On Dec. 1, 1954, the Yankees and Orioles completed a trade that had begun on Nov. 14. Don Larsen, Bob Turley and Gene Woodling were just a sixth of the players involved in this 18-player deal, still the largest in major league history.
Certain things, although they actually transpire in a matter of hours or even minutes, take many months before that point. Childbirth, for example. Or as the United States recently proved, electing a President. There are also baseball trades, like last year’s Johan Santana deal. That one went on so long that Twins GM Bill Smith apparently fell asleep and Marv the night janitor decided to accept the Mets’ offer.
In light of that, it was somewhat impressive that the Yankees and Orioles, in making this deal which involved 18 players, took only three weeks. The teams first discussed the trade in mid-November and made the first part on Nov. 17. The initial deal involved—you should probably get comfortable, this is going to take some time—the Yankees sending Gene Woodling, Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Hal Smith, Gus Triandos and Willy Miranda to the Orioles, along with players to be named later. In exchange, the Orioles gave up Don Larsen, Billy Hunter and Bob Turley, along with some more players to be named later.
We will get to the players to be named later, uh, later, but this trade shows us three things. One is that it was deals like this that helped keep the Yankees in October glory for a huge part of their history and second is that the theory the Orioles were operating on—trading a quarter for two dimes—never, ever, ever works. Finally, in baseball trades—as in many things, as William Taft could have told you—bigger is not always better.
Turley would win 59 games his first four seasons with the Yankees. In the last of those years, he would go 21-7, place fifth in the league in ERA, win the Cy Young award (in those days there was only one award for both leagues) and finish second in the MVP.
Larsen won 45 games with the Yankees, and of course pitched the only perfect game in postseason history. Larsen would later be packaged with “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry (among others) in another Yankee steal for Roger Maris.
The pitchers the Orioles received in return—even counting those players they received on Dec. 1—failed to win as many games in their Orioles careers as Turley won in his Cy Young season. The most successful, using the term lightly, was Harry Byrd, who had been Rookie of the Year in 1952 but went just 3-2, 4.55 for the Orioles before he was dispatched to the White Sox midway through 1955.
In fact, the Orioles received only two players of any note in the trade: Triandos and Woodling.
Triandos was far and away the most valuable piece the Orioles got, playing for them through 1962. He made an All-Star team or received MVP support every year from 1955 until 1959. In 1958, the catcher hit just .245 but his 30 home runs were the most by an American League catcher in the decade. That total was good enough to earn an 11th place position in the MVP vote that year, no mean feat on a team that went 74-79.
Of course, the Orioles (who, never forget, were the St. Louis Browns until 1953) managed to foul up acquiring Woodling. After he got off to a bad start in ’55—he hit .221 in 47 games to start the season—the Orioles sent him to Cleveland.
The Orioles even managed to ruin that deal, which ended with them sending $15,000 (that was real money in 1955) to the Tribe after one of the O’s players refused to report to Cleveland. They would reacquire Woodling after the 1957 season, thus missing that year when he finished 15th in MVP voting and hit .321 with the fourth best OPS+ in the league.
Of course, if what the Orioles got in the initial portion of the trade could be called not much, then what both teams received from the player-to-be-named portion was plainly nothing. The deal had its delay in part because of the Thanksgiving holiday, in part because the major league draft concluded the same day the trade was completed.
About the nicest thing that can be said about the players exchanged was that they had some really stupendous names. The Yankees received Jim Fridley, Darrell Johnson—who would manage the Red Sox to the AL pennant in 1975 but wasn’t much as a player—Mike Blyzka and Dick Kryhoski.
For all the players—some of them relatively big names—involved in the deal, there was not as much talent as seen in much smaller trades. The Padres-Blue Jays trade, for example, that involved Roberto Alomar, Fred McGriff, Joe Carter and Tony Fernandez had 14 fewer players, but all were arguably better than any of the 18. Alomar might have been better than the whole 18 put together.
It is true that this trade may lack the quality of deals both before and after. But as Joseph Stalin observed, quantity has a quality all its own. Involving 18 players in a single deal is no small feat, especially between two teams with a quality difference like the Yankees (103 wins) and the Orioles (100 losses) in 1954.
As it was for most of their history in both St. Louis and Baltimore, the Orioles saw themselves on the short end of the stick and similarly the Yankees with the upper hand. It seems unlikely such huge numbers of players will ever be dealt in one move again. So we can all look back at the Biggest Trade in Baseball History and enjoy.