clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What if the Yankees traded Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams?

In 1947, there was a verbal agreement for The Yankee Clipper and The Kid to swap teams. What would have been the consequences of this historic trade?

He could have been wearing pinstripes.
He could have been wearing pinstripes.
Jim McIsaac

After coming off of a 97-win season and defeating the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games in the World Series, Yankees General Manager Lou MacPhail looked to make one addition in the 1947 offseason that would make the team not only greater, but perennially great for many years to come. So, MacPhail met with Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox to make a deal. The deal would have been to trade Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. They verbally agreed to make the trade, but somehow the deal fell through and it never became official. What would have happened had this trade been made? How would Yankee history have changed?

In terms of raw numbers, what would have been the difference? Let's take a look at a side-by-side comparison from 1948 until the end of their respective careers:

Joe DiMaggio 4 484 2086 551 95 97 .305 .398 .553 .952 151 19.6
Ted Williams 13 1400 5811 1548 294 324 .339 .478 .626 1.105 186 68.2

The difference is plain to see. DiMaggio was a player at the tail-end of his career who still had four excellent years left in him, but Williams had 13 years of some of the best baseball ever played ahead of him. By a strictly numbers game, the trade would have been one-sided to the umpteenth degree. The Yankees, had they executed the trade, would have gained nearly 50 wins from 1948 until 1960. Would they have needed it, though?

From 1948 until the end of Williams' career, the Yankees won World Championships in: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, and 1958. While it is not necessarily so that they would have won all of those Championships or still lost in the series they did lose in during his tenure, one can see that, ceteris paribus, that the Yankees would still have made the World Series with Williams in the lineup due to his gained production (Other than in 1950, but it didn't matter).

But what about in years the Yankees did not make the World Series? In all of these cases, the gained WAR in Williams is not large enough that they would have won a pennant. And because the Yankees either won the pennant or lost it by a large margin in the 1950's, Williams would not have made the difference. Considering DiMaggio only hit 95 wRC+ in 220 PA in the World Series, it's not as if Williams would have robbed Yankee fans of any DiMaggio heroics. But beyond the players themselves, what kind of people would have been exchanged?

Joe DiMaggio was the most beloved sports figure of his time; Ernest Hemingway merely referred to him as "the great DiMaggio." He was the apple of popular culture's eye. He appeared in songs (Les Brown's "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio"), literature ("The Old Man and The Sea"), television (Seinfeld, at Dinky Donuts), and was the husband of the much-adored Marilyn Monroe. Joe DiMaggio perfectly channeled what it meant to be a Yankee: success, class, and integration into American culture like a Chevrolet and apple pie. And even though after his death it was revealed that he had a rather tumultuous relationship with those in his inner circle and had more questionable (but not horrible) personality traits in private, those really aren't an issue when it comes to being a ballplayer. DiMaggio was human, after all, and all that could be reasonably expected from him was to be a role model in public.

Ted Williams was a whole different animal. One thing that defined WIlliams' career, and his life for that matter, was his obsession with hitting. He studied the art of hitting compulsively--every single aspect--and sometimes felt frustrated when other players were not as obsessive as he was. Williams also had a complex and shaky relationship with both the press and the fans in Boston. Because Williams sought to be the best ever and knew that he could be, he often felt that fans and the media were out to get him. But at the same time, he was also a very good man; he fought valiantly in both World War II and the Korean War and was very vocal in the fight against cancer as he donated prolifically to the Jimmy Fund. His persona was certainly not as admired as DiMaggio, though.

So, what would have been the consequences in sum? The Yankees would have won more games, certainly, but probably not more Championships than they did. They would have lost a popular culture icon, but would have gained "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived". What would you have done if you were Lou MacPhail in 1947? Would you have traded for Williams, or kept DiMaggio?