The Greatest Hits of Baseball’s Bad Trade Band,
1910–2010, Volume I
1910–2010, Volume I
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 1 in this series on lopsided swaps.
Almost every band with a career lasting more than 30 seconds will at some point release a greatest hits compilation. Even bands that had not hits but hit, singular, will often scrape together enough tracks to justify an anthology, even if the plural of the title lies somewhere between a misnomer and false advertising. Conversely, if they have enough legitimate or semilegitimate hits for more than one collection they will add additional volumes. Queen lists Volumes I, II, and III in their discography, as do Billy Joel and Elton John.
The Bad Trade Band, having 100 years to cover, goes up to Volume X. In this series, we will survey the worst trades in baseball history. This is necessarily somewhat subjective, as there are far more bad trades than can be economically recounted in even a series of 10 parts. Thus, your favorite worst trade may not be here. Definitions may also vary. For example, you won’t find the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees here, as there was no mistake, no misestimate of a player, no act of self-injuring pique. Rather, two consenting adults consummated a business transaction in which each party understood exactly what it was getting and why. Truly bad trades require misjudgment.
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.
Finally, note that although these are terrible trades, the title above is accurate: One team’s bad trade is another team’s good one.
Original artwork: Gary Cieradkowski
April 9, 1916: The Boston Red Sox trade CF Tris Speaker to the Cleveland Indians for RHP Sad Sam Jones, INF Fred Thomas, and $55,000.
You can’t really beat this trade for all-around negative impact. Tris Speaker, the Grey Eagle, was one of the early gods of the American League, a terrific all-around hitter who was also synonymous with rangy outfield play for decades. In nine seasons with the Red Sox, he had hit .337/.414/.482 (all the more remarkable for being Deadball numbers), and the Sox had won two World Series with Speaker on the team (1912, 1915). Nonetheless, there were two problems: In a period of anti-Catholic fervor, the Boston clubhouse was suffering from a religious schism, and Speaker was seen as one of the primary bigots. He was also getting expensive. He held out in the spring of 1916, but just as he and the Sox seemed to have settled things, he was dealt to Cleveland for Sam Jones, a quality pitcher, Fred Thomas, a very minor prospect, and cash. The Red Sox were still good enough to make two more World Series appearances (1916, 1918) before the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” set in—the emergence of the Bambino himself, both as a pitcher and as a hitter, was part of staving off that fate—but losing Speaker was the first blow in a long chain of reversals.
As Cleveland’s player-manager, “Spoke,” guided his team to a narrow pennant win over the falling White Sox (their entire core was banned during the season) and the rising Yankees. The latter’s ownership had been infuriated by the deal because Speaker was supposed to have been theirs: When Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston purchased the Yankees in 1915, American League President Ban Johnson promised them they would have first shot at any available stars so as to boost the struggling franchise. When Speaker went to the Indians, a team in which Johnson had a financial interest, it sowed distrust that would cause dissension in the league for years and ultimately topple Johnson.
Rogers Hornsby (left) is shown here in 1928 with his successor, Giants’ second baseman Andy Cohen.
January 10, 1928: The New York Giants trade 2B Rogers Hornsby to the Boston Braves for C Shanty Hogan and OF Jimmy Welsh.
That Rogers Hornsby, who was traded three times in his career, was dealt for inferior value is not surprising; two of the three moves, as well as several other transactions during Hornsby’s playing and managerial career, were dictated by his problematic personality. What is surprising is that the Giants got so little value for him, though perhaps it shouldn’t be, as the swap was far from an arm’s-length transaction.
Just 13 months earlier, the Giants had had to give up star infielder Frankie Frisch to get him. That deal was a trade of players who had become odious to their teams—Frisch, tiring of Manager John McGraw’s abuse, had jumped the club, while Cardinals owner Sam Breadon had come to the conclusion that St. Louis was too small for the ill-mannered Hornsby and him to coexist. It’s not as if Hornsby’s value had declined in the intervening season. Hornsby had played in every game and hit .361/.448/.586, finishing second in the batting race, and also ranked third in home runs with 26. He had also spent extensive time managing the team while McGraw struggled with a hospital-worthy attack of sinusitis. It was Hornsby’s service in this capacity that sealed his fate with the club, as his inability to say anything nice to or about anyone alienated both his fellow players and owner Charles Stoneham. It was the latter who dictated the trade of Hornsby to the Braves, who were owned by the Giants’ former attorney, Judge Emil Fuchs.
The players received in return were a secondary consideration to getting Hornsby out of Gotham. Jimmy Welsh was a journeyman outfielder, while Shanty Hogan had a quality bat for a backstop of the day, but, as his being named for a small house suggests, he was a committed trencherman whose inability to lose weight had McGraw spending the last five years of his managerial career obsessively scrutinizing Hogan’s restaurant checks for caloric self-abuse. When McGraw ended his career in 1932, he was emotionally exhausted. This deal was one reason why.
Dolph Camilli made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs late in 1933. The following season he was traded to Philadelphia.
Courtesy: The Trading Card Database
June 11, 1934: The Chicago Cubs traded 1B Dolph Camilli to the Philadelphia Phillies for 1B Don Hurst.
This challenge trade shows that no one understood park factors in the 1930s. The Phillies played in the Baker Bowl, a tiny edifice that lacked Major League dimensions, with a 325-foot right-field power alley that drifted inward to a right-field line that extended just 280 feet to a 55-foot wall. Don Hurst hit .334 with a home run every 23 at-bats there, versus .267 with one every 37 at-bats everywhere else. In 1932, Hurst had a career-best .339/.412/.547 season in which he led the National League with 143 RBIs. He hit .402 at home, .274 on the road.
Dolph Camilli, 27, was a late bloomer who was just 48 games into his Major League career when the Cubs gave up on him. The swap was the brainchild of Bill Walker, a fish wholesaler who had somehow been put in charge of the team. There was a pitcher of the same name with the Cardinals at the time, leading sportswriter Warren Brown to write, “Bill Walker will start on the mound today. . . . This Bill Walker isn’t to be confused with the Cubs’ Bill Walker, who is confused enough as it is.”
Charlie Grimm, the team’s player-manager, was a first baseman, but he was a 35-year-old glove man with a bad back, so the team needed help. Unfortunately, they never got it. Hurst hit .199 after the deal and was through as a Major Leaguer at 28. Camilli blossomed into a legitimate slugger. After a later move to the Dodgers he would win the 1941 NL Most Valuable Player Award for leading the NL in home runs and RBIs.
The ’34 Cubs, in the midst of a run that would see the team win four pennants in 10 years, finished third, eight games behind the Cardinals. Perhaps a quality first baseman wouldn’t have closed the gap, but it would have helped considerably.
Though he was a fan favorite, a five-time All-Star and the 1944 NL batting champ, Dixie Walker may be best remembered for refusing to play on the same team as Jackie Robinson.
December 8, 1947: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded SS Billy Cox, INF Gene Mauch and LHP Preacher Roe to the Brooklyn Dodgers for RF Dixie Walker, RHP Hal Gregg, and LHP Vic Lombardi.
This trade is a testament both to the doldrums that afflicted the Pirates in the 1940s and ’50s and the genius of Branch Rickey, whose brilliance was usually least evident on the trade market. Dixie Walker, who was born in Georgia and made his residence in Birmingham, Alabama, had made it clear he was unwilling to coexist with Jackie Robinson. This was no secret; every team knew Rickey had to move the career .306 hitter. As such, there was no real reason for an acquiring team to overpay, yet that’s just what Pirates General Manager Roy Hamey did. Worse, he paid a high price for Walker despite knowing that the 37-year-old intended to retire after just one more season.
In addition to Walker, Rickey gave up two quality pitchers who had performed well as swingmen but fell off with the Pirates. The Dodgers’ return was Billy Cox, who was shifted to third base and became a defensive standout with a good-enough bat (at least occasionally), and Preacher Roe, a changeup/spitter artist with impeccable control who went 93–37 with a 3.26 ERA in seven Brooklyn seasons. Cox was suffering from the malaria he contracted during service in World War II, and Roe’s velocity had somehow been limited by a fractured skull he suffered in 1946. Nonetheless, Rickey intuited value in both and was proven correct.
Sorry But You Don't Talk to Jackie Like That
Original artwork: Paine Proffitt
December 13, 1956: The Brooklyn Dodgers traded INF/OF Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants for LHP Dick Littlefield and $30,000. Robinson refused to report and the trade was voided.
This trade represents the nadir of relations between the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, the player who broke baseball’s color line through the auspices of the club. Both parties were at fault. By the end of the 1956 season, Robinson was 37 and no longer at the peak of his powers. He had decided to retire, but neglected to tell the Dodgers. Simultaneously, owner Walter O’Malley had decided to trade Robinson—a transformative figure, who should have been associated with the organization for life—to the team’s cross-borough rivals—“rivals” in this case signifying not “friendly competitors,” but a true enmity that Robinson took very seriously.
Robinson and O’Malley had been estranged for at least four years, with the owner criticizing Robinson for not playing hurt, being too aggressive with umpires, and complaining about some of the accommodations afforded him and his fellow African-American teammates on the road. Robinson resented this deeply, exacerbating the pain he felt over O’Malley’s having ousted his mentor, Rickey. O’Malley knew that the player was forever a Rickey man, but Robinson thought the problem went deeper than that. “To put it bluntly,” he said in his autobiography, “I was one of those ‘uppity niggers’ in O’Malley’s book.”
After the trade, Robinson was done with the Dodgers and, by extension, out of the game for life. “The way I figured it,” he wrote, “I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it.”
He was right, but it never should have come to that.
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