Today's New York Yankees' primary method of improving involves signing other team's former players for large sums of money, but that wasn't always how the past and future World Champions operated.
The 1954 Yankees won 103 games but finished eight games behind the record-setting Cleveland Indians, which was unacceptable. Yankees general manager George Weiss and his counterpart with the Baltimore Orioles, the brilliant Paul Richards, pulled off the biggest trade in baseball history.
The Yankees sent nine players to the Orioles and received eight players in return, but the key for the Yankees was obtaining right-handers Bob Turley and Don Larsen.
Yes, there was 25-year-old Whitey Ford and 24-year-old Rookie of the Year Bob Grim, but Allie Reynolds was retiring, and Eddie Lopat (36), Johnny Sam (36), Tommy Byrne (34) and Jim Konstanty (37) were no youngsters.
When the Indians became the only team other than the Yankees to win the pennant since 1948, the rest of the American League cheered. While the Yankees were not in real trouble for the 1955, season, they could not match the Tribe's great starting pitching.
Most of the other teams refused to trade with the Yankees.
Weiss approached Chicago White Sox general manager "Trader" Frank Lane. Weiss was interested in Sox starters Sandy Consuegra, Bob Keegan and Billy Pierce, as well as shortstop Chico Carrasquel, but Lane rebuffed Weiss.
The Orioles were another story. The 1954 season had been the Orioles' first in Baltimore. Paul Richards desperately wanted to improve the team, which had finished obscene 57 games out of first place.
The Birds' general manager had his eye on two young catchers, Gus Triandos and Hal Smith, that the Yankees might be willing to trade. Weiss insisted that Turley and Larsen be included in the trade. Richards agreed.
It might be surprising that the Yankees wanted Larsen, who had won only three games in 1954, while losing 21, but Weiss and the Yankees saw potential in Larsen that statistics not only cannot reveal, but refute.
Would Brian Cashman, the Yankees' current general manager, trade for a pitcher who had been 3-21 with an 82 ERA+? Not likely, despite Cashman assuring everyone that A.J. Burnett, who was 10-15 with an 81 ERA+ last season, will have a solid 2011 season. Of course, Larsen was 24 and A.J. is 34.
In essence, the Yankees received Turley, Larsen and shortstop Billy Hunter for Triandos, Smith, outfielder Gene Woodling, disappointing right-hander Harry Byrd, and shortstop Willie Miranda.
The trade cannot be evaluated on the basis of a single season.
Turley and Larsen helped lead the Yankees to the 1955 pennant. In 1956, Larsen hurled the only perfect game in World Series history, and in 1958, Turley led the Yankees to their fourth consecutive pennant by winning 21 games.
But there was an ironic twist.
Gus Triandos won the regular catching job, which allowed the Orioles to trade Hal Smith to the Kansas City A's in 1956. In December 1959, Kansas City sent Smith to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were on their way to becoming a force in the National League.
The following season, the Pirates won the pennant. The Yankees won the American League pennant.
In the seventh game of the World Series, the Pirates were trailing, 7-4 in the eighth inning. They scored twice to narrow the deficit to a run, and had two men on with two men out. Hal Smith was the batter.
Facing Jim Coates, Smith hit a home run to give the Buccos a two run lead. It was one of the most significant hits in World Series history, and without it, Bill Mazeroski would not be in the Hall of Fame.
By JOHN DREBINGER. (1954, November 19). Yanks Confirm Acquisition of Turley, Larsen and Hunter in 16-Man Deal :3 FORMER ORIOLES BOLSTER BOMBERS Yankees Count on Stronger Staff of Pitchers in Bid to Recapture Pennant. New York Times (1923-Current file),28. Retrieved December 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2007). (Document ID: 84437733).
Baseball's Biggest Trade