Trading Partners

Over at THT Live last Tuesday, I discussed the trading relationship between Oakland GM Billy Beane and Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi. Ricciardi used to work for Beane in Oakland, and since J.P. was hired by the Blue Jays, the two GMs have made numerous deals. Now that Paul DePodesta, another former Beane assistant, is running the Dodgers, the trading among Beane and his disciples should only increase.

Already, DePodesta bought utility man Jose Flores and outfielder Jason Grabowski from Beane, and traded a minor league pitcher to Ricciardi for outfielder Jayson Werth. In a THT Live post, I wondered aloud:

Is there any historical precedent for this? In the past, were there ever teams that were incredibly frequent trading partners not by mere chance, but by design? I might be missing something obvious, but I can’t think of anybody off-hand.

I answered my own question immediately, remembering the rather infamous YankeesKansas City A’s relationship in the 1950s and early-’60s. Not counting waiver claims and Rule V picks, the two teams were involved in (by my count) 17 deals together between 1955 and 1961.

Most people think the Yankees pillaged the A’s… In the 1986 Baseball Abstract, Bill James addressed this:

In truth, how damaging these trades were is not absolutely clear. The group of players who had played well with the A’s — [Bob] Cerv, [Harry] Simpson, [Bud] Daley, etc. — were mostly players of marginal value who had one bright fling with the Athletics, and did very little to help the Yankees (or anybody else) after their trades. As for the trades of younger players like [Roger] Maris, [Clete] Boyer, and [Ralph] Terry, the A’s also received some good young players from the Yankees, including their two best players of the early sixties, Norm Siebern and Jerry Lumpe, and two other players that they gave up when they acquired Maris [from the Indians], Vic Power and Woodie Held. Terry was a big winner with the Yankees, but I doubt that he would have been much had he stayed in Kansas City.

The A’s-Yankees relationship isn’t the only one of note. Not long after I posted my question on THT Live, reader Noel Rappin suggested another pair: Bill Veeck and Frank “Trader” Lane. Here is Veeck’s own version of the relationship (from his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck), courtesy of Noel:

Generally, I have always found that if I want to deal I have to go out and propose one myself. Except for Frank Lane, nobody ever offers me anything. Frank, of course, is round-heeled when it comes to a trade. I don’t mean that you can take advantage of him; he’s built too many teams up from the ground with his trades. I mean that if you come to Frank with a proposition, he can’t say no. When I was in St. Louis, I’d call Frank up and say, “Things are dull around here. Let’s do something.” That’s all it took. We had our good-field, no-hit shortstops — Willie Miranda and Joe DeMaestri, players of roughly equal ability — shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago like commuters. This is the kind of deal made just to whip up a little excitement. To try and make it look like big things are happening. It’s like trading a $200,000 dog for two $100,000 cats; who has a better right to put a value on our player than us?

Veeck isn’t exaggerating. While he and Lane made just one minor deal when Veeck owned the Indians, the two played hot potato with mediocrities when Veeck owned the Browns and Lane ran the White Sox.

Bill Veeck owned the Browns from July 2, 1951 to October 1, 1953. In that time, he and Lane made seven deals, not including waiver claims. Willy Miranda is the most amusing case: He was shipped from Chicago to St. Louis on June 15, 1952, but the White Sox got him back via waivers less than two weeks later. Then, in October, he was sent back to St. Louis.

Lane appears to have “won” the dealings with Veeck during that time, snagging Sherm Lollar (the White Sox catcher for the next decade) and Virgil Trucks (who went 47-26 with a 3.14 ERA for the Sox from 1953-55). Going to the Browns in the Lollar deal was Jungle Jim Rivera, who was soon dealt back to the White Sox and was a mainstay in the Chicago outfield for most of the decade.

In the spring of 1959, Veeck bought the Chicago White Sox, Trader Lane’s old team. By this time, Lane was the GM of the Indians, a post which he would hold until January 3, 1961. Veeck and Lane made three deals during this overlap of their careers, and none of the moves were of the Willy Miranda variety.

On December 6, 1959, Lane and the Indians traded Minnie Minoso and three other players to Veeck’s White Sox in exchange for Johnny Romano, Bubba Phillips, and Norm Cash. Before the 1960 season even started, Lane’s trading addiction got the better of him — Trader shipped the newly-acquired Cash to Detroit, where he went on to have an outstanding career. Romano, however, put together some fine years as Cleveland’s backstop, and an aging Minoso had a couple strong seasons with the Sox.

Not to completely go off on a tangent, but Lane’s trade of Cash to the Tigers is one of the worst deals that nobody remembers. We all talk about Bagwell-for-Andersen and Ozzie-for-Templeton, but everybody forgets Norm Cash-for-Steve Demeter. Demeter’s Indians career consisted of five hitless at-bats, but Cash had 373 homers and almost 1,800 hits left in the tank.

In a move that Retrosheet calls “an unknown deal,” Veeck and the White Sox acquired young outfielder Floyd Robinson from the Indians. Robinson debuted with Chicago in 1960 and put up a .287/.370/.416 line in 880 games for the White Sox.

On April 18, 1960 — the day before Opening Day — Veeck’s Indians sent their once-great southpaw Herb Score (who at 26 was washed up) to the ChiSox for Barry Latman, a young right-hander. Latman was about league-average for a few years, while Score posted a 102 ERA+ in 113 innings in 1960 before fading fast.

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Just after the new year in 1961, Frank Lane quit his job as GM of the Indians to take the reins of the Kansas City A’s. Lane was fired in August, but made a ton of trades in the eight months he had the A’s job. One of those exchanges was, fittingly, an 8-player deal with Bill Veeck and the White Sox. On June 10, Lane sent Ray Herbert, Don Larsen, Andy Carey, and Al Pilarcik to the Sox for Bob Shaw, Gerry Staley, Wes Covington, and Stan Johnson.

Larsen, Carey, Pilarcik, and Staley were basically at the end of the line, but Herbert had a 20-win season with Chicago in 1962, and both Covington (shipped to the Phillies less than a month later) and Shaw had a number of good years ahead. This was the final deal between Bill Veeck and Frank Lane, and it turned out roughly like their previous deals had — Lane won, but his penchant for trading soon sent the spoils elsewhere.

Then in July, for health reasons, Bill Veeck sold the White Sox and left baseball. By August, A’s owner Charlie Finley fired Lane, ending Trader’s baseball career.

Of course, Bill Veeck may have been down, but he was never out. Fourteen years after selling the White Sox, he bought back the club in December 1975 and remained in baseball for another five years. He sold the White Sox for the last time on August 22, 1980 — two and a half months after a young Billy Beane was drafted by the New York Mets.

The list of truly innovative and polarizing figures among baseball executives is a short one. Branch Rickey ushered in the farm system and integration. Bill Veeck was possibly the greatest showman and promoter in baseball history. Charlie O. Finley, hated then and now, nonetheless was a visionary. And then there’s Billy Beane, the face of the contemporary baseball revolution. Like them or not, those four men loom large over the history of the game.

Were Veeck and Lane the 1950s version of Beane and Ricciardi? Not exactly, but if cell phones were around back then, you can bet each would’ve been high on the other’s speed dial.

References & Resources
This article would have been way harder to write without Retrosheet, which may well be the greatest thing on the entire internet.

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