Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Apparently, the Dodgers Tried to Trade for Warren Spahn

I usually refrain from writing about trade rumors. After all, we all know that a vast majority of the 'Hot Stove' is bunk. That said, this one vintage, circa 1950's, rumor has my imagination flowing, so I thought I'd share it here. According to a newspaper cutout attached to a letter written by Walter O'Malley -- that's currently available at REA (Auction Link) -- the Dodgers were charging hard to trade for future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn from the Braves prior to the start of the 1953 season.

First, let's take a look at the O'Malley letter, dated December 10, 1951. In it he addresses something that continues to be a problem today. He directly tells a concerned fan that he shouldn't believe a majority of the trade rumors he's hearing. Here's an excerpt:
If you check back on newspaper stories for the past ten years, you will find that less than 1% of the stories about contemplated trades of ball players have come true. Whenever a team suffers a slump or any misfortune, it is quite usual for newspapermen to predict trades and shakeups 
I have pointed out these things to try to explain to you the large number of trade stories involving our players which have been in the paper lately. Actually, we have no intention of trading any regular members of our fine young club, which we feel should win pennants frequently within the next seven or eight years. 
It's fascinating that fans in the '50's had to deal with the same mumbo-jumbo we deal with today. What's even more fascinating is that the fan who received this letter also attached a newspaper cutout that dates to two years after the letter was received. In the cutout it specifically says that O'Malley had no intention of traded Gil Hodges... not even for Warren Spahn.
President Walter O'Malley of the Brooklyn Dodgers returned here today by air from the Winter baseball meetings in Phoenix, disappointed that his club didn't come up with a starting pitcher but confident it will win the pennant in 1953. 
He also revealed that first baseman Gil Hodges, a World Series bust, definitely was not on the market. 
I wanted to get a good pitcher, but I couldn't," O'Malley said. "But we'll still win the 1953 pennant -- at least, we'll give it a hell of a try." 
Discussing Brooklyn's attempt to trade for left-handed Warren Spahn of the Braves, O'Malley denied that Hodges was one of the Brooklyn players offered in the deal. 
"We are not giving up Hodges for anybody," he said. "We are not giving up the best first baseman in the National League."
It seems clear that the Dodgers were interested in Spahn, but I suppose we should take that with a grain of salt. A rumor is just a rumor, after all. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder, "what if."

What if the Dodgers traded Gil Hodges and Jim Gilliam (the cutout also mentions Gilliam as being highly desired in trade talks) to the Braves for Spahn. Would that have been enough, or is it too much?

At the time Warren Spahn, considered one of the greatest and most dependable lefties in the games history, was 31 years old with eight years of Major League experience under his belt. He had a 122-91 record with an 3.04 ERA and a 40.0 WAR. He had established himself as an elite hurler, but at 31-years old you couldn't blame others for thinking the downside was coming. As we know from history that was far from the case. Instead, he would play another 13 season and record 241 additional wins to go along with an additional 52.6 WAR. Clearly, he got better with age, and there's no doubt in my mind he could have been a difference maker in the Dodgers subsequent World Series losses in 1953 and 1956.

As for Hodges and Gilliam, the former would be considered one of the great players who should be in the Hall, but isn't. The later would be so beloved and respected by the franchise that they would retire his number immediately after his untimely death -- being the only retired number on the Dodgers who isn't a Hall of Famer.

But would their absence from the lineup make a huge difference? The team was already stacked, so I think it's possible the Dodgers would have still made the playoffs when they did. Heck, with an elite arm like Spahn (to go along with the up'n'coming Newcombe, Erskine and Podres) I can imagine they'd find themselves in the Fall Classic more often then they had. On the other hand, both Hodges and Gilliam were key contributors during their lone 1955 Championship.

I dunno.

It's fascinating to wonder how different the clubs history would have been had this trade been consummated.

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