One of the things I most miss about baseball’s Golden Era is the blockbuster off season trade. Today when and if trades are made, they usually involve a marginal player swapped for an obscure minor leaguer. Fans have no particular attachment to the marginal guy and no clue about the minor leaguer. We’re robbed of any opportunity to get into a good, old fashioned hot stove league debate about the trade’s merits.
Even though it happened 57 years ago, greatest blockbuster of all time remains the 1954 trade between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.
In November, 1954, Orioles’ field and general manager Paul Richards, who recently joined the team from the Chicago White Sox, and his New York Yankees counterpart George Weiss put together the largest two-team swap in major league history. So huge was the transaction that the Orioles, who had just moved to Baltimore from St. Louis, and the Yankees announced the deal in two stages.
First, on November 18 the Orioles confirmed that the team had sent the “Second Coming of Bob Feller” Bullet Bob Turley, the season’s American League leader in strike outs, Don Larsen, 3-21 and starting shortstop Billy Hunter to the Yankees for pitchers Harry Byrd and Jim McDonald, outfielder Gene Woodling, shortstop Willie Miranda and minor league catchers Gus Triandos and Hal Smith who won 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. 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 threw in pitcher Bill Miller, second baseman Don Leppert and third baseman Kal Segrist. By the time the trade was completed, the seventeen player deal was—then and now— the largest in baseball history.
With the addition of Turley and Larsen, considered the sleeper in the deal, to the Yankees still effective but aging staff that included Whitey Ford and Eddie Lopat, Las Vegas installed the Bombers as odds on favorites to recapture the American League pennant the Cleveland Indians had stolen away the summer before. The wise guys were right; the Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games.
Turley’s Yankees’ career was marked by ups and downs. But the high point came in 1958 when went 21-7. His .750 winning percentage led the league and helped him win the Cy Young Award which, during the 1956-1966 era, only one pitcher from both leagues were so honored. Turley is included with Don Newcombe, Warren Spahn, Early Wynn, Vernon Law Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale and Dean Chance in that category.
In the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, Turley dominated. After being knocked out in the first inning of the second game, Turley pitched a complete game shutout in the fifth and earned saves in the sixth and seventh games. His 6-2/3 inning relief appearance that ended game seven is a record. Turley was named the series Most Valuable Player.
In the following year, Turley hurt his arm and, after struggling for several seasons, in 1963 the Yankees sold him to the Los Angeles Angels. He finished the 1963 season with the Boston Red Sox and then became the team’s pitching coach in 1964.
Retirement has been very good to Bullet Bob. He joined an insurance firm, made millions and now lives on Marco Island, Fla. where his home overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. While Turley may not quite have amassed billions, his toughest decision these days is whether to fish for marlin or grouper off his 35-foot yacht that sleeps six.