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My Best Imitation of Branch Rickey

July 1, 2018

In his Ralph Kiner comment in the 2001 Historical Abstract (p. 663), Bill wrote that Branch Rickey probably could have done very well if he had gotten the chance to trade Kiner, as he wanted to, in 1950 or 1951 for a bunch of prospects, especially because it would be Rickey who would be choosing the prospects. This reminded me of that dumb game I used to play as a kid, looking through the Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball and retrospectively trading a star (whose stardom was blazing but about to shrink into a black hole) for a bunch of no-name kids (who were about to become stars).  It was surprising, I found, how rarely the gift of super-retrospective vision resulted in a dynasty, or a mini-dynasty, or even a winning team.  I decided to try it with the 1950 or 1951 Pirates and see if I could find a bunch of kids on one team who would have made Rickey’s Pirates competitive.

My self-imposed rules were that the team I chose to trade with would have needed the star I wanted to deal. (No sense trading Kiner to the 1950 Red Sox, because they already had an immobile slugging left fielder, and pretty good players at any other position Kiner could conceivably play.) Also, the deal had to make sense—I couldn’t trade Kiner to the Yankees after the 1951 season for Mantle, Ford, McDougald, and Berra, because that package is too laden with young players who were already stars for the Yankees to go for it. But before that season, in the winter of 1950-51, when Kiner was a 26-year-old three-consecutive-HR-champ, I think the Yankees would have dealt a package of the 19-year-old Mantle (who was a great prospect but had never played a game above class C), the 21-year-old Elston Howard (who had just finished an impressive year, his first, in the Yankees’ low minors), and the just-signed Moose Skowron, who had impressed previously as a football star but hadn’t played an inning of minor league ball yet.  Such a deal would be allowable, by my lights, as the post-1951 deal would not be.

Kiner’s defensive limitations (mainly a poor throwing arm) actually allow him a few options. He could only play LF (never an inning in RF, though the Pirates gave him 75 games in CF his rookie year, and another 58 games at 1B in 1951) but he could move most LFers to RF or even CF to wedge his big bat into the lineup.  After the 1950 season, the NL team that had the weakest LFers were the Cincinnati Reds, whose several LFers totaled -1.7 WAR—they would have found the 26-year-old HR king a much-needed asset, though they were better off there than they probably knew at the time. Their primary LFer in 1950 was a 22-year old rookie, Joe Adcock, who in his 75 games in LF hit 8 HRs and batted .293. Would they have swapped LFers even up for Kiner and thrown in a minor league DP combo? Sure, they would have, though that DP combo, Roy McMillan and Johnny Temple, would go to play in 8 All-Star games. The Pirates would have jumped at a Kiner for Adcock/McMillan/Temple deal in 1950, and they would have gotten skinned. (I could have them skinned far worse, but Frank Robinson, unfortunately for my thesis here, was in junior high school at the time.) I don’t know if this deal would have done the Pirates much good: Adcock wasn’t really an outfielder, and McMillan and Temple didn’t fill any holes for Pittsburgh that they wouldn’t fill themselves better in a few years, once their own DP combo of Groat and Mazeroski would come through their system.

Or they could have traded Kiner to the Dodgers after the 1950 season—LF was the weak spot on that strong team. (The Dodgers did trade to acquire Andy Pafko after the 1950 season, the Cubs CFer who played LF on their 1951 team, the final play of which famously featured "Pafko at the LF wall" watching Bobby Thomson’s HR disappear.)  But the Dodgers really didn’t have enough talent in the minors that would pan out. Their young players were mostly regulars on the big-league team (Duke Snider and Carl Erskine, both 23, were already established big-leaguers), or else would have very short big league careers despite their relative youth (Joe Black, who was already 27 years of age.)  The only young talent with a substantial big-league career ahead of him, Jim Gilliam, hardly seems like a steal even-up for Kiner who still would have a few more HR crowns coming his way.

The Giants, however, were another story altogether. As with the Yankees, who might (just might) have been willing to package Mantle into a Kiner deal, the Giants in the winter of 1950-1, had Willie Mays to offer, and they just might have. As with Mantle, Mays was very highly thought-of, but still a teenager who hadn’t yet shown what he could do against AAA pitching yet. Unless the Giants were willing to put a few more "e"s into "pheeeenom" than usual for Mays, they might have dealt him, and maybe even thrown in a balding minor league reliever named Hoyt Wilhelm, to get Kiner. They didn’t have much else in the pipeline.

The ideal NL trading partner was probably the Boston Braves, though, rather than the Giants. Hank Aaron was still attending high school in Alabama that winter, but the Braves had other goodies to offer: a strong 19-year old 3Bman who had hit 32 HRs the year before at AA, was available, as was a promising 20-year-old catcher named Del Crandall and a young pitcher named Johnny Antonelli. Eddie Mathews, Crandall and Antonelli would probably have seemed disposable that winter if Kiner were dangled before  the Braves, whose outfield was manned by elderly players on the far downside of their careers (Gordon-Jethroe-Holmes, all 32 or older). Maybe a young CFer, a few years from the majors but still Braves property, named Billy Bruton could have been folded into the deal as well—the Braves’ organization was loaded with young talent.

The Cardinals had a few young players for the picking, though you’d have to be some kind of baseball Nostradamus to see the 19-year-old Ken Boyer as a future star. In 1950 he’d been a pitcher, with a losing record, for the Hamilton (Ontario) Cardinals, in D ball. (I found out, when looking up the poetic-sounding PONY League that Hamilton belonged to, that it was just the prosaic Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. Aside from hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canadian football, and being the birthplace, or very near it, of Wayne Gretzky, this Class D team is Hamilton’s claim to athletic fame. It’s also the city where most of my family lives, and where my dad was born.) The Cards had an amazingly wide and varied minor-league system, well over a dozen affiliates, including an AAA team in Columbus, Ohio and an A team in Columbus, Georgia (which made for some confusion, I’d imagine) but almost no players on any of these teams who ever would play in the major leagues. You could probably assemble the best of all these teams and assemble a fair package to exchange for Kiner—let’s see, Boyer, Wally Moon, Joe Cunningham, and Harvey Haddix cherrypicked from 21 (I just counted) minor league affiliates would be a good package, but I don’t know how anyone, including Branch Rickey, could ever be that astute at picking gems out of that vast a trashheap. Their best bet would have been picking a 19-year-old infielder named Earl Weaver and waiting for him to become a manager in another 18 years but that’s a little too far-range planning to suit me.

The Phillies had Jack Sanford buried down in Wilmington and Roy Face in Bradford (in the fabulous PONY league), ages 21 and 22, but they were a long ways from being major league-ready at that point.  The Phils’ AAA team at Toronto had 21 players who made the major leagues at some point, but I’ll give you a nickel for every name you recognize on the Toronto Maple Leafs 1950 roster.  The Cubs, who eventually did get Kiner from the Pirates (in 1953, in a 10-man, no-name player deal), had nobody special in their minor leagues, either: Ernie Banks wouldn’t sign with them until 1953, and the most major league-ready players they had at AAA in 1950 were named Spicer, Hacker and Baker who sound like they should be working in a kitchen somewhere.  Well, Smoky Burgess, too, and a guy named Sturgeon at their other AAA team in LA, plus Cal McLish. At AA, Nashville, they had Carl Sawatski, and in A ball, they had Dusty Rhodes. In other words, nothing at all in the high minors, and not a single future major leaguer at any of their B, C, or D teams. (You can tell a minor league team is threadbare when you don’t recognize the names of the managers—most of the AAA teams have managers who either had been big-league regulars or who will someday be big league managers or coaches—and most of the players have literal question marks beside their names, meaning that some vital information, like their ages or their full names, has been lost to history.)  The major league team had finished a distant 7th place in 1950 and was emptier of talent than the minor league affiliates. Their only decent player was that LFer who played CF for the Cubs, Andy Pafko, whom they would trade to Dodgers that winter. He would have been no improvement on Kiner for the rest of their careers.

Looking to the AL, where an interleague deal would be rare anyway, aside from the Yankees, the Tigers had a hole in LF in 1950, but again didn’t have much to trade away. Like Frank Robinson on the Reds (and Koufax, Clemente, and Aaron on the Dodgers, Pirates and Braves) their big stars of the 50s and 60s were unsigned as of the winter of 1950-1: Harvey Kuenn and Al Kaline were a few years from joining the organization, and those young players they had were mostly back-of-the-rotation starters by the time Kiner ran out of steam: Paul Foytack, Billy Hoeft, and Ray Herbert were not what you’d pin a franchise’s hopes upon.

The Pirates might have been able to trade Kiner to the Indians, who would contend for several pennants in the 1950s and win one in 1954, but the Indians didn’t have much in the way of hot young prospects to offer at this point, either: their good youngsters were already established (Al Rosen, Mike Garcia, Larry Doby) and were already not that young anymore (all three were already 26).  They did have Minnie Minoso in AAA (age 24) so maybe a deal of Kiner for Minoso, Al Smith (22), Jim Lemon (22) and Mike Garcia (26 and coming off an off-year following a strong rookie season) would have worked.

The White Sox needed a strong outfielder (the starting outfield in 1959 was Gus Zernial in LF, playing the Ralph Kiner role, with Dave Philley in RF and Marv Rickert in CF—an outfield in need of an upgrade.) But they had nothing young to deal, even in retrospect. The only player in their entire organization who would develop significantly was their young second baseman, Nellie Fox, but otherwise I’ve never seen an organization so bereft of talent as the 1950 White Sox. The stars of their 1959 AL champion team were all years away from joining their organization (Aparicio, Jim Landis, Bob Shaw).

Well, maybe the Sox weren’t so bereft. I think I’ll give the title of "Bereftest-Ever" to the 1950 Athletics, who had almost literally nothing in their major or minor league system, such as it was in 1950. Looking for young players on their minor-league rosters whose names I even recognized, I found two (Kell and Shantz) who had brothers who would have substantial big-league careers (Skeeter had George, Billy had Bobby) but otherwise very nearly nothing.  They did have Bobby Shantz, who wasn’t nothing, and a young Art Ditmar, but otherwise absolutely nothing I would ever consider trading Ralph Kiner for. The big league A’s in 1950 (if you can call them that—they finished last in AL with 102 losses) had an average age of 31.4 years, making them not only a bad team but a very bad and very old team. It’s hard to see how they ever climbed out of this pit, which took them over 20 more seasons, and two franchise shifts, to do.

The Senators had no one, on the major or minor league level, worth trading a can of anti-fungal powder for, and the Browns had only Roy Sievers on their MLB team, and a 19-year-old Bob Turley and a 20-year old Don Larsen down at single-A Wichita (managed by Joe Schultz of BALL FOUR fame). They also had Ryne Duren, 21, at class D, pitching for the Pine Bluff (AR) Judges.  At age 23, Sievers had been the 1949 AL Rookie of the Year who would go on to hit almost as many MLB HRs as Kiner, so he might been trade bait, with the three future Yankee pitchers, though I don’t think he actually qualifies as a "prospect" given that he was the Browns’ best hitter in 1950, as the 24 year old Ned Garver was their best pitcher. Rickey’s stock in trade was glomming your best prospects whom you didn’t appreciate properly, not prying your best young players off your MLB team. Besides all which, I think we can safely rule out the entire American League as potential trading partners for Rickey, since the two leagues simply didn’t do business in those days. But as you can see, there weren’t all that many viable AL-NL trades involving Ralph Kiner to begin with.

Branch Rickey could have made deals with very few teams, not all of whom would have been eager to swap out their best prospects for Ralph Kiner. IF (and it’s a big if) the Yankees or the Giants or the Braves would have been willing to part with Mantle, Mays, or Matthews, then maybe Rickey could have done the Pirates some good by dealing off Ralph Kiner.

Let’s assume any one of these three teams would have gone for Kiner. Two big questions remain: would the three teams have done themselves serious harm, and would the Pirates have done themselves serious good?

The first is easy: the Yankees would have been stronger in 1951 with Kiner rather than Mantle, Howard and Skowron but they won the pennant anyway. There are also a half-dozen years later on when they won pennants with those three having All-Star seasons when Kiner had long retired, so no. More so with the Giants with Mays—they wouldn’t have won either the 1951 or 1954 pennants with Kiner  in their outfield instead of Mays, so that’s a no, and the Braves were better off from the get-go with Matthews rather than Kiner. All three would have suffered badly by acquiring Kiner for their best young prospects.

But would the Pirates have improved themselves enough to matter by any of these deals? They were a horrible losing team: would Mantle, or Mays, or Matthews have been enough to turn them around? In 1955, the Pirates were ensconced deep into last place, but their good young players had begun to emerge: Clemente was in right field, and Groat was playing shortstop. Even with Mantle in center field (I assume he would have beaten out Eddie O’Brien, he of the .544 OPS; Eddie’s twin Johnny had a much better year at second base, OPSing .723. He would be replaced the next season by Bill Mazeroski.) Mantle alone wouldn’t haven’t made them into a winning team by 1956, though a team whose core was Mantle, Clemente, Mazeroski, Groat, Howard, Skowron, and Frank Thomas would have scored some runs by 1957 or ’58, and the pitching was coming along all by itself, too. (Thomas was a Pirate rookie in 1951; like Kiner, he would play centerfield his rookie season, but he was a born corner outfielder. He would hit 286 HRs in his MLB career, for seven NL teams. By 1954 the Pirates had also brought up Bob Skinner, another corner outfielder who could have platooned with Frank Thomas.)  So if the Pirates had engineered a Mantle-Howard-Skowron deal for Kiner in the winter of 1950-51, they might have won a few more World’s Championships than the one they won in 1960. That would have been a potent team through at least 1964. But AL-NL trades were almost impossible, and the Yankees might have valued Mantle more than I’m supposing they did here.

The Giants, not so much. Mays and Clemente (and Frank Thomas) would have been a terrific outfield but the Pirates would still have had problems at catcher and at 3B and 1B. (The Pirates were able to purchase the much-travelled 1b-man Dale Long in mid-1951; by 1955 he would lead the NL in triples and in 1956 he would drive in 91 runs, but he, like 1955 rookie 3b-man Gene Freese, would be only a passable regular, not the stars that Elston Howard or Bill Skowron would be.) If the Matthews-Crandall-Antonelli-Bruton package had worked out, that might have elevated the Pirates to competitive levels: a batting order of

Bruton cf

Groat ss

Clemente rf

Matthews 3b

Thomas lf

Long 1B

Crandall C

Mazeroski 2b      would have scored a bunch of runs for quite a long time, and a rotation of Antonelli, Vernon Law, Bob Friend, and Bob Purkey, with Roy Face in the bullpen, would by the late 1950s have been a team to contend with.

So that’s my conclusion: it was much less likely than I’d thought at first for Branch Rickey to identify the few teams that needed a left-fielder AND had prospects to trade for Kiner AND was willing to trade the exact prospects who would help the Pirates contend AND (hardest of all) that Rickey would be able to identify the precise young players who would soon blossom into stars AND (finally) that Rickey would be able to persuade these teams to make the deal.  To pull off any of these deals required that Branch Rickey be the greatest talent-scout ever (which he might have been) and that he fill two or three inside straights in a row. The only teams I found that fulfilled Rickey’s needs were the Braves and the Yankees; since interleague deals were rare, if not totally non-existent, in 1950, that really leaves the Braves as Rickey’s only viable partners, so the question I’ll leave you with is: even if the Braves were dumb enough to put this gun against their foreheads, were they dumb enough to pull the trigger?



Some additional notes on things I learned while researching this article:

The word "property" as in "still the Braves’ property" seems incorrect these days. You really don’t hear it any more, do you?

The sheer number of minor league teams, especially at the Class C and Class D levels, was overwhelming, as was the widely disparate number of minor league clubs each MLB club had. The Cards and Yanks had twice the number of affiliates that the poorer organizations had. Also how few of the players of these teams ever made the majors. I have to wonder what function these lower minors served, because funneling players to the big leagues was not one of them.

Also the "cities" these low minor leagues served was crazy-rural. Sometimes you’ll see a team in the low minors that can’t find a nearby city or town or village to attach itself to, and so it goes by the name of the county they played in.

I enjoyed looking at rosters of minor league towns I’ve lived in, or had family in, that no longer field a MLB affiliate in my lifetime, Schenectady, West Palm Beach, Hamilton, and picturing future major leaguers playing on dilapidated fields that I’ve driven past.

One weird fact is how many future major leaguers went to Xavier College in Cincinnati. In addition to Sandy Koufax and Jim Bunning, whom I already knew about, I found out that Jim Brosnan (who played for a Cubs affiliate in 1950—I didn’t mention him as a young MLBer-to-be, though I could have) and Frank Robinson also attended Xavier in the 1950s. I guess Robby sat in on a few classes while he was with the Reds in the 1950s—his SABR bio doesn’t mention Xavier, and there’s no other point in his young life when he was living anywhere near Cincinnati. That’s a lot of MLB stardom for a small Catholic college in the Midwest.

I learned how little Roy Sievers played in the early 1950s, following his ROTY debut. He had some kind of sore shoulder that severely limited his playing time. Otherwise, he could easily have been a 500-HR guy.

Speaking of thwarted superstardom, I didn’t mention in the Yankees-for-Kiner deal how great this deal would have been for Bill Skowron and Elston Howard, both of whom were deprived of possible HoF careers by the logjam of talent on the 1950s Yankees. If they could have played regularly on the Pirates from the mid-1950s on, they might have put up some tremendous career numbers. The picture of Mickey Mantle in a Pirate uniform is a little hard to feature, but who knows if playing in Pittsburgh might have curtailed the nightlife that distracted him at times in NYC. The number of triples Mantle might have hit in Forbes Field, a triples heaven, is off the charts. He might not have broken 400 HRs, though, but would have won a few more batting titles, IMO—a whole different picture of Mickey Mantle, playing for the powerhouse Pittsburgh Pirates dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s.

Ryne Duren’s real first name wasn’t Ryne—it was Rinold. Do you think his parents were trying to spell "Ronald" and missed a few vowels?

And finally, given genius scouting prognostication skills of a super-Rickey nature (which I acquired through retrospect), it is damned hard to structure a superstar-for-prospects deal that will pay off. If you have a slugging superstar on your team, I’d recommend keeping him.


COMMENTS (23 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
Steve - I should have thought of this days ago, but there is also the issue of whether the team with the prospects actually has a defensive spot for Kiner. The Cardinals of 1950-51 had Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter in the outfield. They didn't need a corner outfielder. They needed a replacement for Terry Moore in CF (Ken Boyer would get a shot there before the Cards came up with Bill Virdon and then Curt Flood, after that idiot Frank Lane traded Virdon for someone named Bobby del Greco), but not at the corners. Besides, as you mentioned, they had Wally Moon and Joe Cunningham in the minors. Moon was a good corner outfielder. Cunningham was a great leadoff man who could play first base, but was clearly stretching it to play the outfield later in the 1950s. Plus, the team was failing financially, due to an owner headed for bankruptcy who would sell the team to Gussie Busch after the 1953 season. There is probably no way that he could have taken on Kiner's salary, even if the team had a spot for him.
4:34 PM Jul 13th
Steven Goldleaf

It’s an interesting point you make, Marc, that I take to be about arguing by analogy more broadly. Strictly speaking, every use of figurative language distorts meaning, since a thing is itself only and not a very similar thing. “Those clouds look fluffy” makes a crucial error, because they’re actually damp and not fluffy at all, but we all understand that the speaker is making a point about their superficial appearance from a distance, not a statement of scientific fact. Likewise, “reserve clause” = “slavery” makes an analogy that is partly true and partly false. You’re free to get pissed off at the lack of strict accuracy but that’s just a cost of using figurative language—someone is bound to object that strictly literal language wasn’t used.

“Well-paid slave” also contains a shred of sense—I’m pretty sure that some slaves had it easier than others, and that some even were given small sums of money by the most kindly of slaveowners. The true part of Flood’s analogy was his restriction from seeking employment from other MLB teams, unless his contract was sold to another MLB team. He was free to quit, he was free to play baseball in Japan or in Israel, but not to seek another MLB employer, and that has some similarities to slavery. Not enough to please you, I understand, but it’s not as though Flood was making up a definition for terms that was incomprehensible. Most of us understood exactly what he meant, and credited him with speaking truth by his analogy.

8:28 AM Jul 8th
Marc Schneider
Another point about use of the word "property" is that it was not only, perhaps, morally incorrect, but certainly factually incorrect. The players were no one's property. The teams owned the rights to the players' services under the terms of the contract and they also had the right (and still do) to transfer those rights to another team. But they had no right to force the player to player although under the reserve clause, he couldn't simply go play for another team. Frankly, I always thought Curt Flood's use of the term "slavery" and, especially, "well-paid slavery" to refer to pre-free agency relations between teams and players was absurd and offensive itself. Players could always retire and go do something else slaves did not have that option. And, obviously, there is no such thing as a "well-paid" slave. Flood got away with throwing around such loaded terms because people admired his stand against the reserve clause, but I always felt this was specious non-sense. The reserve clause was unfair, in my opinion, illegal (although courts didn't agree), and probably immoral, but it was not slavery in any realistic sense. You might as well call any job slavery because most people are not in a position to simply quit. I've always had a bit of negative feeling toward Flood because of his ridiculous exaggeration.
4:00 PM Jul 6th
Steven Goldleaf
Which makes my point about how hard it was really was to do what Bill suggested would be within Branch's capacities. Dealing with a known commodity (because of what we know historically) was almost impossible, and I think that what you're suggesting is more improbable than that. You're suggesting that Rickey could have made some minor leaguer into a star worth trading for Kiner, who still had several HR crowns ahead of him. Or maybe you're suggesting that that training that Rickey (and no one else) gave his young players could turn some marginal major leaguer into a star? Either way, I just don't think Rickey's abilities in player development had that kind of power, and Im a little surprised that you give him as much credit as you seem to here. That would be off the charts productive if anyone could do that even once, let alone typically.
7:34 AM Jul 6th
{Well, there you really get into speculation, if not science fiction, Klamb, old sport, if you're going to posit that Branch Rickey was capable of developing some obscure minor leaguer we never heard of into a better ballplayer than Mantle, Mays or Matthews.}
Not quite my point, but I see how you took it that way. The point I was trying to make was (1) Since it's a long-shot that the Yankees, Giants or Braves would have made those deals, and (2) Since you acknowledged having a hard time finding a trade partner, (3) maybe he could have found two or three diamonds in the rough who never had the benefit of Rickey's player development system.

I didn't mean it as criticism that you left out this other long shot. But as long as we're traveling hypothetical roads, this one seemed (to me) like an obvious one to reconnoiter.
1:59 AM Jul 6th
I think Branch Rickey had a deep psychic link to his baby, the Cardinal's Farm System. But that is just the Metaphysician in me babbling.
6:18 PM Jul 4th
Steven Goldleaf
Really, Elliot? Ten years away from running the Cards' organization and you think that would give Rickey insight into their current minor leagues' personnel? Why would it, any more than he'd be familiar with other teams' minor league systems? Do you suppose there would be a single player in the Cards' system who was there when he left?
2:58 PM Jul 4th
"You could probably assemble the best of all these teams and assemble a fair package to exchange for Kiner—let’s see, Boyer, Wally Moon, Joe Cunningham, and Harvey Haddix cherrypicked from 21 (I just counted) minor league affiliates would be a good package, but I don’t know how anyone, including Branch Rickey, could ever be that astute at picking gems out of that vast a trashheap.'

Considering Branch would have been less than a decade/one franchise away from tending that trash heap, I reckon Rickey could pick out the residue from that design.
1:25 PM Jul 4th
Koufax played on the U of Cincinnati freshman team when the freshman coach at crosstown rival Xavier was Bunning.
6:59 PM Jul 3rd
Steven Goldleaf
Don't know how I remembered the young Koufax as attending a Catholic college (though actually he and I grew up in a VERY Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn--wouldn't catch me dead, though, attending St. Mary's). Actually, I do know exactly what I messed up on--remembering that the U. of Cincy PLAYED Xavier in basketball.
6:06 AM Jul 3rd
Steven Goldleaf
Well, there you really get into speculation, if not science fiction, Klamb, old sport, if you're going to posit that Branch Rickey was capable of developing some obscure minor leaguer we never heard of into a better ballplayer than Mantle, Mays or Matthews. I take a back seat to no one in my admiration of Rickey's skills, but that's a TON of credit you're giving him there.
7:16 PM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Here's an interesting article on trading one superstar from a bad team for multiple prospects from contenders. Oddly, despite my concluding sentence, I'd do this one, or one of them anyway. I think you always keep sluggers and always trade pitchers. Syndergaard could turn into Matt Harvey on the snap of a tendon.

6:58 PM Jul 2nd
That's a fun exercise, and illuminating as to how difficult these trades are. What we can't possibly know, of course, is whether Rickey might have acquired someone we've never heard of and developed him into someone we all know. He must have developed a good instructional infrastructure, considering how good the Pirates would become before long.

Not using "property of" was actually a conscious decision among younger sportswriters in the early '70s, no doubt a byproduct of the still ongoing civil rights activism. I was a greenhorn sportswriter in 1973, and older colleagues still in their 20s pointed out the ownership implications of the phrase. There wasn't any kind of coordinated campaign, but the times were conducive to re-examining habits of unintended offensiveness, and that one died out within about 10 years. It helped that it was also a time when moral positions were not always tethered to partisan politics.

A related usage that you see less often now than 45 years ago is "the Braves' Henry Aaron," which became the less possessive "Henry Aaron of the Braves." Marvin Miller read society well enough that his critiques of the reserve clause repeatedly included saying the players were not "chattel."

Bunning and Brosnan went to Xavier University, but Koufax went to the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats have had and still have a surprisingly good baseball program for a Midwestern school that isn't in the Big Ten. Their recent major leaguers are Kevin Youkilis, Josh Harrison and Ian Happ. A little after Koufax, UC sent Ed Brinkman, Bill Faul, Mike Hershberger and Russ Nixon to the majors. But the school's primary sport has long been basketball, and Koufax went there on a basketball. His hoops coach also coached baseball, and urged Koufax to play. The team needed pitchers, so Koufax volunteered to give it a shot. His 31 innings were enough to bring contract offers. You'll like this — Rickey authorized Pittsburgh's scouts to top the highest offer, but Dodger brass had won over Koufax's father by then.

I think you're right about Robinson. He went to Xavier the same way Koufax went to Columbia — at night or in the offseason. Robinson signed with the Reds at age 17, so he couldn't have played baseball at Xavier.
6:57 PM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Good point. I could have thrown McDougald into the deal in the winter of 1950-1, too. Good thing for the Yankees there was no inter-league trading then.
3:14 PM Jul 2nd
Every city has a night life, sometimes it is just a little harder to find. But I'm sure Mickey would have been up for the task.
10:01 AM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Duren's father was also named "Rinold," so I guess it was a rinold family name.
9:34 AM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
One correction, or quibble with myself: I don't know that Bill Skowron would have had a HoF career if he'd been traded at the start of his career: looking over his numbers, which I should have done instead of relying on my memory, he played pretty much full-time (platooned some, delayed getting to the majors only a little) for his entire Yankee career, which was pretty well over by the age of 32, although he did play part-time for a few more years. Maybe with a bad club like the Pirates he would have had another 1000 at-bats, which wouldn't have turned him into a HoFer. Howard's delay in playing full-time, however, remains a much-discussed point of Bill's over the years, and a HoF career for him remains a viable possibility.
5:18 AM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
You're right about that, ira, and this is a snapshot of the very beginning of TV, when it really hadn't caught on yet as a nationwide phenomenon. MLB wasn't performing a public service, as much as it was reaching out to a market that was otherwise unexploited. The independent days, however, had since faded: all the teams I'm describing here in the winter of 1950-51 were affiliated with MLB organizations, who plainly didn't rely on the lower minors for talent. The still-extant independent teams, such as the Negro leagues and the thriving semi-pro baseball that I described in my article a few month ago on Dexter park in Brooklyn, were in the final stages of dying off in the early 50s.
5:10 AM Jul 2nd
One function of those lower-minor-league teams was to give local fans of those teams baseball games to watch and enjoy, before television. The years of decline of the lower minors are the same years in which major-league games started being televised regularly and most households got TV sets. One of Bill’s major themes in the Historical Abstracts is that the minor leagues originally developed independently and had meaningful rivalries and pennant races of their own, and weren’t always merely adjuncts of the majors.
1:00 AM Jul 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
that should be "....two Al Lopez-managed teams"
3:55 PM Jul 1st
Steven Goldleaf
pgaskill--sorry, brain freeze. You're correct, of course. I think I went from "two Al Lopez won AL pennants in the 1950s" straight to "The Indians won two AL pennants in the early 1950s"--would you mind if I fixed it so I don't throw anyone else off?
3:54 PM Jul 1st
Um, sir,

“. . . trade Kiner to the Indians, who would win two pennants in the next four years in the middle of the Yankee dynasty . . .” ??

And those two years were 1954 and which other year??

Not to be picky, but. . . . ;-)

Otherwise, what a great article! You should write more!!!!
2:13 PM Jul 1st
Really interesting idea. Thanks.
1:56 PM Jul 1st
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