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How a bucket saved the Yankees from an all-time bad trade

The Yankees possibly let a really good player go to the Red Sox for not much in 1933, but things weren’t meant to be, thanks to a random bucket.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

When you think of bad Yankees acquisitions and trades, you probably think of the late 80s and early 90s. The most famous ugly move might be the Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps trade forever immortalized in “Seinfeld.”

However, you can go through pretty much any era of Yankees’ history and find ill-fated moves. That includes the 1920s through 1950s when, looking back from current times, it seems like everything they touched turned to gold back then. Despite that, there are bad moves you can find from those decades. This one we’ll focus on here isn’t quite one of them, but it might have been were it not for a bucket.

While playing for Duke University, Billy Werber caught the eye of Paul Krichell, the legendary Yankees’ scout who spotted Lou Gehrig, Whitey Ford, and others. In 1927, after just his freshman season, the Yankees made a handshake deal with Werber where they would finance his schooling while he continued to play both baseball and basketball in college.

When he finally graduated in 1930, Werber reported to the Yankees, where he appeared in four games for the team in June. They then sent him to the minors, where he made an All-Star team for the Albany Senators of the Eastern League.

Werber played the next two seasons in the minors, and even had a brief stint in law school. He went into spring training in 1933 with a chance to win the starting shortstop position. At the plate, Werber was excellent, but some poor fielding caused the Yankees to look elsewhere.

He would start the 1933 season in the majors with the Yankees, but that wouldn’t last long. Werber appeared in three games in late April off the bench, making a combined two plate appearances. A couple weeks after that, the Yankees sold him to the Red Sox.

Boston wasn’t a particularly good team in 1933, which allowed Werber to get plenty of playing time to develop. He also transitioned over to third base, the position where he would spent the majority of his career. His 1933 season was nothing to write home about, but then the calendar changed to 1934, and Werber turned into an MVP candidate.

Werber started off his 1934 season on fire, capped off by a four-hit game on April 24th. After a bit of a down May, he had a good June, but an incredible July. In 31 games that month, Werber put up an OPS over 1.000, recording 49 hits. He was at or near the top of several leaderboards. Yankees’ general manager Ed Barrow even said that he was the best player in the league. The Yankees got a decent chunk of money in return for him, but it seemed like they might have missed out on a star. Not to mention, he was crushing his former team, finishing his season against them with a .923 OPS. Then, a bucket appeared.

Late in the 1934 season, Werber was frustrated after leaving a couple men on base. Back then, teams often kept a bucket of water around to help players cool off on hot days. Red Sox pitcher Lefty Grove had a habit of kicking them when frustrated, and Werber emulated his teammate and did it himself. Problem was, Boston had replaced the usual bucket with a heavier one to try and get Grove to stop his habit. Word must not have reached Werber as he tried it anyway and broke his toe in the process.

The third baseman didn’t miss any time, as he still played in all but one of the Red Sox’ games that season. However, the broken toe very much seemed to affect his play down the stretch. In September, he went just 24-101 after hitting .337 through the end of August. He led the league in stolen bases that season, finishing with 40 on the year. In the first couple months, he successfully swiped 34 bags, while getting caught just 11 times from April to August. In September, he still stole six, but was thrown out five times, a dramatically worse percentage than any other month. His numbers on the season overall were still really good, but they’re not quite as good as he could’ve been.

The toe didn’t just affect his 1934 season either, it seemingly dogged the rest of his career. While he would lead the majors in stolen bases in two other seasons, his numbers at the plate never quite got close to what they were in ‘34. His OPS+ that season was 120, but for the rest of his combined career, it was a below average 96.

It’s quite possible that Werber would’ve regressed anyway. The Yankees also didn’t necessarily need a third baseman, as that was when Red Rolfe came into his prime and became a multi-time All-Star for them at the position. However, it’s way funnier to think that the Yankees might’ve gotten away with a disastrously bad trade because the Red Sox had a needlessly extra heavy bucket in their dugout.