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The story of the Yankees’ first ever trade

The Yankees’ first ever trade brought them back quite a character.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The 2018 baseball season is over, and the focus is about to turn to the hot stove. You would expect, or at least hope, for the Yankees to be active, considering that certain areas of the team could use some help.

In 1903, the then New York Highlanders would have needed a lot of help. It was their first season in New York, having moved from Baltimore after 1902. While several players made the move with the team, there were also a lot of changes in the roster. As well there should have been, considering that the 1902 Baltimore Orioles went 50-88.

In came players like Jack Chesboro, who had led the National League in wins the season before. Clark Griffith came in as player manager, having taken the White Sox to the AL pennant in 1901. However, at least according to Baseball Reference, the first actual trade in franchise history was not made until partway through the 1903 season.

Kid Elberfeld made a name for himself playing for the Detroit Tigers in the early 1900s.

On one hand, he was a talented player. His defense often got rave reviews, while he was also one of the better hitting shortstops of the era. On the other hand, he was called “The Tabasco Kid” and had a bit of a temper on him. He once “brawled” with an umpire.

During the 1902 season, the New York Giants attempted to sign Elberfeld away from the Tigers, but the league cancelled the deal and returned Elberfeld to Detroit.

Ed Barrow had been hired as Tigers’ manager, and he and Elberfeld almost immediately began to feud. Barrow suspended the shortstop at one point, accusing him of deliberately playing poorly to try to engineer a trade to the St. Louis Browns.

At that point, Barrow did decide to trade him. On June 10, 1903, Elberfeld was traded, but not to St. Louis. Instead, Elberfeld was sent to the New York Highlanders in exchange for Herman Long and Ernie Courtney.

The move rankled the Giants. For one, they wouldn’t have been happy that a player they very nearly acquired was going somewhere else. In addition to that, they saw it as a move to help prop up the new team in New York. The Giants had opposed the Highlanders’ existence to begin with, but they saw this as an attempt to get fans to jump ship away from the Giants. They attempted to get the NL to end the newly signed treaty, but eventually the NL stopped perusing the matter, and Elberfeld was a Highlander.

Elberfeld then became a fixture in New York for the next seven seasons. While there, he cemented both of his reputations. He continued to be a really good baseball player, and also continued to have a temper.

In 1906, he got into a fight with umpire Silk O’Laughlin. The following year, he was suspended after again supposedly playing poorly to try and engineer a trade. By this time, he wanted to manage, and tried to get the Highlanders to send him to Washington.

They did not, but in 1908, Elberfeld did get his chance and was named manager. It was disastrous, as the team went 27-71 in his tenure. He returned just as a player the following year, before leaving to play for the Senators in 1910.

As for the players the Highlanders gave up, Herman Long was already 37 when the trade happened. He was not great for the Tigers following the deal, and played just one game in his career after 1903.

As for Courtney, he had a decent post-New York career, but nothing too impressive. He didn’t even have his solid years with Detroit, who traded him to an Eastern League team in October 1903. Elberfeld’s time in New York was up and down, but the Highlanders/Yankees didn’t miss out on much in getting him.

In the century plus since 1903, there have obviously been countless trades made by the Yankees. Some of them have been for Babe Ruth, some for Ken Phelps. Few brought back as colorful a character as Kid Elberfeld.