Baseball’s annual winter meetings, traditionally held in the late November/early December timeframe (and typically in a sunny southern locale), have long been the most fertile ground for major trades. As we’ll see, the last week or so of November has often produced whoppers.
As a reminder, here are our ground rules:
- We’re talking about trades here, and only trades. No draft picks (expansion, Rule V, or otherwise), no free agent signings, and no straight-up cash sales. Fascinating as drafts and signings and sales can often be, none offers the talent-for-talent exchange aspect of a trade, and thus neither is quite as interesting to consider in terms of the talent judgment aspect on the part of both (and occasionally three or four) teams making the trade.
- We’re talking about blockbusters here, not just any old trade. As we did in our mid-season series, we’ll define a blockbuster as a trade involving at least one player who was, if not a full-fledged star, at least a prominent, established regular, either at or reasonably near the peak of his career. To be included here, a trade has to have been perceived as a talent-for-talent whopper at the time it was made—these deals were all on the front page of the sports section for the teams involved, and many were front-page news across the country.
“Sliding Billy” Hamilton was pretty much Rickey Henderson as a center fielder: the best leadoff man in the game, an on-base machine and an unstoppable base stealer. Coming off his age-29 season, he showed no signs of meaningful decline. Nash was 30, a solid, dependable third baseman, but nothing more than a minor star.
I can say with complete assurance that this deal was a bombshell, but I’m not a learned enough 19th-century scholar to be able to explain it. On its face, this deal made utterly no sense for the Phillies.
Nov. 12, 1910: The Philadelphia Phillies traded pitchers George McQuillan and Lew Moren, outfielder Johnny Bates and infielder Eddie Grant to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Dode Paskert, third baseman Hans Lobert and pitchers Jack Rowan and Fred Beebe.
As we saw here, McQuillan was a terrific young pitcher, but had encountered arm trouble. Bates and Grant were both solid regulars, as was Paskert; Lobert was an impressive talent but he’d been injury-prone and inconsistent. Moren, Rowan and Beebe were all league-average innings-eater types.
All in all, this big talent transfer was pretty evenly balanced. McQuillan would flame out, and thus the Phillies would come out ahead.
“Harvard Eddie” Grant was never a star player, but he would become tragically famous. He retired from baseball at 32 following the 1915 season, and briefly practiced law. But then, as articulated in his Wikipedia.org article:
Grant was one of the first men to enlist when the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, and he served as captain of the 77th Infantry Division. During the fierce battle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, all of Grant’s superior officers were killed or wounded, and he took command of his troops on a four-day search for the “Lost Battalion.” During the search, an exploding shell killed Grant on Oct. 5, 1918.
Shortly after his death, the Giants honored Grant with a plaque in center field at the Polo Grounds.
The long, tall southpaw Rixey had broken out as a star in 1916 at the age of 25, but had since regressed, and so the Phils exchanged him for Ring, who was four years younger and looked like he’d have a solid career, as well as Neale, a journeyman.
Ring would indeed be a good pitcher, but Rixey would re-emerge as a major star for many years, ending up in Cooperstown. The Reds got the best of this one, big time.
Bancroft had been a star for years, and the Giants had just won their third straight pennant with him as their shortstop. But he was 32 and had been nagged by injuries in 1923, and the Giants had the impressive young Travis Jackson ready to take his place. So from that angle John McGraw’s reasoning in unloading Bancroft was sound.
But beyond that this trade didn’t make much sense. Southworth was a good ballplayer, but he didn’t represent much of an upgrade over the platoon partnership of Stengel and Cunningham in center field. And Oeschger had once been pretty good, but was swirling around the drain at this point.
Bancroft would deliver a few more good years—as the Boston playing manager, to boot—as the Braves won the deal.
As we examined here, Cuyler was a terrific talent, but prone to injury. Nevertheless it was ill-considered for the Pirates to give up on him at the age of 28 (even though they’d won the pennant with Cuyler in 1927, and in 1925), in exchange for the light-hitting middle infielder Adams and the platoon corner outfielder Scott; this wasn’t quite a giveaway, but it was close.
Nov. 7, 1928: The Chicago Cubs traded second baseman Freddie Maguire, pitchers Percy Jones, Bruce Cunningham and Socks Seibold, catcher Lou Legett and $200,000 cash to the Boston Braves for second baseman Rogers Hornsby.
The Braves had picked up Hornsby at a bargain price in early 1928 (a deal we’ll examine in January), and he’d delivered his predictably phenomenal performance. But their supporting cast was so feeble that they’d gone just 50-103, and their attendance remained paltry. Thus the Braves calculated that they had little to lose by accepting this enormous bag of cash from Chicago, lugged by a crew of mediocrities.
In 1929 Hornsby, with his fourth team in four years, would put together one final spectacular season and lead the Cubs to their first pennant since 1918.
The Cubs had won another flag in 1932, while the Reds, despite a big year from the heavy-hitting 29-year-old Herman, had finished last. In such a circumstance, it would make sense for the Reds to accept a package of prospects in exchange for Herman, but that wasn’t what this was: Hemsley was a decent young catcher, but Moore, Richbourg and Smith were all past 30. All this did was make the Reds worse.
The Phillies were in dire financial straits, and the sad week in 1933 we see above would mark the beginning of a dark decade of burning the furniture to heat the house. None of the talent they received here was remotely comparable to what they gave up: The veteran Wilson was being acquired for the purpose of making him the playing manager (thus saving on one salary!), the superstar Klein was essentially being sold, and the package for Bartell was roster filler.
Nov. 21, 1934: The New York Yankees traded players to be named later and cash to the San Francisco Seals (of the Pacific Coast League) for outfielder Joe DiMaggio, with the provision that DiMaggio would be transferred after the 1935 season. (On Dec. 19, 1934, the Yankees sent pitchers Jimmy Densmore and Floyd Newkirk, outfielder Ted Norbert and infielder Doc Farrell to the Seals. Subsequently, Farrell refused to report, and the Yankees sent $5,000 additional cash to the Seals, completing the deal.)
In the days of the independent minors, trades between major and minor league teams weren’t unusual, and rarely amounted to blockbuster status. But this one surely did.
The sheer size and unusual nature of this deal makes it plain what an extraordinarily highly regarded talent the young DiMaggio was. In 1933, at the age of 18, Joltin’ Joe had burst into the PCL and torn it apart, compiling a 61-game hitting streak along the way to a .340, 86-extra-base-hit season, leading the league in RBIs. However, in 1934 DiMaggio suffered a knee injury that limited him to 101 games (of the 188 the Seals played)—yet still the bidding for his services among major league franchises was such that Seals’ owner Charlie Graham was able to negotiate this remarkable arrangement.
The veteran Farrell, the only player with significant prior major league experience in the trade, was the least impressive talent; in 1934 he’d hit .233 in a utility role for the Yankees’ top International League farm club, the Newark Bears. But Densmore, lent by the Yankees to the Hollywood Stars of the PCL in 1934, had gone 14-11, while Newkirk was 11-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 85 innings for Newark, and Norbert, a once and future minor league home run champ, had hit .303 and slugged .531 in the International League in ’34.
Graham’s Seals were able to spend the 1935 season presenting DiMaggio as a one-last-chance-to-see-him drawing card, while he robustly rebounded to health, hitting .398 (missing the batting title by .001) with 34 homers, and leading the league in runs, triples and RBIs. Densmore provided 247 innings and a 14-14 record, Newkirk went 8-5 as a spot starter, and Norbert hit .302 with 46 doubles and 30 stolen bases in 524 at-bats. San Francisco won the 1935 PCL regular season title at 103-70.
Herman had done fine for the Cubs, and Bush had been an excellent starter for them for years. But both were in their early 30s, and the Cubs decided it was time to package them with the journeyman Weaver to go younger, with the 27-year-old French, a top-drawer starter, and the 29-year-old Lindstrom, a former star who’d been messed up by injuries.
The Cubs timed it perfectly. Lindstrom would prove to be about through, but so would Herman and Bush, while French would star in Chicago for the rest of the decade.
Another solid oak table tossed into the fireplace by the Phillies. For GM Larry MacPhail’s Dodgers, it was another lavish piece of the puzzle that was now almost complete, and in 1941 would yield Brooklyn’s first pennant since 1920.
Nov. 17, 1947: The Boston Red Sox traded infielder Eddie Pellagrini, catcher Roy Partee, pitchers Al Widmar, Joe Ostrowski and Jim Wilson, outfielder Pete Laydon and $310,000 cash to the St. Louis Browns for shortstop Vern Stephens and pitcher Jack Kramer.
Nov. 18, 1947: The Boston Red Sox traded infielders Sam Dente and Bill Sommers, pitcher Clem Dreisewerd and $65,000 cash to the St. Louis Browns for pitcher Ellis Kinder and infielder Billy Hitchcock.
Now it was the Browns’ turn to play the whatever-it-takes-to-survive role in which the Phillies had been stuck for so long.
Technically, these were two distinct deals, but it’s obvious it was really just one massive transaction enacted over two days. The key element was the extraordinarily talented Stephens, but Kramer and Kinder were both standouts as well. This infusion would significantly improve the Red Sox, propelling them to their oh-so-close finishes in 1948 and ’49, back-to-back top qualifiers for the best second-place team of all time.
For the Browns, it was a bunch of make-do humpties to populate the roster through the next few doormat years, while Tom Yawkey’s 375 grand forestalled bankruptcy.
Nov. 17, 1954: The New York Yankees traded outfielder Gene Woodling, shortstop Willy Miranda, catchers Gus Triandos and Hal Smith, pitchers Harry Byrd and Jim McDonald and players to be named later to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen, shortstop Billy Hunter and players to be named later. (On Dec. 1, 1954, the Yankees traded pitcher Bill Miller, infielders Kal Segrist and Don Leppert and outfielder Ted Del Guercio to the Orioles for first baseman Dick Kryhoski, pitcher Mike Blyzka, catcher Darrell Johnson and outfielder Jim Fridley, completing the deal.)
In terms of sheer bodies involved, this was the largest trade in history: The players to be named later alone numbered eight, and all told 17 individuals were exchanged. But this Dagwood Bumstead sandwich served up by Yankees GM George Weiss and newly appointed Orioles manager/GM Paul Richards wasn’t just a swap of mediocrities (though it included plenty of that). At its core, the deal was Woodling (an excellent platoon corner outfielder), Miranda (a brilliant defensive shortstop), Triandos and Smith (both outstanding young offensive catchers) for Turley (one of the best young pitchers in baseball) and Larsen (a good young pitcher).
Weiss and Richards were both brilliant traders, and the deal would suit the needs of each just fine. In Turley and Larsen, the Yankees would get lots of quality innings over the next several years, and though Woodling would have an off-year and not pan out for the Orioles, Richards got three sorely needed solid talents in Miranda, Triandos and Smith.
Nov. 8, 1955: The Boston Red Sox traded outfielders Karl Olson and Neil Chrisley and pitchers Tex Clevenger, Dick Brodowski and Al Curtis to the Washington Senators for first baseman Mickey Vernon, pitchers Bob Porterfield and Johnny Schmitz and outfielder Tommy Umphlett.
Not only were the Senators a last-place club in 1955, their meager farm system offered little in the way of hope for improvement. Thus owner/GM Calvin Griffith’s decision to cash in the veteran star Vernon, along with over-30 starters Porterfield and Schmitz, for this big package of kids presented by the Red Sox could be understood.
However, of the five prospects, only Clevenger would accomplish much, and even that was just as a workhorse reliever. And for the Red Sox, only Vernon would pay off, as Porterfield would bomb, and both Schmitz and Umphlett would quickly be discarded.
Nov. 20, 1957: The Detroit Tigers traded outfielders Bill Tuttle and Jim Small, catcher Frank House, pitchers Duke Maas and John Tsitouris, first baseman Kent Hadley and a player to be named later to the Kansas City Athletics for infielder Billy Martin, outfielders Gus Zernial and Lou Skizas, pitchers Tom Morgan and Mickey McDermott and catcher Tim Thompson. (On April 3, 1958, the Tigers sent first baseman Jim McManus to the Athletics, completing the deal.)
This 13-man humdinger didn’t include any stars, but it ran the gamut of former stars (Zernial and McDermott), so-so regulars (Tuttle and Martin), once-highly touted talents who hadn’t really broken through (House and Skizas), journeymen (Maas, Morgan and Thompson), prospects who never would do much (Small, Hadley and McManus), and one prospect who’d find some success several years down the road (Tsitouris).
After winning the pennant and World Series in 1960, the Pirates had sagged all the way to 75-79, sixth place, in 1961. But in ’62 they bounced back, finishing fourth but with a strong 93-68 record. Thus it was quite a surprise to see GM Joe Brown tear the infield apart that November.
The idea was obviously to make the team younger. The latter two trades were fair and reasonable, but the Groat deal was a giveaway. Anyway, none of the players acquired would have a good season for Pittsburgh in 1963, as the Pirates flopped to eighth place, at 74-88. Meanwhile Groat would have a great year in St. Louis and Stuart would lead the American League in RBIs.
The extremely hard-throwing Williams had led two minor leagues in strikeouts, including a 301-whiff season in the Piedmont League. But at the major league level he’d never become the star it seemed he might, and when Williams capped his poor 1962 season by walking in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ pennant playoff loss, GM Buzzie Bavasi decided it was time to send him packing.
He fetched a nice return in the veteran power hitter Skowron, whom the Yankees deemed expendable due to the emergence of the young Joe Pepitone. But Moose would suffer the first off-season of his career with the Dodgers in 1963, and it was a doozy. Meanwhile Williams would have one pretty good year in the Bronx before encountering career-threatening arm trouble.
Paul Richards was now the GM in Houston, and here he presented a marvelous demonstration of buy-low, sell-high. Mejias was an expansion-pick journeyman who’d surprised with a big year with the Colt .45s in 1962, and Richards was quick to put him on the trade market before reality set in.
In Runnels he got a guy who could play second or third base as well as first, and whose lowest on-base percentage over the past five seasons had been .396. Unfortunately, Runnels was also 35, and he would rapidly decline, but still he would hit better than Mejias in 1963.
Nov. 18, 1963: The Kansas City Athletics traded second baseman Jerry Lumpe and pitchers Dave Wickersham and Ed Rakow to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Rocky Colavito, pitcher Bob Anderson and $50,000 cash.
At least Finley pocketed 75 grand out of it.
Stuart had done exactly what the Red Sox had hoped he would when they’d acquired him two years earlier: He’d blasted 75 homers and driven in 232 runs. But, of course, he was Dr. Strangeglove, an extraordinarily one-dimensional performer, and so Boston GM Mike Higgins now decided he’d be better off exchanging the big fellow for Bennett, a pretty good young southpaw.
The Phillies were smarting over their 1964 stretch-run collapse, and were eager for a third big bat to join Richie Allen and Johnny Callison. Many pundits figured Stuart would be a key addition, and picked the Phils to finally prevail in ’65. But at age 32 he would decline, and Philadelphia tumbled to sixth. For his part, Bennett would flame out in Boston, so this was a trade that helped neither team.
We enter the 1970s, and encounter the two most intense blockbuster Novembers in history, occurring back-to-back.