The Greatest Hits of the Bad Trade Band,
1910-2010, Volume VII
1910-2010, Volume VII
In Steve Goldman's 10-part series on the worst trades in baseball history, every two series entries will cycle through the last 100 years by decade, one trade for each period of 10 years beginning in 1910, then begin again until 50 trades have been accounted for. This is part 7 in this series on lopsided swaps.
July 20, 1916: The New York Giants traded OF Edd Roush, INF Bill McKechnie, and RHP Christy Mathewson to the Cincinnati Reds for INF Buck Herzog and U Red Killefer.
This trade was engineered by Giants Manager John McGraw so that Christy Mathewson would have a chance to manage. It wasn’t all selfless; McGraw said at the time of the trade that he wanted to facilitate Mathewson’s managerial ambitions but he was also certain he was done as a pitcher. The perversity of the deal was that McGraw simultaneously dealt away a player who hated him—Roush—and acquired another in the same category—Herzog. Such considerations never balked McGraw, no matter how much pain they later caused him. Herzog would have three terms with the Giants, and Roush, somewhat against his will, would have two. Eleven years later, after Roush posted a .331 average and won two batting titles for the Reds, McGraw dealt George Kelly to get him back. The shank of his abilities had been spent in Cincinnati, however, and Herzog was long gone, having been exiled again in 1918. The Hall of Fame would call for Roush in 1962. Herzog had been informally banned on suspicion of throwing games back in 1920.
May 2, 1927: The Washington Senators traded SS Buddy Myer to the Boston Red Sox for SS Topper Rigney.
For as long as Clark Griffith owned the Washington Senators, he maintained a pattern of trading away players and then reacquiring them. He seemed to grow sentimental about his players after they were gone. Thus Bobo Newsom was acquired, traded or sold, and reacquired nine times. Goose Goslin and Alvin Crowder (see below) had three and two tours, respectively. Mickey Vernon, Joe Kuhel, and Rick Ferrell also had two; Bucky Harris managed the team three separate times. The list of periodic Senators is long.
Buddy Myer was one of the first players to enrich this category, less because absence made Griffith’s heart grow fonder than because he had had to undo a terrible mistake. When Myer first reached the Major Leagues in 1925, he was an instant success at the plate, at least by the standards of middle infielders of the day, but he was terribly error prone. In his rookie season, he made 42 errors and fielded .928 at short. He was no better in his first 15 games at the position in 1927, at which point Player-Manager Bucky Harris insisted a change be made. Griffith sent Harris north to Boston. He was no better for the Red Sox, and Boston experimented with moving him to left field before planting him at third base.
Simultaneously, Harris plugged another prospect in at shortstop, but Bobby Reeves didn’t hit and was just as shaky on defense as Myer had been. Taking in the whole situation, Griffith finally awoke to how far back his team had been set, fired Harris by trading him out of town, and sent Reeves and four other players to Boston to get Myers back. He hit .304 from 1929 through 1941, when he went off to war—making that one of Boston’s worst trades.
With the Senators, second baseman Charles “Buddy” Myer was a two-time All Star and the AL batting champ in 1935.
June 13, 1930: The St. Louis Browns traded RHP General Crowder and OF Heinie Manush to the Washington Senators for OF Goose Goslin.
Goslin was a great player, a deserving Hall of Famer with speed, power, and good defensive ability. The only thing he couldn’t do was throw well enough to play center field. He was very good for the Browns too; he hit .317/.404/.548 in three seasons with St. Louis’s second team. Manush was a future Hall of Fame left fielder too, a career .330 hitter, though not Goslin’s equal as a slugger or a glove. We could call things even, more or less, but for the inclusion of Alvin Crowder, a very good starting pitcher, a No. 2 or better. That was one more pitcher of that kind than the Browns had to part with, than they ever had to part with.
Of course, money was the culprit, as it often is. In swapping Goslin and Manush, the Senators and Browns each got rid of a player who had held out that spring. Each also acquired one, so any logic beyond petulance is hard to discern.
According to newspaper reports at the time of the trade, the Senators preferred young Browns pitcher George Blaeholder to Crowder, but were convinced to take the latter. It’s impossible to know how the shape of Blaeholder’s career would have changed going to a losing team playing in a bandbox to a winning one in a pitcher’s park, but on the evidence we do have the Browns saved the Senators from their own worst instincts by insisting on dealing Crowder, who would twice lead the AL in wins as a member of the Nats. One reason for Washington’s hesitation was that Crowder had previously been with the Senators; they had traded him to the Browns for lefty Tom Zachary in 1927. Somehow he hadn’t made his way into Clark Griffith’s absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder collection.
Pitcher Alvin “General” Crowder led the American League in wins as a member of the Washington Senators in 1932 and 1933.
February 24, 1948: The Chicago White Sox traded LHP Ed Lopat to the New York Yankees for RHP Fred Bradley, C Aaron Robinson, and LHP Bill Wight.
Casey Stengel said that Eddie Lopat had so little stuff that when he pitched fans would climb out of the stands demanding to be signed. He well knew that though Lopat lacked velocity he had the best control in the Majors, a varied delivery, and a deep repertoire of off-speed pitches that made him very hard to hit even though, as umpire Lee Ballanfant said, his fastball couldn’t splash water.
The Yankees were able to get a player who was not only the best pitcher the White Sox had but also the only starting pitcher the White Sox had because the team’s General Manager Leslie O’Connor was in way over his head. A former assistant to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, he ran the White Sox as a proxy for Grace Comiskey, the widow of J. Louis Comiskey. His three-year tenure climaxed in the 51–1 season of 1948. Trades like this were one reason why the team hit bottom. The White Sox had long been in pursuit of a catcher who could hit, and Robinson was certainly that, albeit on a platoon basis, and if he tended to break curfew on occasion, that was just a detail. If it cost you a 30-year-old with a career 3.18 ERA, that was just a detail too. Lopat spent eight years in pinstripes, going 113–59 with a 3.19 ERA, picking up the 1953 AL ERA title and consecutive championship rings from 1949 to 1953. His postseason record was 4–1 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts.
Wight lost 20 games during his rookie year, but turned things around and was a solid starter for a couple of years before White Sox managers pitched his arm off. Robinson spent only 98 games with Chicago before O’Connor’s successor, Frank Lane, made one of his few good trades, if not his best, by sending the backstop to the Tigers for the great left-hander Billy Pierce.
During George Weiss’s 13 years as Yankees GM, much of the team’s top pitching—including Ed Lopat—came from trades.
October 14, 1952: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded OF Gus Bell to the Cincinnati Reds for OF Cal Abrams, OF Gail Henley, and C Joe Rossi.
Even Branch Rickey had his blind spots and moments of self-contradiction. A devoutly religious man who always preached the virtues of marriage and family to his players, he resented Bell for his own devotion to same. The 1952 Pirates had lost 112 games. It was their third straight season of 90 or more losses and there were three more to go. In short, they lacked good players. Bell was one of the few—he wasn’t a star, not yet, but he was solid, and when a team loses that many games, good players might as well be Hall of Famers. All Pirates GM Rickey could see, though, was that Bell would sometimes take his wife and kids on the road, a habit he considered an extravagant distraction. He also disliked the player’s phlegmatic demeanor.
When a motivational demotion to the minors didn’t change Bell’s attitude, Rickey sent him to the Reds for two fringe players and Henley, a 23-year-old prospect whom the Reds had just acquired from the Giants in exchange for a journeyman pitcher. Rickey’s scouting was off; Henley had peaked two years earlier. Bell went on to be a four-time All-Star, hitting .281/.330/.445 in 1,741 games.
“I couldn’t seem to do anything to please Mr. Rickey,” Bell told The Sporting News after the trade. “The more I hustled, the more he’d get me for something. Why, he’d find things wrong with me that I never knew existed. He used to say I didn’t run in from the field fast enough at the end of an inning. Can you imagine that?”
After being sent by the Pirates to the Reds after the 1952 season, Gus Bell enjoyed one of his best year’s in the majors—hitting .300 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI. Bell was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1964.