Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Veeck's Blunders

I was reading Maury Brown's interview with Rob Neyer about Neyer's new book on baseball blunders. While I'm not a big fan of Neyer anymore - I think he misses some of the forest by looking at the trees - this particular quote piqued my interest:

Brown: What's the biggest blunder in the book? The #1?

Neyer: Gosh, that’s hard to say. Most of the worst player deals—the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth, the Cubs trading Lou Brock, the Reds trading Frank Robinson, the Cardinals trading Steve Carlton—actually didn’t look too bad at the time. I put all those in the book because I felt like I had to, but I wasn’t too rough on the men who made the deals. Maybe the biggest blunder in the book, at least regarding personnel, is not one trade but three. After the 1959 season, Bill Veeck made a series of deals that quite possibly cost the White Sox three pennants over the next eight seasons.

Well, I'm not going to buy Rob Neyer's book, but I can figure out which three trades those were. Baseball-reference.com has several trades in the off-season for the White Sox:

November 3, 1959
Ron Jackson to the Boston Red Sox. Received Frank Baumann

December 6, 1959
Johnny Romano, Bubba Phillips, and Norm Cash to the Cleveland Indians. Received Minnie Minoso, Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese, and Jake Striker.

December 9, 1959
Johnny Callison to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Gene Freese.

April 4, 1960 (Standings)
Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and $150000 cash to the Washington Senators. Received Roy Sievers.

Ok, well, we have very good candidates here.

1. The Romano/Cash/Minoso Trade. This is probably the worst trade of them all. Everyone knows that Norm Cash turned out to be an excellent player for the Tigers (he was traded away by the Indians in the same offseason). He put up an absurd season in 1961 (.361, 41, 132 with a .487 OBP and .662 SLG), and was a high-800's OPS guy all through the 60's. But Johnny Romano was also a very good catcher for the Indians from 1960-64. He had low batting averages, but walked a lot and hit for quite a bit of power in the 60's (16, 21, 25, 10, and 19 home runs from 1960-64). His OPS+'s were 124, 132, 128, 93 and 124 from '60-'64. That's a lot of production out of the catching position. Sherm Lollar, at 35 in 1960, was pretty much cooked at the catching position and should have been replaced.

On the other side of the equation, the trade brought back fan favorite and Sox legend Minnie Minoso. Minoso had two good seasons with the Sox in '60 and '61 - but not nearly as good as Cash's seasons.

Romano and Cash's bats would have been very valuable in the early 60's, when the Sox had excellent pitching but not enough offense.

2. Callison Trade: Another bad trade for an older player. Johnny Callison had some very good seasons for the Phillies as an outfielder in the mid-1960's. He had OPS+'s of 130, 140, 125 and 134 from 1962 to 1965, when the Sox really could have used the offense. He hit for good power and walked a bit more than average. He would easily have outperformed a guy like Mike Hershberger in 1964. On the other side, Freese only played one season for the Sox, but did bring Juan Pizarro in a trade after the 1960 season. Pizarro had a nice run for the Sox in the mid-60's, and it's arguable that Pizarro offset a lot of Callison's value.

3. The Battey/Mincher Trade: I had heard Earl Battey's name before, but really couldn't place him with any team, much less the White Sox. So I was surprised to look him up and see a pretty solid player for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins in the 1960's. He was only a little above average during that time - OPS+'s of 110, 120, 96, 134, 109 and 120 from 1960-65, but that production would really have come in handy.

Don Mincher was even more of a mystery to me than Earl Battey. But he was an even better player than Battey. He hit for power and took walks, and played first base. He put up OPS+'s of 136, 139, 129, 136, 112, 155, 110, 131, 119, 136 and 113 from 1962-72. That 155 season came in 1967, when the Sox finished only a few games out of the pennant with the 9th best offense in the 10-team American League. Could Mincher have helped? You bet - first baseman Tommy McCraw put up a .236/.288/.362 line that year.

Sievers had two good seasons for the Sox - 1960 and 1961, then was traded to the Phillies. Acquiring Sievers as an established star doesn't seem to be beyond the pale to me - it seems like a World Series team trying to polish off its edges for another championship run (a la the Thome trade for Rowand, Haigwood and Gio Gonzalez). If Neyer is criticizing this in hindsight, it's easy. But that's not saying it was a blunder at the time. The '59 White Sox got poor production from the 1st base position - Earl Torgeson - and I can see them trading a prospect for some more immediate production.

All in all, these trades probably cost the Sox two pennants - '64 and '67 likely, and maybe another one in '65. But calling them blunders is a bit much.

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