In the American League the news centered around Casey Stengel's annual press conference, at which the salty old Yankee manager ominously warned that if some of his ballplayers didn't behave he might back a moving van up to the door of Yankee Stadium and haul a bunch of them away (E&D, see page 20). While Casey was talking, the National League was acting; General Managers Gabe Paul of Cincinnati and Joe Brown of Pittsburgh filled up a couple of moving vans and sent them on their way. From the Reds to the Pirates went Catcher Smoky Burgess, Pitcher Harvey Haddix and Third Baseman Don Hoak. From the Pirates to the Reds went Frank Thomas, one of baseball's prize sluggers, and other people named John Powers, Jim Pendleton and Whammy Douglas. For the National League, which no longer has a Frank Lane around to pep up the winter market, it was the first really big trade of the year. It was also, in a way, the official opening of the 1959 major league season.
The normal procedure after such a deal calls for 1) the interested parties to claim that the trade will help both teams and 2) everyone else to laugh. This time no one laughed. This is a trade that should help both teams.
In 1956, when the Redlegs made their strongest run at the pennant in 16 years, and again in '57, they were hailed as one of the great power-hitting teams of all time. Yet the Reds didn't win; their pitching was the worst in baseball. So last year, in an attempt to obtain a measure of balance the Reds traded away power for pitching. They didn't win then, either. The pitching was vastly improved, but there wasn't any power. Now, with Thomas around, the home-run total should pick up. He was the National League's All-Star Third Baseman last season, and his selection by his fellow players was based not on his fielding skill, which is ordinary, but on his batting, which is extraordinary. Playing half his games in vast Forbes Field, the 29-year-old third baseman-first baseman-outfielder hit 35 home runs last year and had 109 runs batted in; both figures were second in the league. In tight little Crosley Field, Thomas could go absolutely wild.
When the hustling young Pirates finished second in 1958 it surprised practically everyone in sight. But to climb higher, it was quite evident that they had to pick up a left-hand pitcher who could start and win, and a catcher who could hit with power. In Haddix, a 33-year-old who once won 20 games and just might win 15 or so again, they might well have found the first. In Burgess, who could always hit, they should now have the second. And although the Pirates gave up quite a bit of power to obtain these two, Hoak is a much slicker defensive ballplayer at third than Frank Thomas and can run three times as fast; two years ago he also had a very fine year at the plate, batting .293 and driving in 89 runs. His acquisition makes the Pirate infield—Hoak, Dick Groat and Bill Mazeroski—one of the tightest in the game.
February 9, 1959
If the Redlegs are happy and the Pirates are happy, it is quite possible that the defending champion Milwaukee Braves are not happy with the trade at all. The job they now face is just that much tougher. But then, this is the sort of thing that makes a good baseball league—and this is why the National League, year by year, gets better and better. The teams chasing the Yankees might well sit up and take notice. No matter what Casey says.