Baseballâ€™s Biggest Trade Ever
On November 17, 1954, general managers George Weiss of the Yankees and Paul Richards of the Orioles announced a nine-player trade that was the first part of what would emerge as the biggest baseball trade ever. In part one of the trade, the Yanks sent pitchers Harry Byrd and Jim McDonald, outfielder Gene Woodling, shortstop Willie Miranda, catcher-first baseman Gus Triandos, and minor league catcher Hal Smith to Baltimore, for pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen, and shortstop Billy Hunter.
The two general managers said that part two of the trade was dependent on the results of the major league draft scheduled for the following week. However, both suggested that it would likely bring three more players to Baltimore and four more to New York.
Weiss and Richards had begun their negotiations during the World Series and had discussed many players before settling on the final deal. The Yankees, who’d finished second to the Cleveland Indians in 1954, after five straight championships, had targeted pitching as their major shortcoming. The need for pitching had intensified when longtime ace Allie Reynolds indicated he would not be back in 1955.
With starting pitching his major priority, Weiss offered GM Frank Lane of the White Sox a group of players for left-hander Billy Pierce. The rumor was that if Weiss would include third baseman Andy Carey in his offer, there might be a deal. But while no deal for Pierce, an excellent young pitcher, was ever made, in Bob Turley and Don Larsen the Yanks were getting two other excellent young pitchers.
“When we got Turley and Larsen, we plugged the major weakness of the Yankee club—pitching,” Weiss said. “They are two of the finest and fastest young right-handers in the game. Both figure to get better and they are young. Turley is only twenty-four, Larsen twenty-five.”
Turley had impressed everyone with his fastball, which had been labeled the best since Bob Feller arrived in Cleveland almost twenty years earlier. He’d appeared briefly with the St. Louis Browns in 1951 and 1953, then stuck with Orioles in 1954, the club’s first year in Baltimore. Pitching for a seventh-place team, Turley was 14-15 with a 3.46 ERA and a league-leading 185 strikeouts.
Larsen had gone 7-12 as a Browns rookie in 1953, and then had a horrible season for the Orioles in 1954. He won only three games while losing a league-high 21; yet despite that horrendous ’54 won-lost record, many baseball people believed that Larsen had fully as much potential for stardom as did Turley.
Along with pitching, Weiss had also been seeking a shortstop, knowing that Phil Rizzuto’s .195 batting average in 1954 was an indication that his long career was nearing its end. Acknowledging that he’d been unsuccessful in attempts to get the White Sox to part with Chico Carrasquel, Weiss said that “(Billy) Hunter was the best available shortstop for whom we could deal.”
The 26-year-old Hunter, a former Dodger farmhand, had been the Browns/Orioles shortstop the past two seasons. He’d shown he could handle the job defensively, but with batting averages of .219 in 1953 and .243 in 1954, he had yet to prove he could hit major league pitching.
The same was true of Willie Miranda, whom the Yankees had purchased from the Browns in June 1953. Miranda, perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the league, was a notoriously weak hitter, although he’d improved some in 1954. He had a .250 average in 92 games in ’54, serving most often as a late-inning replacement after Rizzuto had been removed for a pinch hitter.
Reaction in Baltimore to Richards’s first trade as general manager of the Orioles was overwhelmingly adverse. While claiming the deal was generally one-sided in favor of New York, Baltimoreans were especially upset that the Orioles had traded Turley. However, Yankee manager Casey Stengel disagreed. “This deal is tremendous for Baltimore,” Stengel said. “I regret losing the players who helped me win championships. I’m speaking of (Gene) Woodling and (Jim) McDonald.”
That description certainly fit the 32-year-old Woodling, a Yankee since 1949 and a member of each of Stengel’s teams that won five consecutive World Series. Woodling had a .285 average for his six seasons in New York and a .318 mark in 26 World Series games. But an injured hand had limited him to only 97 games in 1954, and heâ€™d batted just .250.
As he had done in McDonald’s previous two seasons with the Yankees, Stengel had used the 27-year-old former Brownie as both a starter and a reliever in 1954. But, as with Woodling, injuries limited McDonald’s usefulness. He pitched in just 16 games, winning four and losing one and bringing his three-season record with the Yankees to 16-12.
The Yanks had acquired Harry Byrd eleven months earlier in an 11-player trade with the Philadelphia Athletics. At the time they envisioned him as a likely replacement for either of their aging right-handed aces, Reynolds or Vic Raschi. But Byrd didn’t have that kind of success; he won only nine games, lost seven, and had a 3.99 earned run average.
Gus Triandos batted .296 with 18 home runs for the Yanks’ American Association team at Kansas City in 1954. He’d gotten into 18 games as a Yankee in 1953 and two in 1954, but hit just .154, with only one home run.
Hal Smith also was in the American Association in 1954. He was with the Columbus Red Birds where his .350 batting average led the league. However, both Triandos and Smith faced the same dilemma. They were young catchers (both were 24) on a team that already had Yogi Berra, the league’s best catcher, and rookie Elston Howard, whom they were preparing to be the number two man behind Berra. The Yanks had sent Howard, originally an outfielder, to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1954 so he could make the conversion to catching. While learning his new position, Howard batted .330 and won the International League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Now he was set to join the Yankees in 1955 as their first Black player.
On December 1, the teams completed part two of the trade. The Yankees received five players: first baseman Dick Kryhoski, pitcher Mike Blyzka, catcher Darrell Johnson, outfielder Jim Fridley, minor League outfielder Ted Del Guercio, and a player to be named. The Orioles received three new players: pitcher Bill Miller, third baseman Kal Segrist, and minor league second baseman Don Leppert.
That brought the total number of players in the two trades to a record-setting 17, nine new faces for Baltimore and eight for New York. (Although announced to include an 18th player, rumored to be Orioles pitcher Lou Kretlow who would go to the Yankees as a “player to be named,” Kretlow remained with Baltimore.)
Unlike part one, the players in this second deal were primarily minor leaguers, although several had big league experience. Former Yankee Dick Kryhoski, a .260-batter for the Orioles in 1954, had the most. He’d come up with the Yankees in 1949 and gone on to play for the Tigers and the Browns/Orioles. (The Yanks had no place for Kryhoski, who was now 29, and would sell him to the new Kansas City Athletics just prior to the 1955 season.)
Mike Blyzka and Jim Fridley were with the Orioles in 1954: Blyzka going 1-5 in 37 relief appearances, and Fridley batting .246 in 85 games. Darrell Johnson, who had big league experience with the Browns and White Sox in 1952, was at Richmond of the International League in 1954, where he batted .261.
The recent move of the American League’s Philadelphia franchise to Kansas City had forced the Yankees to move their American Association team in that city elsewhere. They eventually chose Denver, which would be the 1955 destination for Blyzka, Fridley, and Johnson. (Of the three, only Johnson would ever play for the Yankees, batting a combined .226 in 26 games in 1957 and 1958.)
Ted Del Guercio was with the Wichita Indians in 1954, where he batted .321 and was the Class A Western League’s all-star center fielder. The Yanks moved Del Guercio up to Class AA, sending him to the Southern Association’s Birmingham Barons.
Although Don Leppert was only 24, and had batted .313 at Birmingham in 1954, he did not figure in the Yankeesâ€™ future plans. Neither did 27-year-old Bill Miller, who had a 6-8 record with the Yankees in 36 appearances spread over the last three seasons; nor Kal Segrist, a career minor leaguer who batted .291 for the Kansas City Blues in 1954. Segrist’s only big league experience had been as a 21-year-old in 1952, when he had one hit in 23 at bats for the Yankees.
As it turned out, the fans in Baltimore were correct. The success of Turley and Larsen made this biggest trade ever, very much one-sided in favor of the Yankees.