|Baseball's Biggest Trade: A Revisionist's Recounting|
By Jim Wright
The 1954 major league baseball season ended leaving a lot of questions about the 1955 campaign unanswered - especially for the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
In 1954 the Yankees, led by 64-year-old Casey Stengel, won 103 games (the only time in Casey's career that he would win 100 games) yet finished eight games behind the Al Lopez-led Cleveland Indians who set the American League standard with 111 games won in a 154-game season.
The Yankee pitching staff was the oldest in the junior circuit with Allie Reynolds (39), Eddie Lopat (36), Johnny Sam (36), Tommy Byrne (34), and Jim Konstanty (37). Reynolds, with a sore hand and a thriving oil business, gave every indication that his retirement threats were for real this time. Even though Casey favored going with his veterans he knew that some new, live arms were needed to round out his pitching staff which also featured Rookie-of-the-Year Bob Grim and 25-year-old Whitey Ford.
Shortstop was a sore point for Casey too. Phil Rizzuto at 36 experienced his poorest year in `54, hitting only .195. He seemed to have lost a step or two in the field also. It became evident to Casey and the Yankee brass that an experienced man had to be brought in either to share time or replace the long time Yankee star.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles, recently moved from St. Louis, had experienced their ninth straight losing season. Not since 1945, when they finished third, had a Browns/Orioles team been able to finish higher than sixth. Veteran manager Jimmy Dykes led the 1954 0's to a seventh-place finish, 57 games behind the first-place Indians and three games ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics. Dykes played the regular `54 season with one of the youngest pitching staffs in the majors. His everyday players were among the oldest.
Paul Richards was brought in from the Chicago White Sox to be both field manager and general manager by Clarence Miles, the 0's President. Richards had enjoyed some success, leading the White Sox to three straight third-place finishes. Miles hoped that Paul's knowledge of pitchers and his combativeness would turn the Orioles from a loser into a winner. Richards immediately saw that personnel changes would have to be made. He believed in the very old baseball axiom that in order to be competitive a team needed strong defense up the middle. Pitching was the Orioles strong point, yet they still managed to finish 57 games out in 1954. Richards quickly came to the realization that he would have to deal from his strength.
The other major league general managers were gleeful when the Yankees didn't win the 1954 pennant. They were not about to deal with the Yankees at a low cost. Chicago White Sox GM Frank "Trader" Lane had rebuffed all efforts by Yankee GM George Weiss to trade for Chicago star shortstop Chico Carrasquel and pitchers Sandy Consuegra, Bob Keegan, and Billy Pierce. At this time the press was also reporting that the Yankees were actively pursuing the contracts of Baltimore's shortstop Billy Hunter and pitchers Don Larsen and Bob Turley. The Yankees were well stocked with both major and minor league catching talent. The Yankees were prepared to deal in earnest using their major league catchers as bait.
Paul Richards had his eye on both Gus Triandos and Hal Smith. Triandos was more than capable at both first base and behind the plate. Smith was a hard-hitting catcher for whom the St. Louis Cardinals had offered the Yankees a large sum of money.
On November 17, 1954, Paul Richards of the Orioles and George Weiss of the Yankees engineered the largest two team swap of personnel in major league history. The deal was announced in the media in two stages - first, on November 18 it was announced that the Orioles had sent the "Second Coming of Bob Feller" Bullet Bob Turley (American League leader in K's and BB's), Don Larsen (AL leader in losses with 21) and Billy Hunter (the 0's starting shortstop) to the New York Yankees for pitchers Harry Byrd and Jim McDonald; outfielder Gene Woodling; shortstop Willie Miranda; and minor league catchers Gus Triandos and Hal Smith (the American Association's batting champ with a .350 average). Because of waiver and draft regulations the rest of the trade was not officially announced until December 2, 1954. Baltimore sent pitcher Mike Blyzka, catcher Darrell Johnson, first baseman Dick Kryhoski, and outfielders Ted del Guercio and Tim Fridley to the Yankees to complete their end of the deal. The Yankees in turn sent to the Orioles pitcher Bill Miller, second baseman Don Leppert, and third baseman Kal Segrist. Originally, it was reported, that the trade was to have also included Oriole pitcher Lou Kretlow, but the 0's withdrew his name and George Weiss agreed to a nine for eight swap instead of nine for nine.
The trade was met with great applause in New York - no more Second place finishes for the Yankees now that Bob Turley had been lured away. The fan reaction was not so endearing in Baltimore. Baltimore sports were in turmoil. The Orioles had just traded away the team's only two true heroes - and to top it off the trade was reported on the same day that the National Basketball Association Baltimore Bullets were reported to be in dire financial straits and in danger of having to forfeit the rest of the games on their schedule. Baltimore sports fans were understandably upset. A small sampling of fan reaction as reported in the media follows:
It's like trading skilled mechanics for laborers.
I'm surprised that Richards did this. It's going to upset the entire state of Maryland.
The media reported Paul Richards' defense of the trade in the
Turley and Larsen were traded to improve the Orioles - they were the only players on the squad with real trade value.
I'm giving our farm system a chance to catch up - and, I don't think Turley alone can pitch the Yankees to a pennant...
The past two years this club has lost 200 games with Turley and Larsen. With all due respect to Turley, the best thing we could do was win more games rather than glorify one man...
This deal puts us in business. We're a ball club now. It was either take a big gamble or watch Turley pitch every fourth day. Everybody knows when you take young ballplayers you're gambling.
Yankee skipper Stengel, never at a loss for words, praised the trade at the Winter Meetings at the Commodore Hotel in New York City.
"Richards made a wonderful deal. I think the Baltimore fans are fortunate. They can see these good players every day instead of coming out to watch Turley or Larsen pitch once every fourth day. I know what talent I gave away, but I don't know for sure what I got in return."
Reached by telephone, Bob Turley is reported to have said:
"It is every ballplayer's dream to be a Yankee. I certainly am mighty happy to be here and be with a contender."
Cleveland Indians General Manager Hank Greenberg was interviewed and his comments were far from laudatory:
"Why did you have to bring Turley into the conversation? Are you trying to ruin my day? I'd feel a lot better about our chances of winning the 1955 pennant if the Yankees hadn't pried a pitcher of Turley's class from the Orioles."
There were many baseball "experts" who didn't consider Turley the key to the trade. Many tabbed Larsen as the sleeper in the package. His overall stats with the Browns/Orioles were poor, but many thought Don was a better performer than his record with the lowly 0's indicated.
For all practical purposes, it must be said that the Yankees traded Triandos, Smith, and Miranda for Larsen, Turley, and Hunter. The Yankees filled their need for younger pitching and a shortstop and the Orioles for up-the-middle defense and power. The Orioles as a team hit only 52 home runs, 29 fewer than the Washington Senators in 1955. The Yankees also stocked the 0's farm system with players who would never be more than marginal big leaguers, but who might contribute to the Orioles immediate needs. Following are brief sketches on those players who were part of the trade yet did not contribute in a significant manner to their new ball clubs.
Darrell Johnson - played only briefly in 1957-58 for the Yankees. Johnson's main claim to fame was managing the 1975 Boston Red Sox to the World Series against the Reds.
Ted del Guercio - never played in a regular season major league game.
Don Leppert - hit .114 in 1955 with 8 hits in 70 trips to the plate. 1955 was his only year in the major leagues.
Kal Segrist - hit .333 with 3 hits in 9 trips to the plate. 1955 was his last year in the major leagues.
Bill Miller - was 0-1 in four innings for the 0's in 1955 - he did not pitch again in the major leagues.
Jim McDonald - a pitcher with a lot of promise early in his career. After going 4-1 for the `54 Yankees he ended the `55 season with a 3-5 record for the 0's. He ended his career with a 3-5 record in brief appearances for the White Sox in 1956-1958.
Harry Byrd - came to the Yankees in 1953 as part of a 13-player trade with the Philadelphia A's. He fell far short of expectations in `54 with a 9-7 record. He was 3-2 in 65 innings for the Birds in 1955 before being traded on to the Chicago White Sox. Byrd's big league career was over by 1957 when he finished up with the Detroit Tigers.
Jim Fridley - never played a game for the Yankees. He resurfaced briefly with the Reds in 1958.
Dick Kryhoski - didn't play a single game for the Yankees in 1955 as he was sold to the Kansas City A's along with pitchers Tom Gorman and Ewell Blackwell on March 31, 1955. He batted .213 in 47 at bats for the A's and was gone from the major league scene after the 1955 season.
Mike Blyzka - did not pitch again in the major leagues after going 1-5 with a 4.69 ERA in 1954 with the Orioles.
Gene Woodling - he was a slightly different story. Gene had been injured much of the 1954 season. At 32 he had a hand injury, hit only .250 after hitting a respectable .306 in 1953. Casey figured along with Weiss that Woodling was on the down side of a good career. His .318 average in five World Series bolstered his value as a clutch performer. Gene fooled everyone by playing for eight more years and actually had his highest season average of .321 in 1957 at age 35 for the Cleveland Indians. Gene did not last long in his first stint with the Orioles. On June 15, 1955 he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for outfielders Dave Pope and Wally Westlake.
In 1955 the Yankees finished three games ahead of the Cleveland Indians. In this writer's opinion, this was not due to the addition of Turley and Larsen to the Yankee staff. (Larsen began the season with a sore arm). Thirty-five year old Tommy Byrne, not counted on for much, turned his 1954 3-2 record into a fine 16-5 year in 1955. On the other hand, Cleveland's Mike Garcia, 19-8 in `54, fell to 11-13 and Indian first baseman Vic Wertz was stricken by polio after only 74 games.
Turley and Larsen had identical 3.06 ERAs for the `55 Yanks. Turley tied for second in the AL with Early Wynn with 17 games won; he finished second to Herb Score (245) in strikeouts with 210; ranked third in innings pitched with 247; and gave up more bases on balls (177) than any other pitcher in the league. Larsen appeared in only 19 contests with 13 starts and finished with a 9-2 record. Billy Hunter split the shortstop duties with Rizzuto, fielded well and hit a powerless .227.
The 1955 Orioles improved their record to 57-97 as 24 pitchers moved through Richard's revolving door and a total of 56 men wore the Baltimore uniform. Gus Triandos was the regular first baseman and led the 0's with 12 home runs, 65 RBIs, and his .277 batting average was the highest among all Oriole regulars. Willie Miranda played a brilliant shortstop and hit a career high .255. Hal Smith was the regular catcher and hit a powerless .271. Smith was traded in 1956 to the Kansas City A's for catcher Joe Ginsberg. Smith's main claim to fame came in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series when he hit a three-run homer off Yankee Jim Coates to help the Pittsburgh Pirates win the Series.
In 1956 Hunter suffered a broken ankle and lost his shortstop job to young Gil McDougald. He was part of the first trade of real importance that the Yankees and KC A's were to make over the next few years. The Yankees received pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz (sore-armed at the time) and minor league infielder Clete Boyer. The Yankees sent Hunter and his bum ankle and outfielder Try Noren and his bum knees along with pitchers Tom Morgan, Rip Coleman, and Mickey McDermott, as well as minor league pitching prospect Jack Urban. A year later Hunter was through as a player when he retired from the Cleveland Indians.
Larsen and Turley were disappointing in 1956. Larsen went 11-5 with a 3.25 ERA and Turley turned in an 8-4 record with a 5.05 ERA and only 91 K's in 132 innings. It was only a league leading 190 home runs and the pitching of youngsters Johnny Kucks and Tom Sturdivant along with Whitey Ford that brought the Yankees in nine games ahead of the Indians who boasted three 20-game winners. The Yankees in spite of everything did barely manage to win the 1956 Series in seven games and Don Larsen did pitch a perfect game in game five. In 1956 Willie Miranda continued to field brilliantly and hit an anemic .217. Triandos became the regular catcher with Smith's departure and responded with a club high 21 home runs and 88 RBIs. Once again Richards sought the proper pitching combination as 23 different hurlers took the mound for the 0's.
In 1957 Turley regained some of his old form as he started 23 times, winning 13 and losing 6. He struck out 152 batters in 176 innings and finished with a respectable 2.71 ERA. Larsen was a deceiving 10-4 as his 3.73 ERA was exceeded only by Tommy Byrne's 4.34. Triandos once again supplied most of the muscle and handled 20 different pitchers as the Birds finished at .500 for the first time in their short history. Miranda and his .194 batting average were spelled often by young Jim Brideweser.
Bob Turley's one true great year was 1958. He won 21 and lost only 7. His 21 wins and .750 winning percentage led the league. He was third in strikeouts with 168, second in complete games and shutouts and he gave up fewer hits per nine innings than any other qualifying pitcher in the major leagues. He was voted the recipient of the Cy Young Award and won the crucial seventh game of the World Series by pitching two-hit, one-run ball in relief of Don Larsen. Larsen, injured much of the year, finished at 9-6 in 19 starts. Triandos once again led the 0's with 30 home runs and 79 RBIs and handled a pitching staff featuring a few winning pitchers. Miranda continued to excel in the field.
The 1959 season saw the basic demise of three of the remaining four principals. Larsen ended the season 6-7 with a 4.33 ERA and the handwriting seemed to be on the wall. The hurler, considered the sleeper in the original deal, was one of Stengel's favorites. Casey had a way of overlooking many of Don's excesses, but by 1959 he showed no signs, at age 29, of changing his ways. Larsen did not win a game after June because of a sore arm. Thus, during the off-season, George Weiss shipped Larsen, Mary Throneberry, Hank Bauer, and Norm Siebern to the Kansas City A's for utility shortstop Joe DeMaestri, first baseman Kent Hadley, and slugging but moody outfielder Roger Mans. Larsen, the sleeper, finished his Yankee career with 45 wins and 24 losses and one World Series perfect game. Turley, after going great guns in 1958, could do no better than 8-1 1 with a 4.32 ERA. In 1960 he made a modest comeback when he went 9-3 with a 3.27 ERA. By 1963 Turley was pitching for the expansion Angels and ended his career that year with the Boston Red Sox. Turley's stay with the Yankees resulted in an 82-52 won-lost record, 1269 innings pitched, 909 K's, one Cy Young Award and no two seasons in a row with wins in double figures.
Willie Miranda had his last year in 1959. At age 33 the little Cuban had lost his starting job to Chico Carrasquel (the man originally coveted by the Yankees in 1954). Willie could only manage 14 hits in 88 trips to the plate. His anemic bat could no longer be carried by the now respectable Orioles. Only Gus Triandos remained as a significant force. He continued to pound the baseball and handle the up and coming "Baby Birds" of Baltimore. Although his average did fall to .216 in 1959, Gus remained the regular behind the plate until 1961. In 1962 Gus was traded to the Detroit Tigers as a result of age and a broken finger. Triandos is in the top ten (through 1981) in eight Oriole lifetime categories: 8th in total games played; 8th in at bats; 10th in hits; 5th in home runs; 9th in total bases; 6th in RBIs; 9th in extra base hits; and tied for 10th in slugging percentage with none other than Gene Woodling.
Larsen pitched a perfect game in the media capital of the world and Bob Turley for one year was the best pitcher in baseball. The Orioles could not have won a pennant with the Holy Trinity on their side in the mid-to-late 1950's. If longevity and consistency are the chief attributes a baseball player can offer, then the Orioles with Gus Triandos had the edge over the Yankees with Turley and Larsen.
DID YOU KNOW?
That Lou Gehrig never collected more than four hits in one game in his career, but Joe Garagiola went 5 for 5 for the Cubs on May 16, 1954.
That brothers Henry and Tommy Aaron pulled a double steal with Hank scoring for the Braves in a triumph over the Mets September 24, 1968.
That Stan Musial, 42, celebrated the birth of his first grandchild on September 10, 1963, by hitting a 2-run homer in an 8-0 win over the Cubs.
That the ashes of Houston pitcher Jim Umbricht, who died of cancer on April 8, 1964, were spread over Colt Stadium.