baseman Wayne Terwilliger, and catcher Rube Walker.

June 15, 1951: The St. Louis Cardinals traded pitchers Howie Pollet and Ted Wilks, outfielder Bill Howerton, catcher Joe Garagiola, and infielder Dick Cole to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder-third baseman Wally Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers.

June 16, 1951 must have been quite the morning to linger over your corn flakes with the sports section.

Both of these trades were of a classic structure: a contending team (well, the Cardinals still thought of themselves as a contender at this point) leverages its depth to pluck a star from a tail-ender. What’s particularly interesting here is that the key tail-ender stars were both having especially robust years: at the season’s one-third point, Pafko had whacked 12 homers and Westlake 16.

Pafko would prove to be a mild disappointment to the Dodgers, and Westlake a huge disappointment to the Cardinals. The grab-bag of odds and ends the Pirates collected would prove to have more utility than that received by the Cubs.

June 3, 1952: The Boston Red Sox traded first baseman Walt Dropo, outfielder Don Lenhardt, infielders Johnny Pesky and Fred Hatfield, and pitcher Bill Wight to the Detroit Tigers for third baseman George Kell, shortstop Johnny Lipon, outfielder Hoot Evers, and pitcher Dizzy Trout.

This massive exchange mostly included players whose best days would prove to be behind them. The Tigers had been a strong contender a couple of years before, but were off to a ghastly 13-28 start, so it’s clear why they were eager to shake things up. The Red Sox were 24-18, just one game out of first place, but they had Dick Gernert ready to replace Dropo at first base, and Kell and Lipon looked to shore up the left side of their infield.

But though it moved a lot of bodies, in the end this trade didn’t much help or hurt either team. The Tigers came in dead last anyway. For the Red Sox, Kell did fine (though he got hurt) but Lipon bombed; the team contended through late August, but then fell apart and finished sixth.

June 4, 1953: The Chicago Cubs traded catcher Toby Atwell, first baseman-outfielder Preston Ward, outfielders Gene Hermanski and Bob Addis, pitcher Bob Schultz, third baseman George Freese, and $150,000 cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Ralph Kiner, catcher Joe Garagiola, pitcher Howie Pollet, and outfielder-first baseman George “Catfish” Metkovich.

As soon as Branch Rickey took over the operation of the Pirates in late 1950, he made it very obvious that he wasn’t enamored with Kiner; Rickey’s vivid interest in trading away Pittsburgh’s superstar became crystal clear. Usually a shrewd poker player, Rickey blew it this time, as he let every team in the league know exactly what he wanted to do, undermining his bargaining position.

Moreover, his handling of Kiner eventually violated Rickey’s own maxim of trading a player a year too soon rather than a year too late. By the time Rickey finally succeeded in unloading Kiner, the back trouble that would soon bring the great slugger’s career to a premature end had already begun to show its effect: at age 30, Kiner was still a fine hitter, but his production was in noticeable decline. The high volume of packing popcorn on both sides of this deal made it appear far weightier than it was; truly it was just a sale of Kiner with a whole bunch of fluff wrapped around it. That was a huge sum of money, but it’s easy to imagine Rickey getting much more substantial talent in exchange for Kiner if he’d finessed the situation better, and made it happen back in 1950 or 1951.

June 13, 1953: The Chicago White Sox traded pitcher Lou Kretlow, catcher Darrell Johnson, and $75,000 cash to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Virgil “Fire” Trucks and third baseman-outfielder Bob Elliott.

This was the last in the long line of desperate-to-make-payroll sell-offs the Browns would make; that fall, Bill Veeck would be forced out as Browns’ owner, and the franchise would be sold to a well-capitalized Baltimore syndicate, and relocated there.

The 36-year-old Trucks would be reborn in the heavenly pitchers’ environment Paul Richards fostered in Chicago, going 15-6 the rest of the way. His performance was key to a second-half charge by the White Sox, who were barely over .500 in mid-June, to a finish of 89-65, their best record since 1920.

June 15, 1953: The Cleveland Indians traded shortstop Ray Boone and pitchers Steve Gromek, Al Aber, and Dick Weik to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Art Houtteman and Bill Wight, catcher Joe Ginsberg, and infielder Owen Friend.

Houtteman in Detroit and Boone in Cleveland had both been young talents for whom stardom had been abundantly anticipated. Houtteman had briefly shone for the Tigers, while Boone had largely struggled for the Indians, but by June of 1953 the bloom was off the rose for both.

Houtteman would do okay for the Indians, but never become a star, and he would fade pretty quickly, likely burned out by too many innings too young. Boone, on the other hand, would suddenly wake up in Detroit and become the big-time hitting star he’d long been predicted to be; likely the Tigers’ shift of Boone to the less demanding position of third base benefited him as much as the change of scenery.

June 1, 1954: The Cleveland Indians traded pitcher Bob Chakales to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Vic Wertz.

Wertz had been a major star just a few years earlier, but even though he was just 29, by this point a series of nagging injuries had reduced him to hitting a powerless .202 and fetching just a 26-year-old so-so pitching prospect in trade.

This was one good move that Hank Greenberg made. The Indians took the strain off Wertz’s legs by shifting him from right field to first base, and his hitting revived. He would blast the most famous flyout in World Series history that fall, and battle through a bout with polio in 1955 and a broken ankle in 1958 to remain a productive power hitter into the early 1960s.

June 7, 1955: The Chicago White Sox traded outfielder Johnny Groth, catcher Clint Courtney, and pitcher Bob Chakales to the Washington Senators for outfielder Jim Busby.

Groth and Busby were fellow center fielders born less than six months apart, but their career arcs had passed each other in opposite directions a few years before this trade. Through 1950, when both were 23, Busby had yet to achieve a full season in the majors, while Groth, who’d torn the minor leagues apart while Busby was in college, was putting together his second consecutive terrific major league season. Groth presented no weaknesses, a good-at-everything profile that promised major stardom.

But by 1955, Busby, though he was inconsistent with the bat, had firmly established himself as the premier defensive center fielder in the American League. Groth had regressed in every element of his game, and at age 28 was nothing more than a platoon player, packaged in a 3-for-1 to get Busby.

June 14, 1956: The St. Louis Cardinals traded second baseman Red Schoendienst, outfielder Jackie Brandt, catcher Bill Sarni, pitcher Dick Littlefield, and a player to be named later to the New York Giants for shortstop Alvin Dark, first baseman-outfielder Whitey Lockman, catcher Ray Katt, and pitcher Don Liddle. (On October 1, 1956, the Cardinals sent pitcher Gordon Jones to the Giants, completing the deal.)

June 15, 1957: The New York Giants traded second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Milwaukee Braves for second baseman Danny O’Connell, outfielder Bobby Thomson, and pitcher Ray Crone.

Schoendienst’s Hall of Fame worthiness is debatable—but that’s another way of saying he was a tremendous player. He was clearly recognized as such when he played; at the time of this first trade, Schoendienst was a nine-time All-Star, and had been in the top 15 in MVP voting five times, including once in the top five.

Why did the Cardinals trade him? He was 33, and appeared to be slowing down, but he was still doing well, and the Cards as a team were doing well, at 29-23, just a half a game out of first. They did have a natural second baseman, Don Blasingame, playing shortstop, but trading Schoendienst was a drastic step to address that issue, especially given that the shortstop the Cardinals received in the deal (Dark) was a year older than Schoendienst and not playing well. Indeed the entire package the Giants sent to St. Louis was a bunch of veterans who’d seen better days. Overall the best explanation for the trade from the Cardinals’ point of view is that it was just another example of GM Frank “Trader” Lane making a deal for a deal’s sake.

As for the Giants, they were in a rebuilding mode, so acquiring an aging star didn’t make much sense, but they were better off with Schoendienst in place of Dark in the infield, and better off with Brandt in place of Lockman in the outfield. That deal worked for them. But the following June, the Giants were still rebuilding, and so trading Schoendienst for young talent would be sensible—however, the package of the has-been O’Connell, the over-the-hill Thomson, and the uninspiring young Crone wasn’t sensible at all. Schoendienst would have one last great summer in 1957, catalyzing the Braves’ drive to the championship, and thrilled Milwaukee fans owed a major debt of gratitude to Horace Stoneham’s Giants.

June 15, 1957: The Kansas City Athletics traded outfielder/first baseman Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, pitcher Ryne Duren, and outfielder Jim Pisoni to the New York Yankees for infielder Billy Martin, pitcher Ralph Terry, infielder-outfielder Woodie Held, and outfielder Bob Martyn.

June 15, 1958: The Kansas City Athletics traded infielder Vic Power and infielder-outfielder Woodie Held to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Roger Maris, infielder-outfielder Preston Ward, and pitcher Dick Tomanek.

June 14, 1961: The Kansas City Athletics traded pitcher Bud Daley to the New York Yankees for pitcher Art Ditmar and infielder-outfielder Deron Johnson.

I overstated the case last month, in my discussion of the May 1959 Athletics-Yankees trade, when I asserted that in the stream of 1955-1960 trades between those organizations, the A’s “gave up just a bit more, nearly every time.” The overall impact of the traffic was unhealthy for the Kansas City franchise, and indeed the cozily intertwined relationship between their ownerships was highly suspicious, but the Yankees didn’t win the deals “nearly every time.” Actually it was just several times; the A’s got the better of the Yankees a few times as well.

The 1957 trade above was one of them. Simpson was a good player, and Duren was a pitcher of unusual potential who would (briefly) blossom as a relief star for the Yankees, but Terry and Held were such first-rate young talents (and Martin and Martyn such useful elements) that the balance of this deal came down in favor of the A’s.

But the thing with the A’s in that period was that while this move and that move made sense, what matters is the totality of all moves together, and the A’s were embroiled in a pointless frenzy of moves. Terry and Held were the kind of young players that a team on the rise commits to as part of its core. Instead, with the Arnold Johnson-owned, George Selkirk-and-Parke Carroll-general managed A’s, they were just two more commodities to be deployed willy-nilly and traded away at the soonest opportunity for yet more commodities.

As we saw last month, Terry was dispatched in early 1959, ominously back to the Yankees. Held’s Kansas City stay lasted just one year to the day, before he was packaged with the Athletics’ best-known player (Power) off to Cleveland (where Frank Lane was now operating as an ever-ready trading partner) in exchange for the still-developing, but abundantly talented 23-year-old Roger Maris.

It’s only in retrospect, of course, that we know what tremendous feats Maris would soon achieve. But he was very highly regarded at the time: I quote from the Dell Sports Baseball 1959 magazine, which features an action photo of the sweet-swinging Maris in its player summary-and-comment section, with this caption: “Roger Maris of the [sic] Indians is one of the most promising young players in the American League. Still not consistent, he hits a long ball.”

Interesting that they should get Maris’s team affiliation wrong, because his trade to the Athletics in June of ’58 was big news. But, of course, these were the A’s: rather than settle in and build around this young stud, just as with Terry and Held and all the rest of their best players, it wouldn’t be long before they would trade him too. I’ve never seen them myself, but I’ve read reference to contemporary commentaries bewailing Lane’s trade of Maris to the A’s, not so much because it was a bad deal on its merits, but because it simply meant that Maris’s next employer would very likely be the Damn Yankees. So many of Kansas City’s better players had already been dispatched to New York (Bobby Shantz, Art Ditmar, Clete Boyer, and Duke Maas, as well as Simpson and Duren) that this was not an unreasonable fear. And indeed in December of 1959, eighteen months after Maris’s arrival in Kansas City, it came to pass.

The dynamic was infuriating to Kansas City fans, so much so that when Charlie Finley bought the franchise in December 1960, he well understood the importance of making it clear that there would be no more of that stuff. As Rob Neyer puts it in his new book:

Finley declared that the A‘s would no longer be doing business with the Yankees. To emphasize his point, Finley bought an old bus, painted “Shuttle Bus to Yankee Stadium” on the side … and burned it!

But, alas, who had the rookie owner Finley hired as his general manager? None other than Frantic Frankie Lane, of course, who apparently never got the memo about the bus. In June of ’61 Lane sent the A’s most accomplished pitcher (Daley) off on the familiar shuttle to New York, and the fans howled. Finley’s dismay over this fiasco led to Lane’s acrimonious firing just two months later, and also led to Finley’s never again allowing major player personnel decisions to be executed without his personal approval. (Eventually Finley just gave up any pretense, and acted as his own general manager.) The Athletics wouldn’t engage in another transaction with the Yankees until May of 1965.

June 15, 1964: The Chicago Cubs traded outfielder Lou Brock and pitchers Paul Toth and Jack Spring to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens.

Infamous as one of the most one-sided trades of all time, but as we examined here, it was in fact an eminently sensible deal for the Cubs to make. To fault them for it is just the purest Monday morning quarterbacking.

June 2, 1966: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Dick Radatz to the Cleveland Indians for pitchers Don McMahon and Lee Stange.

June 13, 1966: The Chicago White Sox traded pitcher Eddie Fisher and minor league outfielder Ken Faulkner to the Baltimore Orioles for infielder Jerry Adair and minor league outfielder John Riddle.

June 13, 1966: The Boston Red Sox traded outfielder Jim Gosger and pitchers Ken Sanders and Guido Grilli to the Kansas City Athletics for pitchers John Wyatt and Rollie Sheldon and outfielder Jose Tartabull.

June 14, 1966: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Earl Wilson and outfielder Joe Christopher to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Don Demeter and a player to be named later. (On June 21, 1966, the Tigers sent pitcher Julio Navarro to the Red Sox, completing the deal.)

June 2, 1967: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Don McMahon and minor league pitcher Rob Snow to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Jerry Adair.

June 4, 1967: The Boston Red Sox traded first baseman Tony Horton and outfielder Don Demeter to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Gary Bell.

Since 1883, the major league record for games pitched in a single season had been 76, held jointly by Will White, Pud Galvin, and Charley “Hoss” Radbourn, from the old underhanded iron man days. Finally in 1964, the record was broken by Kansas City A’s workhorse reliever John Wyatt, who toiled in 81 games — just barely more than Dick Radatz of the Red Sox, who made 79 appearances that year.

Though the old record had stood for over 80 years, the new standard didn’t even last one season: in 1965, Eddie Fisher pitched in 82 games for the White Sox, and Ted Abernathy worked in a new-record 84 for the cross-town Cubs. All four of these new iron men – Wyatt, Radatz, Fisher, and Abernathy – would be involved in trades between May 28th and June 13th, 1966. And another fellow involved in that trading spree, Don McMahon, would retire in fourth place on the all-time career appearances list, behind only Hoyt Wilhelm, Cy Young, and Lindy McDaniel.

Yaz and Lonborg and all the rest of the wonderfully talented youngsters were of course the primary reason the Impossible Dream came true for the 1967 Red Sox. But another important element was the series of adroit trades pulled off by GM Dick O’Connell, including the first of this bunch, in which a flaming-out Radatz was converted into two solid talents. Stange would play a key support role in ’67, and McMahon, as we see, would be flipped for the slick-fielding Adair, who would be indispensable off the Boston bench that year.

Not quite all of O’Connell’s trades were good ones: the Wilson-for-Demeter swap was pointless, and turned out to be a heist for the Tigers. But Wyatt and Bell were two more excellent acquisitions, as overall O’Connell did a superb job of taking decisive action on-the-fly to exploit surpluses and address problems, providing manager Dick Williams with a strong supporting cast behind the core of young stars.

June 11, 1968: The Atlanta Braves traded pitchers Tony Cloninger and Clay Carroll and infielder Woody Woodward to the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers Milt Pappas and Ted Davidson and infielder Bob Johnson.

All four of these pitchers were performing at disappointing levels, prompting this large-scale change of scenery. The Reds would get the best of it, as Carroll would re-emerge as a top-notch relief ace, and remain one for a long time. For Atlanta GM Paul Richards, this would turn out to be one of many not-really-accomplishing-anything moves in an increasingly frustrating and bitter term with the Braves, the final GM role of his long career.

June 11, 1969: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded outfielder-first baseman Ron Fairly and infielder Paul Popovich to the Montreal Expos for shortstop Maury Wills and outfielder Manny Mota.

As we examined here, two months into their first season the Expos underwent their first rebuilding effort, with this being the most significant of four June 1969 Montreal trades. The 30-year-old Fairly had been in a two-and-a-half-year funk in Los Angeles, but his bat would revive in Montreal. Still, the Dodgers came out ahead on this one, as Wills would also would be rejuvenated, and Mota would produce Dodger Blue line drives for more than a decade.

Next Time

We’ll examine the June blockbusters through 2005.

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