Monday, July 31, 2017

100 Years of the #MLBTradeDeadline

John McGraw, Buck Herzog, and Christy Mathewson, summer 1916
This year marks 100 years of the #MLBTradeDeadline, and it happened because of one team. The team is the 1916 New Giants, and I literally wrote the book on them, from which this is adapted.

The 1915 New York Giants finished in last place, the only time that happened for a full season while John McGraw managed the team. The 1916 team started okay, winning 17 straight on the road (while on a 21-game road trip), a record that was tied by the 1984 Detroit Tigers but of course the Tigers had their streak over the course of a month, not in 20 days.

Well, the Giants floundered after that first streak, and McGraw basically said "screw it" and blew up the team mid-season.

In mid-July he traded his favorite player, all-timer Christy Mathewson, to the Reds (so Matty could manage) for infielder Buck Herzog, the Reds' current manager. This was Herzog's third go-round with the Giants, as he had been traded away twice before because the two hotheads couldn't get along. But they realized that together they were practically unstoppable, so they agreed to disagree, and Herzog was back.

Days later, McGraw also bought Harry "Slim" Sallee from the St. Louis Cardinals. Sallee is still considered one of the best pitchers in Cardinals franchise history despite playing for them when they were at their worst. In June Sallee had announced his retirement, left the team and went home. It was widely considered as a ruse to get traded, but in those days that was about the only thing he could have done.

Harry "Slim" Sallee, 1913

Several teams tried to trade for him, but the Cardinals rebuffed all offers. Finally, McGraw and the Giants offered to buy Sallee, and that offer the then-notoriously frugal Cardinals accepted. It was widely reported and believed that McGraw illegally encouraged Sallee to retire, and National League President John Tener said that "No other deal like that will be sanctioned while I am in office,” because heaven forbid a player would be allowed to choose where he could play. The league quickly passed a rule saying that a player could not threaten retirement in order to force a trade. (Imagine the field day Marvin Miller would have had with that one.)

The Giants did okay for a bit but then sucked again. In late August, McGraw traded first baseman Fred Merkle (yes, that one) to the Dodgers for catcher Lew McCarty.

And on August 28th, McGraw made the trade that made every other team really, really mad.

Heinie Zimmerman was the best third baseman in the league, now that Honus Wagner was old. But the Cubs' struggles this season had “The Great Zim” frustrated, like Slim Sallee had been in St. Louis. McGraw traded second baseman "Laughing" Larry Doyle (a key mman on the 1911, '12 and '13 pennant winners) for Zim, who at the time of the trade he was in the midst of a 10-day suspension by the Cubs.

Zimmerman been suspected of laying down on the job for much of the season, and even throwing a few games during his career to support his lifestyle. He cared so little about his finances he reportedly never collected a paycheck, instead asking the club treasurer for ten or twenty bucks until he was told he could have no more until the next time the rest of the team actually got paid.

"The Great Zim," 1917

The National League saw what McGraw was doing- stockpiling players right now for a pennant run the next season. All three of the pennant contenders- the Phillies, Dodgers and Braves were within four games of each other- thought their chances to take the flag could be in danger because of this new Giants team.

The Zim trade put Herzog back at his natural position, second base, and the Giants now had a tremendously defensive infield with Herzog, Zim, and Art Fletcher (best shortstop in the league by WAR that year).

That plus a few other moves (including an amazing month by a pitcher you've never heard of, the ultimately unfairly wronged Benny Kauff, plus much more) jump-started the Giants, and they won a major-league record 26 straight games, something that has never even come close to being equaled (no one has won at least 21 straight since the 1935 Cubs, and the 2002 A's were the last team to get to 20).

In the off-season Philadelphia Phillies president William Baker proposed the first-ever trade deadline of July 31st. This was in direct response to McGraw making trades through August that ultimately resulted in the 26-game win streak- and Philly missing out on their second straight pennant when the Giants beat them four straight during the rampage. 

The resolution passed unanimously. The trade deadline has been the last day of July ever since. It is the lasting legacy of the 1916 New York Giants. 

Want more on that team? You could read this. But really, you should just buy the book

McGraw, aka "Little Napoleon"

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