One vestige from the early days of baseball that we don’t get anymore is teams trading players to and from minor league teams.
Yes, players may get traded from a minor league teams and go into another organization, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I mean that teams used to trade players to completely unaffiliated minor league teams. One such deal is how the Yankees got one of their greatest all-time players.
On November 21, 1934, the Yankees traded four players and money to be named later to the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals for a young outfielder named Joe DiMaggio. An injury led the Yankees to keeping DiMaggio with the Seals for 1935 to prove he was healthy. He did so and promptly joined the Yankees’ roster for a remarkable rookie season in 1936; the rest is history.
Now back to the four players that were traded to the Seals. One was Doc Farrell, who was at that point an eight-year major league veteran. Farrell never reported to San Francisco and ended up back in the Yankees’ system before a late-season 1935 move to the Red Sox, where he played his final four MLB games.
Another was Floyd Newkirk, who had appeared in one game for the 1934 Yankees. He has to be one of very few, if not the only, Yankees who has apparently more uniform numbers than games played, with Baseball Reference listing him as wearing both No. 20 and No. 23. Newkirk played ‘35 with the Seals and spent a couple more years in the minors, but his one game in ‘34 remained his only career MLB appearance.
The other two players hadn’t played in the majors at that point, but were in whatever comprised the Yankees’ minor league system in 1934. However, they found themselves traded to a strictly “minor league team” and never ended up playing in an MLB game. Let’s look at their stories.
Ted Norbert first popped up on NYY-affiliated teams when he played for the Springfield Rifles and Birmingham Triplets in 1932. He spent the next two years after that playing for various minor league teams until the DiMaggio trade. While his minor league numbers from that time are incomplete, he did put up some good ones. With Binghamton in 1934, he hit .380 with a slugging percentage over .500. However, the trade took him out of the Yankees’ organization, and he spent most of the rest of his playing tenure in unaffiliated ball. However, he still had quite the career in baseball.
Norbert appeared on various Pacific Coast League teams from 1935-46. He was a teammate of DiMaggio in ‘35, helping the Seals to the PCL title. He became a four-time winner of the league’s home run crown. He was eventually inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame for his excellent career out on the West Coast.
Towards the end of his career, Norbert managed a Canadian team called the Victoria Athletics which, despite the name, are listed as a Yankees’ affiliate on Baseball Reference. In 1949, one of the players to come through British Columbia was future Yankees All-Star and Rookie of the Year Gil McDougald. He also became a figure in Puerto Rican baseball, scouting, coaching, and later moving to the island before passing away there in 1991.
Less is out there about the last player included in the deal: Jimmy Densmore. Like Norbert, he was a teammate of the legend he was traded for with the ‘35 Seals, but that would be the pitcher’s only year with the team.
In 1936, Densmore played for a minor league team in New Orleans; he then drops completely off the Baseball Reference listings. Back before the trade, he had won a 1931 Middle Atlantic League championship with the Cumberland Colts, a team that included future Yankee pitcher Vito Tamulis. Considering that most of the Google Books results when you search his name end up with results about the Doors, there doesn’t seem to be much more out there about him.
Every baseball player has a story, and these guys had some interesting ones among them. The Yankees still got the better end of the DiMaggio deal, however.
“Puerto Rico’s Winter League: A History of Major League Baseball’s Launching Pad” by Thomas E. Van Hyning
“The Middle Atlantic League, 1925-1952: A Baseball History” by William E. Akin