Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, December 31, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Baltimore Orioles, 1959 Topps #48

Could you picture Brooks Robinson in an Athletics uniform? Or Gus Triandos, or Milt Pappas, or Hoyt Wilhelm? It seems hard to imagine, but all of these scenarios very nearly occurred in 1959. At least, that's what former Baltimore Sun sports reporter Bob Maisel claimed.

My friend Ed recently gave me a stack of old magazines, game programs, newspapers, and other various Oriole artifacts. Among them was a game program from August 1987, which contained a series of "Untold Bird Tales" sponsored by USF&G Insurance. Maisel's story was about "the biggest trade never made". Here's his recollection verbatim:

"This is something that I wrote a story on back in 1959. But I'm sure it's forgotten now.

Paul Richards, the former Orioles manager, was a great innovator. And one night in 1959, he and Jack Dunn, an Orioles vice president, were having a big meeting with the officials of the Kansas City ball club. It was after a night game out in Kansas City, and it was right before the trading deadline. They had to make this deal by midnight, or that was it.

I was out there covering the team. And some of my sources told me, 'You'd better hang around. Crazy Richards has agreed to trade his entire 40-man roster for Kansas City's.'

Apparently, it was all agreed. It just hadn't been signed yet. They were going to completely exchange rosters. Each man thought he was getting the better end of the deal.

But in the middle of the meeting, the Kansas City owner got a phone call from his wife that took him out of the room for a few minutes. And when he came back, he had doubts. He said, well, maybe I'll keep Roger Maris. And then Richards said, well, maybe I'll keep Brooks Robinson And the whole deal fell apart.

But it almost happened. According to people who were in the room, it was all but done. If the Kansas City owner hadn't gotten that phone call, I think they would have made the deal."

So what are the odds that things actually unfolded in the manner described above? Well, Richards certainly had a reputation for wheeling and dealing. He had barely settled into his position with the O's when he pulled the trigger on a blockbuster 17-player trade with the Yankees in November 1954. Shortly after his death in 1986, Sports Illustrated eulogized him and mentioned the rumored Orioles/Athletics roster swap...but claimed that it was during the 1961 season. The July 1989 issue of Baseball Digest includes an article about trading that places the date in 1955. A book on the history of the Kansas City A's claims that it almost happened twice - in June 1956 and again in the spring of 1958 - and that it was Richards who balked first, preferring to keep Brooksie. A John Eisenberg column from 2003 gives the 1956 date, and says that K.C. refused to part with Maris and Clete Boyer. These variations in the date and other basic facts suggest that the anecdote is apocryphal.

Another cause for skepticism? This March 1983 Baseball Digest article, which claims that Paul Richards tried to trade his entire 40-man roster AND $5 million to the Braves for their 40-man roster when he was GM of the Astros in 1964! It's curious that the article makes no mention of Richards being involved in a similar proposal back in his Baltimore days, isn't it?

I also noticed that the "Richards tries to trade entire roster" rumors didn't seem to crop up until the 1980s, well after the fact. I went an extra mile and searched the Baltimore Sun archives, finally uncovering a June 16, 1956 article that discusses trade talks with the A's that had fallen through the previous day. No players are mentioned by name, much less any talk of entire rosters being switched. The bulk of the article concerns rumors of unrealized deals with the White Sox; here, specific players are named. The hottest rumor had shortstop Willie Miranda and catcher Hal Smith going to Chicago in exchange for second baseman Nellie Fox and outfielder Jim Rivera. I'd link to the article, but to view the entire article I had to purchase a PDF that I can only access for 90 days.

So sure, it's fun to navel-gaze and conceive of a radical overhaul of two different franchises, with Roger Maris taking aim at the seats in Memorial Stadium and Ralph Terry taking the place of Milt Pappas. But hindsight suggests that the Orioles were better off keeping their talented young building blocks anyway. Just remember: although truth may be stranger than fiction, sometimes a story can be too good to be true.


unclemoe said...

Those 1959 team cards are pretty sweet.


Kevin said...

Moe - Yes, they are. Love the font.

Ryan H said...

I read about this in my new Orioles Encyclopedia I got for Christmas. It's interesting to think of how Orioles history would have changed if this had gone down

Kevin said...

Ryan - You can say that again!