One of the biggest differences between baseball today and baseball in the 1960s is when the big trades happen.
Today, the biggest trades seem to happen just before the trading deadline at the end of July, when pennant-contenders stock up on the extra hitting or pitching they think they might need to push them over the top. Likewise, teams already fading from the race are likely to unload their most attractive properties by the end of July, particularly if imminent free agency means a player will probably be moving on anyway.
That wasn’t the case in the 1960s. That was the last full decade when players were tied to teams indefinitely without the free agency option. The biggest trades usually happened over the winter, and impacted the teams involved for a season or more, not simply a couple months.
There were several big trades during the 1960s. These are the 10 biggest, based on their immediate and long-term impact on the teams involved and how they helped shape the pennant races that resulted. In some cases these trades also had a major impact on players’ career, and one that in some cases extended beyond the 1960s.
1. Baltimore Orioles Acquire Frank Robinson – For some reason, the Cincinnati Reds had become disenchanted with this future Hall of Famer, only 4 years after he had won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1961. During those 4 years, Frank Robinson hit for a combined .303 with an average of 30 home runs and 109 RBIs per season. Yet the Reds felt that Robbie was on the downside of his career and were happy to get three established pitchers – Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson – from the Baltimore Orioles. All the Orioles got in return was the 1966 Triple Crown winner and American League MVP – the first player to win an MVP in each league. The Orioles also happened to win the World Series that year.
2. St. Louis Cardinals Acquire Lou Brock – This was probably the most lopsided trade of the 1960s. (After all, Milt Pappas was 30-29 in 2-plus seasons for the Reds. The Cardinals sent 2 former 20-game winners, Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz, along with outfielder Doug Clemens, to the Chicago Cubs for pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth, and an outfielder named Lou Brock. Broglio and Shantz won a total of 8 games for the Cubs. Clemens hit .279 with 12 RBIs in 54 games. Brock led the Cardinals to the World Series. In 103 games, he hit .348 and scored 84 runs, with 9 triples, 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. In the World Series against the New York Yankees, Brock was instrumental in helping St. Louis take the championship, batting .300 with 5 RBIs and 9 hits in 7 games, including 2 doubles and a home run.
3. Chicago Cubs Acquire Ferguson Jenkins – It looked like a steal for the Phillies. Philadelphia gave up two outfielders with more bench splinters than career hits, and a young pitcher with promise (43 victories in 4 minor league seasons), but gained 2 proven major league starters, Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, who won a combined 27 games in 1965. Over the next 3 years, that pair of pitchers were 47-53 for the Phillies. In those same 3 years, the pitcher that Philadelphia traded, Ferguson Jenkins, won 46 games for the Cubs on his way to winning 284 in a Hall of Fame career. Starting in 1967, Jenkins won 20 or more games for the Cubs in 6 straight seasons. He is the only pitcher with more than 2,000 career strikeouts as a Cub.
4. Philadelphia Phillies Acquire Jim Bunning – It was essentially a trade of 2 players looking to rebound from a sub-par 1963. To add Don Demeter’s bat to their outfield, the Detroit Tigers parted with right-handed pitcher Jim Bunning, winner of 110 games in the previous 7 seasons, but winner of only 12 in 1963. Demeter’s 1962 season with the Philadelphia turned out to be a career season that he would never come close to matching. Bunning became the Phillies’ ace, winning 74 games over the next 4 seasons, and becoming the first Twentieth Century pitcher to win more than 100 games in each league.
5. Chicago White Sox Acquire Hoyt Wilhelm – He was 29 years old when he won 15 games, all in relief, as a New York Giants rookie in 1952. At the end of the 1962 season, 39-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm (7-10 that season with a 1.94 ERA) was traded by the Baltimore Orioles (along with outfielder Dave Nicholson and infielders Ron Hansen and Pete Ward) to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio and outfielder Al Smith. How much more could Wilhelm have left in the tank? The answer, it turned out, was plenty. In the next 6 seasons with the White Sox, Wilhelm appeared in 361 games, winning 41 and saving 98, with a combined ERA of 1.92. Wilhelm’s career lasted until 1972, when he retired as the all-time leader in appearances (1,070), relief wins (143), and saves (227).
6. Chicago White Sox Acquire Tommy John – He was one of the top pitching prospects in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system. But in his first 2 seasons with the Tribe, Tommy John won only 2 out of 13 decisions. Cleveland packaged John with outfielder Tommie Agee and catcher John Romano in a 3-team deal that sent the trio to the Chicago White Sox and ultimately brought slugger Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland. John won 14 games for the White Sox in each of the next 2 seasons, and led the American League in shutouts in both 1965 and 1966. Overall in a 26-year career, John pitched 7 seasons for the White Sox, winning 82 games. His career total of 288 victories is the most by any Twentieth Century pitcher not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
7. San Francisco Giants Acquire Billy Pierce – From 1949 to 1961, Billy Pierce was the left-handed ace of the Chicago White Sox staff and one of the best southpaws in the American League. He was a 20-game winner twice, led the league with a 1.97 ERA in 1955, and led the league in complete games from 1956 through 1958. The next 3 years saw a decline in victories and a rise in ERA, so after the 1961 season, the White Sox unloaded Pierce and Don Larsen to the San Francisco Giants for a minor league outfielder and pitchers Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni. Pierce rebounded with a 16-6 season that was critical in helping the Giants with the 1962 National League pennant. In the 3-game playoff with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pierce won the first game by shutting out the Dodgers (and beating Sandy Koufax) 8-0. He came back 2 days later to pitch a scoreless ninth inning, saving the victory for the guy he was traded with … Don Larsen.
8. St. Louis Cardinals Acquire Orlando Cepeda – During the first half of the 1960s, San Francisco Giants first baseman Orlando Cepeda was one of baseball’s best all-around players. He was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1958, hitting .312 with 25 home runs, 96 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. In 1961, Cepeda led the league in both home runs (46) and RBIs (142) while hitting .311. From 1960 through 1964, Cepeda batted a combined .307, averaging 34 home runs and 109 RBIs per season. Then a lingering knee injury curtailed his playing time and power numbers, and in 1966 the Giants traded Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals. Finally healthy in 1967, Cepeda made the most of the Cardinals’ shrewd deal. He earned the National League’s Most Valuable Award as the offensive leader of the pennant-winning Cardinal, hitting .325 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBIs.
9. San Francisco Giants Acquire Mike McCormick - In 1960, pitching for the fifth-place San Francisco Giants, Mike McCormick won 15 games and led the National League with a 2.70 ERA. He slipped to 13-16 in 1961, and during the Giants’ pennant-winning season of 1962, arm problems caused McCormick to become the forgotten man on a strong pitching roster. He finished that year 5-5 with a 5.38 ERA in only 15 starts. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles and then the Washington Senators. Before the 1967 season, the Giants re-acquired McCormick, who promptly led the league with a 22-10 record. He tossed 5 shutouts and posted a 2.85 ERA, becoming the first National League Cy Young pitcher. (Prior to 1967, a single Cy Young award was made to the best major league pitcher.)
10. Minnesota Twins Acquire Jim Perry – Gaylord’s older brother broke into the majors in 1959 with the Cleveland Indians, going 12-10 with a 2.65 ERA as a starter and reliever. Jim Perry led the American League in victories (18, tied with the Baltimore Orioles’ Chuck Estrada), games started (36) and shutouts (4) in 1960. In the next 2 years, pitching for a weak Cleveland team, Perry went 22-29, and was traded to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Jack Kralick. Perry spent the next 5 years with the Twins shuttling between the bullpen and the starting rotation. During the Twins’ pennant-winning season of 1965, Perry went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA, including 7 straight victories down the stretch – all for a team that, earlier in the year, had put him on waivers. When Billy Martin made Perry his #1 starter in 1969, he responded with a 20-6 and a 2.82 ERA, leading the Twins to a division championship. He topped that performance in 1970 with a 24-12 season that earned him the American League Cy Young award.