BEWARE OF THE BOOMERANG!

Torturing former teammates is a labor of love for baseball players. With ticket hustling and expansion causing more trades all the time, the revenge of the outcast is having an increasing effect on who finishes where in the pennant races
June 02, 1968

The winter readings and writings of Jose Cardenal, a small, flashy centerfielder who is now with the Cleveland Indians, suggested that something dramatic would happen when he got a chance to play against the California Argels, the team from which he was traded last December. Before unloading Cardenal the Angels had made it obvious that they considered Jose about as comfortable to have on a team as two pebbles in one shoe. Jose, in turn, wrote a widely circulated letter that concluded, "If and in the event I am traded, I can only hope that I will be traded to a team which needs me and where I will be able to play regularly. For I am a baseball player, hence, my greatest desire is to play baseball." California, he felt, had not let him play baseball. Last Thursday evening, in his first appearance against the Angels in Anaheim Stadium, Cardenal illustrated perfectly what is one of baseball's most bizarre phenomena, one that might be called the boomerang effect, or the ritual of revenge, and one that will have a significant effect on this year's pennant race.

Before the game Cleveland Manager Alvin Dark enhanced the occasion somewhat by letting Cardenal make out the lineup card and deliver it to home plate. Jose inserted his own name fifth in the batting order, "because I'm not the best hitter on the club." Then Cardenal went to work on his old teammates. In four times at bat he had two singles, a double and a home run. When asked after the game if he held any resentment against the Angels or Manager Bill Rigney, Jose said, "I'm not mad at Rigney. But I don't speak to him and he doesn't speak to me. I should still be playing here!" And then, only 48 hours after Cardenal boomeranged against the Angels, Chuck Hinton, the man Jose was traded for, hit a three-run homer for California that beat Cleveland.

When one starts to study the boomerang effect it begins to seem that there is no limit to what baseball players will do to torture their old friends. Last Friday, for example, the Minnesota Twins got hit for the second time this season when Lee Stange, once a Twin, pitched Boston to a 9-7 win in relief and batted in the lead run. Six days earlier Don Mincher, a man vital to Minnesota's 1965 American League pennant, singled home the winning run for California at Minnesota, a base hit that must have caused Twin brass a little extra anguish.

Phil Regan, who won 14 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago and saved 17 others, has worked five times in pressure situations against Los Angeles since being traded to the Chicago Cubs only a month ago and all the Dodgers have managed is one earned run against him. And last week Jim Fregosi, a player picked up by California from the Boston Red Sox in the expansion draft of 1960, carried his bat to the plate for a game against the Red Sox. Fregosi had had only one hit in his last 20 at bats, but the team that sold him down the river stirred him up. He singled, doubled, tripled and homered to become the first man in the majors this season to hit for the cycle.

One reason that the personal zest of the traded player is becoming more of a factor in baseball is that general managers are moving players around faster these days than kids exchange bubble-gum cards. Within the last four years 478 players have been traded, including Kings and Savages; Roofs, Locks and Johns; Nixons, Humphreys, Kennedys and Johnsons. Fundamentally, the reason for trading was always to help a team climb in the standings by strengthening a weak spot. But many franchises today trade to stimulate ticket sales or cover up the fact that either the minor leagues are not producing or that the manager cannot get certain problem players to perform up to their potential.

A few years ago the general manager of a major league team was held to be an infallible chap whose main function was speaking at Rotary Club luncheons, giving passes to the police chief and making sure a ground crew was hired that could draw a straight line 90 feet long. But the current increase in trading has made the general manager an open target and, with expansion imminent in baseball, the trading rate is going to climb even higher in the years immediately ahead. Few things can cause jeers to rise in the stands as quickly as the trade that backfires and, no matter how often the front office shuffles players, the human factors of desire and incentive are still the keys to baseball, and the records of traded players prove it.

Written inside Lou Brock's bright red St. Louis Cardinal cap is the word "hustle," but he never needs to look at it when he plays against the Chicago Cubs, the team that traded him in 1964. Entering this season, Brock had a very respectable lifetime batting average of .301 against the rest of the league, but against Chicago he has hit a stunning .396. Dick Howser, who was moved from the A's to Cleveland to the Yankees, shows an average of .242 against everybody but the A's. He hits .309 against them. Pedro Gonzalez, a second baseman traded by the Yankees to Cleveland, was barely a .230 hitter against the other eight teams in the American League when he was with the Indians. But whenever Cleveland faced New York he became a .320 Mighty Mouse. It cannot be said that when Bob Bailey joined the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Pirates last season he tore the league apart (.227), but he had a high time against Pittsburgh (.343).

Earl Wilson, the big right-handed pitcher who was traded from the Red Sox to the Tigers in the middle of the 1966 season, has a record of 6-1 against Boston since the Sox let him go. The first time he pitched against them he shut them out. Eight days later he held them to four hits while getting the first grand-slam homer of his career.

Boston's experience with Pitcher Gary Bell last season was equally bizarre. When Bell was with Cleveland the Red Sox beat him twice and he did not beat Boston. When he changed uniforms he beat Cleveland three times. The Red Sox, remember, won the pennant by only one game.

Curt Blefary of the Baltimore Orioles was once the property of the New York Yankees, and his play against them has been spectacular for the last four years. "I still feel the same way," he says. "I like to do extra well against the Yankees. I get more psyched up."

Most players will not admit publicly that they compete harder against their former teams. They offer instead that grand old platitude, "You try just as hard against every team." Poppycock. There have been too many cases of traded players returning to shake up the teams that had traded them, and sometimes under spectacular circumstances.

Mike Epstein, who has been sent to the minor leagues after all by Washington, will long be remembered for his first time at bat against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore. Angered because Oriole management wanted to ship him to the minors, Epstein refused to report and maintained that he was through with baseball. The Orioles finally traded him to the Senators, and late in June at Memorial Stadium he came to bat against Baltimore. Pitcher Bill Dillman had gotten the leadoff man out in the top of the first inning, then walked three in a row so that Epstein was at the plate with a chance to do something. He did, hitting the ball 420 feet into the right centerfield stands as a token of his affection.

Maury Wills, once the pride of Walter O'Malley's Los Angeles Dodgers, was traded to the Pirates before the start of last season. Wills is one of those players who is not afraid to say that, while he certainly held nothing against the Dodger players, he did have something to show Mr. O'Malley. The first time that the Pirates played the Dodgers in Forbes Field, Maury went 2 for 4 and stole a base. Two nights later he went 3 for 5 and started a rally that beat Los Angeles. He was saving his best, however, for Dodger Stadium. He arrived there after an uninspired series at San Francisco where he went 0 for 8. There were 35,000 in the stands and after the final out in the bottom of the first inning, having been given a thunderous ovation by the crowd, Maury came away from third base and started to trot into the Dodger dugout. "The whole thing had gotten to me," he says. "I was so high I guess I thought I was still a Dodger." Having gotten a hit earlier in the game and scored a run. Wills came to bat in the seventh inning with the score tied and promptly tripled to win it.

Although Tom Seaver, the bright young pitcher for the New York Mets, was never actually traded he knows what the incentive and desire factors mean in baseball. Seaver was originally signed illegally by the Atlanta Braves while still in college. Because they had broken the signing rule the Braves were disqualified in the bidding for Seaver, and three teams drew from a hat to see which would get him. The Mets won. On May 17 last year Seaver pitched against the Braves in Atlanta for the first time. While warming up in the bullpen he looked down at his shirt and read "New York" and stopped for a minute to stare over at the Atlanta pen. "I'm supposed to be there," he thought to himself. "That's the team that I was going to get to the big leagues with. They broke the rule and now I'm here. I'm going to have to show them something."

That day Seaver lost the game 4-3, though he got two doubles and a single in three times at bat, had two runs batted in and stole a base. He pitched against the Braves five more times last year and never lost to them. His earned run average against Atlanta is 2.09.

Five weeks ago one of the most damaging boomerang trades of recent seasons cut down the Houston Astros once again. The Astros had owned both Ken Johnson and Claude Raymond, but in 1965 they traded Johnson and his knuckleball to the Atlanta Braves, and last season they sent Relief Pitcher Raymond to the Braves also. The first night after he was traded Raymond saved a game against Houston for the Braves, and the next afternoon he won in relief against the Astros. Johnson now has a lifetime record against Houston of 7-2, but what happened recently is enough to give general managers ulcers.

Johnson went to the mound in the Astrodome and allowed Houston a total of two singles. In the ninth inning he gave up a walk with two outs, and Manager Lum Harris waved in Raymond from the bullpen. Raymond must have smirked as he got the final out against his old team. Against the rest of the National League, Johnson has an earned run average of 3.23. Against Houston it is 2.32.

Right back to the first baseball trade ever made, the fellow traded turns out to be a pain in the scorebook for his former team. Baseball was new as a professional game when in 1871 the Brooklyn Eckfords sold A. J. Reach, a left-hand-throwing second baseman, to the Philadelphia Athletics for $275. Reach was hardly into his new uniform before he faced the Eckfords, went 2 for 5, scored two runs and, with the score tied 10-10 in the eighth inning, made a spectacular play at second base to save the game. Eventually the A's won 11-10 and went on to win the pennant, and Reach ultimately became the owner of the Philadelphia team.

The first big deal in baseball boomeranged, too. That was in 1887 when the Chicago White Stockings sold Mike (King) Kelly to the Boston Red Stockings for the then "unheard-of price" of $10,000.

A few days later Kelly and the Red Stockings traveled to Chicago to meet the White Stockings. Before huge crowds in two consecutive games Kelly made the trade look foolish by going 8 for 10.

That should have been enough of a lesson to general managers, but of course trades do make winners as well as losers. Baseball's biggest winners today are the world-champion Cardinals, in whose dugout is one Orlando Cepeda, who came from San Francisco in 1966. Cepeda has produced six game-winning hits against San Francisco, and often he will walk up and down in the dugout with his hands outstretched to form what looks like a large stomach. Giant Manager Herman Franks has a large stomach, but perhaps that is a coincidence.

Phil Regan, the ex-Dodger now-Cub, sums up the feelings of traded players well. "When I go in to pitch against the Dodgers I am more excited than usual," says Regan. "You've got to try harder against your old team. Mostly it's professional pride—you want to show them that you're just as good playing for someone else, or maybe even better, than you were with them. I know that if they hit me well, they're going to ride me really good. It might not come out right away, but soon they'll really give it to me. And their riding will be tougher to take because they know me so well and can hit me in a tender spot easily. It's all joking, but it's still embarrassing and annoying. There isn't any team I want to beat more than I want to beat the Dodgers."

And so has it always been. Woody Held a year ago beating the Orioles three times in three days right after they sent him to California, and Rocky Colavito beating Cleveland twice for the White Sox the week the Indians let him go. Or perhaps it's Curt Simmons pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies after being released by them. It was like magic. St. Louis used Simmons against the Phillies every time the slightest chance arose and, not only did he pitch well, he had some marvelous nights as a hitter. Once he tripled, stole home and had two runs batted in. When Simmons left baseball last season his lifetime record against Philadelphia was 19-6.

"Listen," says Jimmy Piersall, the often-traded and colorful performer who once chased gnats in the outfield with a flit gun and dropkicked a fan out of centerfield, "don't you ever believe that stuff about playing the same against everyone. I remember when the Red Sox traded me to Cleveland in 1958. I was stunned and hurt and when I went in there to play against them they had a big crowd. I got two hits and was happy because we won the game. I had felt that Joe Cronin, who was the general manager, had hurt me financially at the time, because I had some business deals going around Boston and other things. That first year against Boston I was only so-so but the next year I got an awful lot of key hits against them. I really wound old Joe's watch for him that year. You've just got to get yourself up against teams that trade you."

Jimmy Piersall now works for the Angels and runs baseball camps in California for youngsters. His record as an Angel until 1966 against the teams that traded him is the last word on the boomerang effect. Against Washington. Piersall hit .300. Against Cleveland, it was .348. Against dear old Boston, .436. That's something for a general manager to think about the next time he gets a case of trade fever.

PHOTOGary Bell's ability to defeat the Indians was vital to Red Sox pennant. PHOTOThe Angels' Jim Fregosi hit for circuit against his old Boston buddies. PHOTOMike Epstein greeted Baltimore with an unsentimental four-run shot. PHOTOEarl Wilson, now a Tiger pitcher, even got an "I'll show them" grand slam. PHOTOOrlando Cepeda cost the Giants dear and relishes mocking Herman Franks. PHOTOPhil Regan, The Vulture, is feasting on his one-time pals, the Dodgers. PHOTOThe Twins didn't need hitting, so Don Mincher hits them where it hurts. PHOTOCleveland's Cardenal had typical last laugh of traded player after he bombed California. TWELVE ILLUSTRATIONS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)