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The good and bad of the Roger Maris trade tree

The Yankees managed to trade one notable legend and turned him into another, but that’s only part of the story.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In December 1953, the Yankees and Athletics made a 10-player trade. Three of the four players acquired by the Yankees never played a game for them. One of them, Loren Babe, had actually been in the Yankees organization eight months earlier before the A’s purchased him. He had played 17 games in 1952-53 for the team, but wouldn’t appear again after rejoining the club.

The Yankees sent six players to Philadelphia in the deal, only two of which had ever played for the Yankees in the majors. Of those given up, the Yankees lost out on Jim Finigan, who made two All-Star teams. More importantly, six-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner Vic Power was also traded away.

There was one other player included in the trade. The Yankees had also gotten back pitcher Harry Byrd, who just a season before the deal had won Rookie of the Year in 1952. He followed that up, however, by allowing the most earned runs in the league in 1953. The Yankees managed to get a bounce-back year out of Byrd in 1954. They then included him in a trade, the repercussions of which would still be felt 15 years later.

On November 17, 1954, the Yankees and Orioles made an infamous 17 player trade. We won’t go through all 17, as some of them made no impact. Sorry Theodore Del Guercio, whoever that is.

For the purposes of this post, Byrd was the big name sent to Baltimore in the deal. He pitched in just 14 games for the Orioles, and was traded to the White Sox during the 1955 season. He was out of the major leagues after 1957. The Yankees managed to get him at close to the nadir of his value, and then trade him at close to the peak. Not bad work.

In return, the Yankees got a lot of people, but mainly two names in particular. Bob Turley was one of them. He was an All-Star the year before, and went on to win a Cy Young with the Yankees in 1958. The other important name in the deal would be Don Larsen.

Larsen gave the Yankees five solid years on the mound, with the peak, of course, coming in his World Series perfect game in 1956.

By 1959, both Larsen and the Yankees began to slide. As a team, it was the first time in 11 year they finished lower than second place in the AL. It was just the second time in over 20 years that they ended the season more than 10 games out of first place. Meanwhile, Larsen put up the second worst ERA of his career up to that point.

All of this went down during the era when the Yankees basically used the now Kansas City Athletics like their farm team. The Yankees were on slide, so what did they do? They went back to the old well.

In December 1959, the Yankees and Athletics made a seven player swap. Larsen was among the four players sent to Kansas City. In return, the A’s traded three players to the Yankees, most notably 25-year-old All-Star Roger Maris.

In his first season in New York, Maris won AL MVP. In his second year, he won AL MVP. Oh, and he set the all-time single season home run record. No big deal.

While there were other pieces involved obviously, in each of these three trades the Yankees basically leveled up a player. They managed to get pieces that helped them acquire someone who helped them to three World Series titles and took part in one of the most famous stories in baseball history.

Maris gave the Yankees seven good-to-great years, but towards the end, things started to sour. As he struggled in 1966, media and fan scrutiny began to bubble up. Maris considered retirement, but after the season, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

As well as the Yankees made out in the trades that led to Maris, they went right back down the roller coaster when they shipped him off. Maris played out two more seasons in St. Louis. They weren’t close to his peak, but they also were better than what the Bombers got back for him.

The Yankees received infielder Charley Smith in return. Like Maris, he was closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He put up a .617 OPS in 181 games from 1967-68 as the Yankees finished ninth and fifth in the AL, respectively. In December 1968, the Yankees sent Smith to the Giants for Nate Oliver.

Oliver hadn’t had a good career up to that point, but at least was slightly younger. He played just one game for the Yankees, however and was then traded to the Cubs in April 1969. As for Smith, he never played a game for the Giants. He was purchased by the Cubs, where he was very briefly teammates with the man he had been traded for four months earlier.

As for who the Yankees got back for Oliver, that would be infielder Lee Elia. Elia managed to be a Yankee for an even shorter time than Oliver and played zero games for the team. That would not be the last of him in baseball, however.


All trade history and stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.