A tale of two front office executions

Chris Young, Jon Daniels

Pitcher-turned-MLB executive-turned-Rangers executive Chris Young (left) now succeeds Jon Daniels (right) as the Rangers’ GM . . . but the move’s timing days after Daniels was made to fire manager Chris Woodward was strange to be most polite.

When the Rangers executed manager Chris Woodward and general manager Jon Daniels, it looked at first as though the organisation simply decided too much was too little and enough already. Likewise when the Tigers decided several days earlier that there was a guillotine with general manager Al Avila’s name on it.

Avila’s dispatch wasn’t exactly likely to generate much in the way of sympathy or empathy.   Tigers owner Chris Illitch probably starting drawing up the warrant after Avila made a pair of 2017 deals that sent away future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander and ace designated hitter J.D. Martinez and brought back what proved no major league help.

Both those players went from there to help make World Series wins possible with their new clubs, back-to-back even: Verlander helped pitch the Astros to the 2017 Series rings and Martinez helped swing the 2018 Red Sox to the rings a year later.

Never mind how tainted both Series triumphs are, though it’s possible to make the case that Verlander (and his fellow Astros pitchers) wasn’t exactly among the conspirators that birthed and bred Astrogate. And we don’t know for dead last certain whether or how often Martinez himself benefitted from the Rogue Sox’s replay room reconnaissance ring.

From Avila’s first season on the job his Tigers, as Defector notes, were baseball’s second-worst hitters and second-worst pitchers on a team level, not to mention the second-worst in the Show for winning and losing—behind the Orioles, who’ve spent this year going remarkably and maybe inexplicably from the tanks to within a half game’s reach of the wild card picture.

“Then again,” observes Defector writer Ray Ratto (once a longtime San Francisco Bay Area sportswriter), “[Orioles GM] Mike Elias didn’t guarantee a quarter billion dollars in current and future salaries to players who have amassed a 43-68 record, worse than every team in baseball save Oakland and Washington, who have shed payroll to be bad. Spending more to be just as bad is, well, spectacularly contraindicated.”

That was the Avila legacy in an envelope. He gave them his son Alex as a catcher and in exchange steered the team into a ditch. His best year was his first, and that’s never a good way to keep the boss from snarking you up on your way out the door. The current team is on pace to have its second-lowest runs per game output in franchise history (and since we know you’re going to ask, 1904) and the fewest homers in a full season since 1954. We’d call them God-awful, but God has lawyers.

. . .The Tigers just . . .  faded away. Neither hated nor condemned, they just eased into the Phantom Zone and stayed there. They’re not even appreciated for playing the fastest games in the majors, which is the one blessing you can provide your fans when you stink on a daily basis.

Al Avila

Al Avila, watching the Tigers work out the day before Opening Day, seeded his demolition with two 2017 trades.

In other words, if Avila was actively and consciously tanking, he had a mad genius for doing it as far away from deep scrutiny as the current Cubs, Reds, Royals, Pirates, and Nationals have drawn. (“Even the Angels get more condemnation,” Ratto writes wryly, “but that’s because unlike the Tigers, they kept their best players and still failed.”)

So the rebuilding Tigers have to start their rebuild all over again. So, apparently, do the Rangers, whose owner Ray Davis announced Daniels’s firing by saying, “Bottom line is we’re not good, and we haven’t been good for six years. To be competitive going forward, I felt that we needed to make a change.”

It was the way Davis made the change that left more than a few eyes rolling and jaws falling. He made Daniels announce Woodward’s wiring into the electric chair just a couple of days before he threw the switch on Daniels himself, whose contract was due to expire at season’s end.

Saying the decisions were brewing for several months before last Monday’s Woodward execution leaves Daniels with what The Athletic‘s Rangers beat writer Levi Weaver calls “a bad look.” That’s like saying the deal with Adolf Hitler to swap Czech freedom for “peace in our time” left Neville Chamberlain with nothing more than the proverbial egg on his face.

Except that the Czechs knew exactly what was coming, even if portions enough of the world around them still couldn’t believe it. As Weaver writes, Daniels was sent to face the press explaining Woodward’s dispatch with no knowledge that his own hemlock cocktail was being mixed.

What troubles Weaver is that, for all that dispatching Daniels might have been necessary at last, it was done not only underhandedly but a couple of years too late:

After all, as Davis made sure to point out, the Rangers haven’t had a winning season since 2016. In retrospect, the rebuild that began in earnest in 2020 probably should have begun in 2017 — never mind that one source familiar with proceedings said that Daniels intended to do just that, but was pressured into putting a better product on the field for the first season of the new ballpark. Still, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, Chi Chi Gonzalez and a passel of other home-grown talent didn’t turn out to be the next core of stars that fans hoped. Those decisions land at Daniels’ feet and maybe warranted a parting of ways.

But if that were the case, it should have been done back in 2020, when it was clear that plan hadn’t worked.

Those are purely baseball considerations. They fall under such headings as the Rangers’ farm yielding negligible crops; the front office’s unique stability in the Daniels era meaning a lack of fresh blood; and, a lot of circumstantial misfortune such as a pitching staff bedeviled with injuries over too long a period.

But Weaver isolates another problem with the manner in which Daniels was handled now. Reporters so often speak to a man’s peers in a business and Weaver learned things about Daniels from fellow GMs and their underlings that might make him an exception rather than a rule in a sport whose business is as cutthroat and duplicitous as its play is ennobling.

“Daniels cared about his people,” Weaver writes. “Sometimes, in the opinion of those around the league, he cared too much, seeing the best in his employees and keeping them around when others might have pulled the plug.”

Sure, he would make a hard decision when he had to — occasionally, the fit between employee and organization just wasn’t working and it was time to part ways. But the only times Daniels ever took me to task for my reporting was when I wrote those stories. Every time, the message was the same: if you need to blame someone, blame me. I don’t want this guy’s family to read him getting ripped in the press. I’m front-facing; I can handle it.

With [Daniels’ sudden firing] it’s clear that loyalty didn’t work its way up to the ownership level . . .

. . . Choosing one’s employees is an owner’s prerogative. But to fire Daniels publicly after such a long tenure showed a lack of common courtesy or decency. Even if Davis had decided not to renew Daniels’ contract at the end of the year, keeping him around to help with the transition would have accomplished two things. One, it would have given some well-deserved dignity to Daniels, allowing him to quietly step down at the end of the season. He has earned that, and to surprise him with a firing now — just two days after he was the face of a managerial firing — is disrespectful at best.

Secondly, allowing Daniels to finish the year could have potentially been beneficial to [pitcher turned MLB vice president in charge of discipline to Daniels understudy Chris] Young. In an advisory role, Daniels could have helped to prepare Young for the remainder of the responsibilities he was inheriting. We’ll never know now: Davis didn’t run the idea by Young before making the move, opting to act now and let Young deal with the fallout.

Respected for brains on the mound and as a baseball executive in the making, Young doesn’t exactly have people worrying about whether he’ll crack. But Daniels had almost two decades on the job and shepherded the last two (and back-to-back while they were at it) Rangers World Series entrants. (They lost decisively to the Giants in 2010; they were two outs from winning the 2011 Series when they ran into a Cardinals buzz saw named David Freese.)

Daniels and Young enjoyed a close relationship for a very long time, going back to Young’s initial major league seasons pitching for the Rangers. Surely Young knows that being a people person was one of Daniels’s above-average strengths. And the Rangers have had small improvements this year even if they weren’t obviously making more better promises for next year.

How Young balances himself between people personhood and making the hard assessents of the Rangers’ roster and front office should provide interesting observations. But if he assesses the depth of the handling and timing of his former boss’s sentence to the Phantom Zone and finds himself compelled to keep one eye over his shoulder, you can’t necessarily blame him.

3,000 hits, and one for the game’s integrity

Miguel Cabrera

Miggy Stardust standing alone at first base after becoming baseball’s only 3,000-hit/500-home run/Triple Crown winning player Saturday afternoon.

Well, it proved too much to ask that Miguel Cabrera should get number 3,000 by launching one over the fences in Comerica Park Saturday afternoon. Sometimes the Elysian Fields insist that drama takes an inning off. But he didn’t wait long for the big knock, either. A sharply-cued single is equal to a home run in the hit total.

With Robbie Grossman aboard with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, Cabrera shot a 1-1 fastball from Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela through the right side of the infield as if he’d lined up a money shot in a pool tournament. The bedlam began before he had a chance to hold up at first.

The Comerica audience chanted and cheered down upon him from just about the moment he left the batter’s box. He raised his fist at first as the ballpark scoreboard gave him the fireworks equivalent of a 21-gun salute. Former teammate José Iglesias, now a Rockie, ambled over to give him a bear hug—and the ball he’d just hit into history.

The Tigers poured out of their dugout to congratulate their man. His wife, his son, his daughter, and his mother gave and received hugs with him behind the plate while time was still in effect. Who says it wasn’t worth the extra day’s wait?

Cabrera barely had time to settle back in at first base when Jeimer Candelario struck out but Jonathan Schoop pushed him to second and Austin Meadows (safe on a fielder’s choice) home with an infield hit, and Spencer Torkelson—who’s taken first base over while Cabrera settles in strictly as a designated hitter—hit Senzatela’s first pitch to him into the right field seats.

Just like that, the Tigers showed they knew how to celebrate Miggy Stardust’s big knock the right ways. Then, after Grossman singled home a fifth run in the fourth, the big puddy tats ramped up the party with two outs in the sixth, and the guest of honour struck again, his two-run single being sandwiched between a pair of RBI singles, including Candelario pushing Meadows home on another infield hit.

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch gave Cabrera the rest of the game off, and his mates treated him to another two-out four-run inning in the seventh, this time Meadows singling home a pair, Candelario drawing a bases-loaded walk, and Schoop singling Meadows home. The Tiger bullpen took care of the rest, even if Angel De Jesus had to claw his way out of a self-inflicted bases-loaded jam to seal the 13-0 win.

That was the opener of a doubleheader in which the Rockies threatened to shut the Tigers out in the nightcap until Meadows hit a two-out, two-run triple off Rockies reliever Alex Colome. But Colome struck pinch hitter Harold Castro out swinging on three straight cutters to nail the 3-2 Rockies win.

Cabrera picked up another base hit in the nightcap’s bottom of the first to set first and third up for Candelario, who struck out swinging before Meadows forced the guest of honour at second for the side. But nothing could spoil Cabrera’s party, not even a doubleheader split. Nothing could spoil him becoming the first man ever to nail 3,000+ hits, 500+ home runs, and win a Triple Crown.

Not even the Comerica crowd booing wrongly when the Yankees ordered him walked in the bottom of the eighth Thursday, so their lefthanded reliever Lucas Luetge could have a more favourable matchup with the lefthanded-hitting Meadows.

That debate poured into the following two days, even as the Tigers and the Rockies were rained out of playing Friday night. It was a foolish debate, in which the booing Tiger fans proved nothing more than that they’re not averse to a little tanking—when it might involve one of their own getting the ideal matchup to get the big knock after he’d gone 0-for-3 thus far on that day.

Down 1-0, Yankee manager Aaron Boone could have been accused of a little tanking himself if he’d let Luetge pitch to the righthanded Cabrera, whose splits show he manhandles pitching from both sides but is that much better against the portsiders, and handed Cabrera the immediate advantage going in.

Boone had even a slight a chance to hold those Tigers and keep his Yankees within simple reach of overcoming and winning. History be damned, he took it. And even if the lefthanded-swinging Meadows did wreck the maneuver promptly with a two-run double, it happened just as honestly as the free pass to Cabrera occurred.

“What a shame and not a good call by the opposing team,” sniffed one social media denizen about the Yankees, a sentiment expressed by only a few too many thousand from the moment Cabrera took his base that day. “Just let him have his victory at home for the fans. What a shame.”

Just “let” him have his victory?

No—the shame would have been if the Yankees let Cabrera have one more chance to  help beat them even with an historic hit providing a little extra Tiger insurance. The game’s integrity includes especially that everyone present and playing makes an honest effort to compete and win. That’s what the Yankees did in that moment.

Cabrera may be aging, but he’s still a formidable bat. A Hall of Famer whose age is only too pronounced but whose spirit and love of the game hasn’t been eroded out of its career-long presence is too smart not to know the Yankees weren’t about to let him bury them alive if they could help it.

So he waited an extra day or two to swing into the history books. The only thing wrong Saturday was probably that it couldn’t have been a home run. It’s happened before when baseball competition required precedence over baseball history. It can happen again with the next significant milestone approached by the next significant player. For integrity’s sake, we should hope that the participants play the game right then, too, even if it means history waiting an extra day or two.

The Comerica Park racket after Cabrera pulled up at first in the first should tell you one historic swing wasn’t just worth the wait, it was good for baseball, the Tigers, and Miggy Stardust. And in that order.

A Saturday special for Miggy Stardust?

Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera beamed while tapping his heart, as manager A.J. Hinch helpd him accept a memento from the Tigers for his 500th home run last fall. His 3,000th hit was put on hold one more day by Mother Nature.

“I think,” Miguel Cabrera said when asked his first reaction after he might nail hit number 3,000, “I’m going to cry.” Then, he said, he’d remember the uncle who taught baseball to him in his native Venezuela. He also asked for “El Alma Llanera” to be played through the Comerica Park PA system after he nailed the hit.

He didn’t exactly ask for the rainout Friday that postponed it another day.

Amo, lloro, canto, sueño, con claveles de pasión, the song’s lyric says in part: “I love, I cry, I sing, I dream, with carnations of passion.” That’s as good a short description as any you might find of the way Cabrera has played baseball. Even if it omits mention of high-wattage smiling. Cabrera’s been as good at that as he’s been at the plate.

“So long as one can grasp concepts like ‘fun’ and ‘joy,’ Miguel Cabrera has always been delightfully uncomplicated,” writes Bleacher Report‘s Zachary D. Rymer. “Rarely has he shown any pretense that he’s doing something other than playing a game for a living.”

“I used to low-key creep your at-bats in my hotel room EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, after our games,” tweeted Reds first baseman Joey Votto this past Wednesday. “I knew I had to study the best to beat the best. Good luck with your final steps to 3000. You are a joy to watch.”

Votto wasn’t talking about his own hitting, necessarily, so much as he might have been talking about how him and his team could keep Miggy Stardust in check. That was about as simple as trying to stop an oncoming train with a bathroom plunger.

Cabrera may be unpretentious about the game he plays and the game he brings to it, but this is a player whose first major league hit was a home run, whose 1,000th career hit was a home run, and whose 2,000th hit was also a home run. Would it be too much to ask the Elysian Fields to arrange for number 3,000 to clear the fence for Cabrera this weekend?

Wouldn’t it?

They already arranged it for Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs. They swung it for Álex Rodríguez. But you wouldn’t necessarily bet against them moving their huge hands on Cabrera’s behalf, either. Not for a player who will become the only man in Show history to collect 3,000+ hits, 500+ home runs, and a Triple Crown.

Fifteen other Hall of Famers—including Oscar Charleston, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski—were Crown winners without finishing where Cabrera will finish in all three of those places. (Charleston and Gibson, of course, were limited to the Negro Leagues and their shorter playing schedules arbitrarily and unfairly.)

The chunky first baseman/designated hitter whose face is still mostly that of a wide-eyed ten-year-old boy is about to travel aboard his own exclusive jet. Cabrera’s surname translates to “goatherd.” He’s made goats out of plenty of pitchers from the most modest to the Hall of Famer alike.

In ten or more lifetime appearances each against five Hall of Famers, Cabrera would have a 1.000+ OPS if it wasn’t for John Smoltz, against whom his OPS is a puny .611. He has a 1.105 OPS against Greg Maddux, a .933 against Tom Glavine, a .912 against Pedro Martínez, and an .833 against Randy Johnson. When Miggy Stardust enters Cooperstown, he’ll enter with four sets of bragging rights.

The single mark against Cabrera is that he’s been a career-long negative defender. Among first basemen—and Cabrera’s played more games there than at third base since 2014—he’s five fielding runs and 38 defensive runs saved below his league average. As all-around first basemen go, Albert Pujols he ain’t.

Among third basemen, he’s less: 46 fielding runs and 88 defensive runs saved below his league average. As all-around third basemen go, Mike Schmidt he ain’t. (I could have said Adrián Beltré, too, but Beltré finished 23 short of the 500-bomb threshold, alas. It won’t keep him from welcoming Cabrera as a Hall of Famer in due course.)

He hasn’t exactly been the Road Runner on the bases, either. In fact, he’s barely beyond Cecil Turtle but without Cecil’s bag of sneaky tricks. Cabrera has only 106 infield hits in 2,999. And he’s stolen in a career (39) what Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson could steal in a season—near the end of Henderson’s career.

Cabrera has tried sixty thefts and been arrested a little over a third of the time. He’s only tried an average of three times per season. It may be miraculous, or a case of catching the other guys with their pants down, that he has a .650 lifetime stolen base percentage. Presumably, his teams warned him that any more than three tries a year would get him arrested for malicious mischief.

Except there’s no malice aforethought involved with Cabrera. This is the guy who’s been seen hugging opposing fans in the seats when diving for a foul ball, and giving Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson a grinning thumbs-up, after Hellickson once struck him out on a changeup nobody could hit—even swinging a shovel.

It takes something to stay the course even when your team has collapsed. As age and injuries caught up to Cabrera from 2017 through the end of last season, only one team in Show lost more than the Tigers in the same span. Now, the Tigers actually look like a team approaching true contention, and Miggy Stardust is their still-enthusiastic elder statesman.

Mother Nature trumped the Elysian Fields to rain the Tigers out Friday night. Maybe she knows something we and they don’t. Something about a Saturday special that turns Comerica Park into the hardiest party spot in Detroit.

Cabrera and the Yankees have it right

Miguel Cabrera

A free eighth-inning pass after going 0-for-3 to that point Thursday outraged Tiger fans far more than it outraged Miguel Cabrera to remain one knock short of 3,000.

I don’t want to pour any more gasoline onto the fire of Tiger fan’s outrage, but Yankee manager Aaron Boone did the absolute right thing Thursday afternoon. And it wasn’t as though Miguel Cabrera lacked for shots at his 3,000th lifetime hit.

Boone ordered Cabrera walked on the house in the bottom of the eighth rather than risk the righthanded-hitting Cabrera clobbering his lefthanded relief pitcher Lucas Luetge with runners on second and third, two outs, and the Tigers ahead a mere 1-0.

Now, the move backfired, sort of; Austin Meadows ripped a two-run double to make it 3-0. So think of it as the Tigers’ revenge if you wish. But since when is the other guy “entitled” to make history on your dollar? Since when are you just supposed to be nice guys and let him make his history when he might put a game a little further out of reach against you?

Cabrera was 0-for-3 on the day when his eighth-inning plate appearance approached. He didn’t exactly lack for chances to plant number 3,000 somewhere in Comerica Park. He knew it. Understandably, the Comerica crowd wanted history. Understandably, too, the Yankees wanted to come back and win a baseball game.

But a Hall of Famer is more aware of the big picture than the fans booing the Yankees lustily for ordering the free pass before he could even check in at the plate. He simply dropped his bat in the on-deck circle and make the trek to first base without so much as a wince. He waited until he reached the pad to have a word with or toward Boone.

To which Boone replied, perhaps in good humour, “Miggy was jawing at me after I called for the walk. I told him we’re even. He cost me a World Series in 2003, so now he can sleep on 2,999.” (The reference was to Cabrera then being a member of the Marlins who beat the Yankees in six in that Series—into which Boone’s legendary ALCS-winning home run put the Yankees in the first place.)

Tonight will be only the second night Cabrera sleeps on 2,999. After pulling up that short following Wednesday’s play, during which he went 3-for-4 to get there in the first place, he purred, “Who the [fornicate] cares? We lost. When has this game ever been about individual accomplishments?”

Well, fair play. Baseball has been as much about individual feats as team victories since the game was born, more or less. Cabrera may downplay his failure to reach 3,000 Wednesday—and try calming the Comerica crowd down after the free pass and the eventual Tiger win today—but he can’t really be foolish enough to deny that particular feats resonate as deeply as World Series rings.

If he’s rejecting the idea that individual accomplishment is not something to which a player is “entitled,” good for him and better for the game. There’s nothing in the written rules, and little enough unwritten in the Sacred Unwritten Rules, that says a team’s supposed to roll over and play dead so the other guy can reach a landmark.

But there’s plenty on the ethical side that says you’re supposed to achieve your milestones in honest, unmanipulated competition. Including the part that says the other guys have just as much right to try to beat you as you have to try to beat them, history be damned for the moment.

Few teams are quite as conscious or respectful of history and milestones as the Yankees. But they’re also conscious of the season at hand. They took the chance on a lefthander-lefthander matchup offering the best chance to escape the inning unscathed and try once more for victory.

Meadows and thus the Tigers turned out the winners there, fair and square. The Yankees also had a shot at closing the gap and even tying the game in the top of the ninth, when Joey Gallo beat out an infield hit with one out, until Isiah Kiner-Falefa dialed Area Code 6-4-3 for the side and the game.

The Yankees made a smart move and it backfired. That, too, can happen. If Tiger fans want to call it the vengeance of the baseball gods, they’re, ahem, entitled to that. But they shouldn’t condemn the Yankees for putting honest competition and a chance to come back and win ahead of history.

Tiger fans should also heed manager A.J. Hinch’s counsel. “Boonie’s obligation is to his own team and their chances of winning,” Hinch said postgame. “He had the matchup behind Miggy that he wanted. So you could see it coming. I know our fans responded accordingly, but I totally get it.” That’s called being a gracious winner.

Cabrera’s sound counsel, however crudely expressed, is: We still won, and tomorrow’s another day. Especially with the Tigers still at home for this weekend, hosting the Rockies. Cabrera has three more games in front of the home audience to plant number 3,000, fair and square, in honest competition.

“I’ve just traded hamburger for steak”

Rocky Colavito (left) and Harvey Kuenn in their new 1960 wardrobes. Could showing this photograph around Cleveland still get you run out of town . . . after you’ve been broiled, basted, batter-fried, braized, and beaten into a froth?

The American League’s 1959 home run champion wanted a $5,000 raise for 1960. His team’s general manager forced him to haggle yet again, signed him to a 1960 contract with the raise . . . and traded him out of town for the American League’s 1959 “batting champion” on the final day of spring training.

“We’ve given up forty homers for forty doubles,” said that general manager, Frank Lane of the Indians. Actually, it was 42 home runs for 42 doubles in 1959, but let’s not get technical.

To this day, Rocky Colavito (the 42 homers) thinks Frank Lane is a seven-letter euphemism for a male sexual prophylactic. Cleveland citizens probably call Lane far worse. To them, Colavito for Tigers veteran Harvey Kuenn (the 42 doubles) was even worse than Chicago would come to see Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio.

As Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Terry Pluto observes, Colavito was an Indian on his first Opening Day 65 years ago though he didn’t play in that game. The Indians wanted to return him to the minors for a spell, but Colavito balked until the team’s then-GM, Hank Greenberg, a Hall of Famer Colavito admired, assured him: let us fix this little roster problem we have and you’ll be back in three weeks.

Greenberg proved as good as his word and then some, which meant the world to the straight-shooting Colavito, like Greenberg a native of the Bronx. Colavito appeared in only five 1955 games, but in 1956 he hit 21 home runs to crown a full, fine rookie season and he asked Greenberg for a $3,000 raise. Greenberg gave it to him: $1,500 immediately, with a promise of a second $1,500 if he played 100 or more 1957 games. He did.

“I went right up to his office,” Colavito told Pluto. “Hank looked at me and said, ‘I know why you’re here.’ He then told (Indians traveling secretary) Bob Gill, ‘Get Rocky his check for $1,500.’ Hank Greenberg was the greatest general manager I ever had. He always was a man of his word.”

Not so Lane, whom Pluto once recorded in The Curse of Rocky Colavito as having reneged once too often on this or that assurance for Colavito’s taste. Right down to Lane’s late spring training 1960 assurance that the last thing on his mind was trading his right field star. Until he made the deal.

Colavito, the matinee idol with the big swing, the fine throwing arm, and the reputation for fan friendliness that went so far as to insist children clamoring for his autograph line up properly and say “please” and “thank you.” (What a surprise that Indian fans lived by the watchword, “Don’t knock the Rock.”) For Kuenn, the grizzled shortstop-turned-outfielder with the persistent clump of chewing tobacco in his cheek, the increasingly persistent leg issues, and a similar contract haggle approaching the 1960 season.

Lane had another issue with Colavito, which Pluto also recorded in the aforementioned book. Lane preferred baseball players who lived and drank hard. Like his best friend and ill-fated Indians roommate, pitcher Herb Score, Colavito was anything but the hard-living, hard-drinking type.

Even before taking the Indians’ GM job, Lane was infamous around baseball for treating trading as the most persistent itch that required a scratch. As the Cardinals’ GM previously, Lane was notorious for building a trade involving Hall of Famer Stan Musial that was stopped only by the intercession of owner Gussie Busch, who knew St. Louis would send him and anyone else associated with the team to the rack if it went through.

“Some of [Lane’s] trades were nuts, and some were good,” said longtime Cardinals GM Bing Devine. “Frank Lane was a great trader,” said longtime Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi. “But when I say that, I don’t mean the trades he made were great.”

Indians manager Joe Gordon walked out to first base after Colavito arrived in the team’s final exhibition game to tell him he’d just been dealt to the Tigers. “I’ve just traded hamburger for steak,” crowed Lane, who’d been trying to pry Kuenn out of the Tigers for several years.

Lane was also a typical baseball man of the time in that he tended heavily to rate players according to their “batting averages” alone. For all we know, Lane shrugged it off if he didn’t laugh his head off when Branch Rickey published a Life essay that said among other things that “[b]atting average is only a partial means of determining a man’s effectiveness on offense”—in 1954.

To Lane, trading the AL’s 1959 home run king for the league’s 1959 “batting” champion trading as he also said “forty home runs for forty doubles” made all the sense in the world:

We’ve added fifty singles and taken away fifty strikeouts . . . I’ll probably make bobby-soxers mad at me, but they’ve been mad at me before . . . I realise Colavito is very popular. There were many people who came to the park to see him hit a home run, whereas they wouldn’t come to the park just to see Kuenn hit a single. But those singles and doubles win just as many games as home runs . . . Rocky’s best year was 1958 when he batted over .300 and hit 41 homers, but our attendance was only 650,000 because we didn’t have a contending club.

“Where do you begin to shovel through this pile of public relations pap spewed out by Lane?” Pluto asked in his book. “Last time I checked,” said Sporting News writer Hal Lebovitz, whom Pluto also cited, “a single doesn’t count as much as a home run.” The last time I checked, the 1959 Indians were second in American League home attendance (1.50 million fans) to the Yankees (1.6 million).

Let me show you Hamburger vs. Steak in 1959 according to my Real Batting Average metric. (Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches / total plate appearances.)

1959 PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Rocky Colavito 664 301 71 8 3 2 .579
Harvey Kuenn 617 281 48 1 7 1 .547

Now, let me show you Hamburger vs. Steak from Colavito’s first full major league season through the end of 1959:

1956-1959 PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Rocky Colavito 2166 992 275 14 16 7 .602
Harvey Kuenn 2572 1049 201 16 18 4 .501

This may have been one of the more polite Cleveland protests after the Colavito-for-Kuenn trade. (Akron Beacon-Journal.)

Both players dealt with nagging injuries in those four seasons, though Kuenn probably had the harder time of it. He depended as much on his legs as anything else to succeed and those were his most often injured parts. He’d pounded them, too, playing shortstop in his first few years, though it did him little good: as a shortstop, Kuenn was worth 27 defensive runs below his league average.

Colavito was also a superior defender; as a corner outfielder, his lifetime numbers show him worth 61 defensive runs above his league average.

What Lane also didn’t either think about or comprehend if he did think was that Colavito was hurt somewhat by Municipal Stadium, that pitching paradise and hitting challenge. Colavito hit far better on the road. Kuenn had the opposite issue: Tiger Stadium was a hitting haven. He hit far better at home, but coming to Municipal Stadium was likely to be a nightmare.

Well, now. Kuenn missed quite a number of 1960 games thanks to further nagging injuries and, yes, when he could and did play he did hit better on the road than at home. The split isn’t glaring since he was essentially a singles-and-doubles hitter with about as much power as a push mower, but “batting average” Nazis should note that thanks to age and injuries Kuenn would never hit as high as .308 again (his 1960 “batting average”) the rest of his career.

According to Pluto’s book, Colavito was given another stab in the back by Gordon, who seems to have told those who would listen that Colavito’s immediate reaction to the trade was, “For Kuenn and who else?” Colavito denounced the remark as the biggest. lie. ever.

I never said anything negative about Harvey Kuenn. After that, I never had any stomach for Gordon or Lane . . . I feel bad for Harvey because he caught some of the public backlash from the deal. Harvey was a helluva player, and he could really run when he was younger. He once got five infield hits in one game. I don’t know if I got five infield hits in my career. If I could run like Harvey I would have been a lifetime .300 hitter. But Detroit wanted to trade Harvey for me because they weren’t sure how much longer his legs would hold up. That was a big factor in the trade, and no one talked about it until long after the deal had been made.

Devastated as he was by the trade and by the betrayals he felt, Colavito’s 1960 opening with the Tigers had to make him feel worse: the Tigers opened against the Indians. He had to fly with the Indians from spring training to Cleveland and then change sides. He went hitless in the first of the two games but smashed a three-run homer in the top of the fourth off Jim Perry in the second game.

“The first year in Detroit was rough for me because I had left a place and a team that I loved and the fans in Cleveland loved me,” Colavito told the Detroit Free Press in 2020. “I am sure it was the same for Harvey, who was a really good man. Even my neighbor at the home I rented in Detroit said to me: ‘I don’t care who you are, I was a Harvey Kuenn fan.’ That was the last time we ever spoke. In the home opener in Detroit, I remember it was a very warm day and that I hit a two-run homer and we won.”

Yet when 1960 finished shaking out, Colavito still came out ahead of Kuenn, according to RBA:

1960 PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Rocky Colavito 616 263 53 4 3 4 .531
Harvey Kuenn 537 197 55 6 3 4 .493

No wonder then-Tigers GM Bill DeWitt, who’d partnered with Lane on the Big Trade, crowed back, “I like hamburger.” Even though DeWitt’s 1960 Tigers weren’t exactly world beaters at hitting or reaching base overall, even though four of his top five players by wins above replacement-level player were pitchers. (Hall of Famer Jim Bunning plus Frank Lary, Don Mossi, and Dave Sisler.)

Neither Colavito nor Kuenn would be quite the same player they’d been before the Big Trade, though Colavito hit 139 home runs in four seasons as a Tiger. As a matter of fact, Colavito was anything but a Detroit breakdown:

Hold That Tiger! PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Rocky Colavito 2723 1171 346 22 26 9 .578

In due course, Colavito would have an encore in Cleveland, under a far different regime, but also far from his early seasons when the Tribe remained serious American League contenders. Lane had much to do with reducing the team to also-rans, of course.

Kuenn would learn the hard way what it was like when Lane decided you didn’t fit into his plans. After a 1960 in which he finished fifth in the American League with that .308 “batting average,” but missed most of September due to injuries, Kuenn signed a 1961 contract. Lane called him “untouchable”—until he wasn’t, trading him to the Giants for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland.

Antonelli turned up with arm trouble and the coming end of his career. Kirkland would average 25 home runs a season as a three-year Indian but offered not a lot else other than plus defense in the outfield, then tapered away in Baltimore and Washington before going on to play six seasons in Japan.

Kuenn would remain a respected veteran who still knew how to hit when he was healthy. But he’d also finish his career with the strange distinction of having made the final outs in two no-hitters by Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax: in 1963, as a Giant; and, more famously (Two and two to Harvey Kuenn!—Vin Scully), in 1965 as a Cub.

He’d also be one of the four-man committee (with his old teammate Bunning plus Pirates pitcher Bob Friend and Hall of Fame former Phillies pitching great Robin Roberts) who ended up finding and hiring Marvin Miller to run the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Lane had one final dagger to stick into Colavito, in 1965, when the two men bumped into each other by happenstance after the Kansas City Athletics—for whom Colavito played one season, 1964—traded Colavito back to Cleveland. As Colavito told Pluto, Lane told him the A’s traded him because owner Charlie Finley didn’t want to negotiate a contract with him.

“Who knows if that’s true?” Pluto asks. Who knows, given what’s only too well known of Lane, if it’s not true? This was the man who once said his best trade was sending a kid named Roger Maris to the A’s for infielder/outfielder Woodie Held and first baseman Vic Power.

Well, now. Held was a versatile player with some power; Power was a flashy first baseman with a little less power but enough defense and four All-Star teams while he was at it. You’ve probably heard Maris had a little more to come. When he ended up in New York, as a back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player, and smasher of ruthsrecord, Lane’s tune changed faster than a disc jockey’s patter.

“If I’d known Maris would end up a Yankee,” Trader Lane sniffed in due course, “I never would have made that deal.”

By 1964, Lane had this to say about trading Hamburger for Steak: it was “the most unfortunate I ever made—not from a baseball standpoint but from the fans’ standpoint. The gals loved that boy with his boyish grin.” The gals and everyone else might also have loved the forty home runs a season Colavito averaged as an Indian between 1956 and 1959. Chicks dug the long ball even then, but they weren’t the only ones.

When Lane died at 85 in 1981, only one baseball person showed up for the funeral, and that only at the request of then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn: Bobby Bragan, whom Lane fired as the Indians manager in 1958. Bragan denied the long-holding Cleveland legend that he put a curse on the Indians upon his departure.

“I didn’t put a hex on the club,” he said in his memoir, You Can’t Hit the Ball with the Bat On Your Shoulder. “Having Frank Lane as the general manager was curse enough.”

Especially when he really traded prime rib for meat loaf. From a baseball standpoint.