Saturday, November 12, 2016

TOT - Boston Braves Trade One Hall of Fame Manager, Get Another

By The Library of Congress [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Transaction of Today...November 12, 1923 - The New York Giants traded Dave Bancroft, Bill Cunningham and Casey Stengel to the Boston Braves for Joe Oeschger and Billy Southworth.

Three Hall of Famers changed teams on this day, 93 years ago. All three would need the Veteran's Committee to be enshrined in Cooperstown and each of the future Hall of Famers logged time as a major league manager. Some were a bit more successful than others.

The 1923 Boston Braves were, like so many teams the franchise fielded in Boston, bad. Actually, to be fair, they were really bad. Only the Phillies were worse than Boston, who finished with a 54-100 record. the New York Giants were one of the teams that routinely whipped Boston that season by taking 16-of-22 meetings. New York would go on to win the National League title before blowing a 2-1 lead in the World Series against Babe Ruth and the Yankees.

You couldn't blame outfielder Casey Stengel for that failure, though. He hit .417 against the Yankees with two homers. In fact, Stengel caused a bit of a scene in Game Three when he homered to provide the only run in a 1-0 victory. Ever the showman, Stengel blew kisses to the Yankee Stadium crowd and thumbed his nose at the opponent's bench. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was at the game, fined Stengel and later said, "Casey Stengel just can't help being Casey Stengel." Little did he know just how grateful future fans of the game were for Landis being exactly right.

1923 was one of Stengel's best individual efforts as a player. The 32 year-old slashed .339/.400/.505 over 75 games. It was the 12th year of his career after arriving in the majors at the end of 1912 with Brooklyn (which he's pictured with above). He had also played for the Pirates and Phillies before being being traded to the Giants in the summer of 1921.

By Exhibits [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Dave Bancroft was the starting shortstop for that '23 Giants squad. Also a former Phillie who the Giants picked up in 1920, Bancroft had hit over .300 for the third consecutive year in 1923, but managed just two hits in the World Series. He was 32 that season. Bill Cunningham was another outfielder off the Giants team in 1923. Unlike Stengel and Bancroft, he was a bit player for the Giants who filled in when called upon and even played a little infield when asked. He went 1-for-7 in the World Series in a backup role.

As for the players headed to New York, Joe Oeschger was a rubber-armed right-hander who twice pitched 20+ inning games during his career. He had already played for the Giants briefly in 1919 before they traded him to Boston. He was pretty decent for a couple of years, but had seen his ERA hit 5.06 and 5.68 in his final two years with the Braves.

Why this trade happened, though...well, that was partly because of Billy Southworth. A former Indian and Pirate, Southworth had come into his own with Boston. Acquired in the trade that sent Rabbit Maranville to the Pirates in 1921, Southworth had hit .315/.371/.448 over three seasons in Boston despite missing most of 1922 with a dislocated knee. Southworth was expected to fit right into a Giants dynasty. While the Giants had the best offense in the National League, they had an opening in the outfield - which is why Stengel played more often than usual that season.

This trade happened for another reason, as well. Bancroft had a big admirer in Giants manager John McGraw. The aging shortstop once played a game with pneumonia in the dead of June before collapsing after the game. Suffice it to say, McGraw loved him. He also loved Braves general manager, Christy Mathewson. Big Six had pitched 635 of his career 636 games with the Giants before later becoming McGraw's assistant manager. McGraw even set things up for Mathewson to take over the Braves in 1923 after convincing his attorney, Judge Emil Fuchs, to help Mathewson buy the Braves. As Mathewson tried to rebuild the team, McGraw did the former Giants stalwart another favor by basically giving him a new manager in Bancroft, who moved into the role for the first time.

Also, it's worth mentioning that the Giants were stacked, which helped to facilitate this trade. Trading Stengel and Cunningham may have hurt their depth, but this was a team that had Hack Wilson on the bench and 19 year-old and future Hall of Famer in his own right, Travis Jackson ready to take over at shortstop for Bancroft.

Bancroft would spend four years as the player/manager for the Braves. After another 100-loss season in 1924, Bancroft's sophomore season as a manager saw the Braves win 17 more games. However, Boston quickly returned to the bottom of the league with only the ineptly-run Phillies to keep them from being the worst team in the National League.

Cunningham spent just one year with Boston. He hit okay with a .272 batting average and .326 on-base percentage, but in a changing game that prioritized power, Cunningham's career 9 homers in 1,024 plate appearances just didn't impress anyone. After failing to make the Boston roster before the 1925 season, he spent the next four years playing minor league ball in the Pacific Coast and Western Leagues.

Before I get to the two important figures in this trade, Oeschger's second run with the Giants was nearly as short as his first stop in New York. He would be waived and finished the year with the Phillies. After a 21-game run with Brooklyn the following year, Oeschger's career ended with a 3.81 ERA in 1818 career innings.

Joining Oeschger in New York was Southworth. While the Yankees dynasty in the Bronx was just beginning, the Giants' dynasty at the Polo Grounds was nearing its end. After three consecutive NL titles (and two World Series victories), McGraw's Giants would again be the class of the NL in 1924. However, Southworth really wasn't a factor. A right-fielder in Boston, McGraw shifted him to center field because of Ross Youngs. Southworth's numbers crashed and when the Giants met the Senators in the World Series, Southworth was relegated to backup duty. His only postseason moment with the Giants came in Game One when he scored a run as a pinch runner in the ninth inning. That wound up being the difference in a 4-3 victory for the Giants. However, just like they did the previous year, the Giants wasted a 2-1 edge in the World Series. This time, they fell in seven games.

The Giants wouldn't win another pennant under McGraw. Southworth would perform better in 1925 and was doing well the next year before McGraw sent him to the Cardinals to acquire a true center fielder. The Cards shifted him back to right field and Southworth finished the 1926 season on fire. His homerun in the Polo Grounds in September put St. Louis ahead in a game that would clinch the franchise's first 20th century pennant. Southworth continued to hit in the World Series and the Cardinals beat the Yankees in the 1926 Fall Classic.

It would be Southworth's last hurrah as a player. While he continue to perform in 1927 and even hit .301, he was limited by a rib injury. He would head back to the minors the following year after Branch Rickey offered him a job as a manager. One year later, the former Brave became the latest in a string of one-year managers for the Cardinals. Southworth lasted 90 games before the Cardinals owner, Sam Braeden, switched him with the minor league manager in Rochester. Later, Billy the Kid would return to the Giants as a coach for McGraw's replacement, Bill Terry. However, Southworth's drinking later led to him losing that gig.

By St. Louis Cardinals - 1941 Team Issue
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After cleaning up, Southworth would eventually return to the Cardinals as a minor league manager. Finally, 11 year after losing his job as Cardinals manager, Southworth made it all the way back to St. Louis in 1940. Two years later, he guided St. Louis to three consecutive pennants, including a pair of World Series titles. However, Southworth's personal demons would once again begin to eat at him. His son, a B-29 pilot, died in a training accident before the 1945 season. This likely lead to Southworth returning to the bottle. After a second-place finish in 1945, Southworth would be convinced by a three-year, $100K offer to join the Boston Braves.

Under Southworth, the Braves would have their most successful run in decades. After losing 85 games the year before Southworth arrived, Boston would win 81 in Southworth's first year. They won 86 the following year and in 1948, behind Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, Boston won their first pennant since the magical season of 1914.

The success didn't last long, though. Southworth's managerial style rubbed many players, included his two star pitchers, the wrong way. Southworth would leave the team in 1949 after, according to press clippings, being on the verge of a mental breakdown. He returned in 1950, but Boston finished eight games back. He began 1951 as Boston's manager, but in June, he resigned.

Southworth would never manage again and passed away in 1969. Thirty-one years later, in 2007, Southworth was elected by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame.

He joined Stengel in Cooperstown. In 1925, his first year with Boston, Stengel reached 500 plate appearances for the first time in four years, but after his numbers fell the following season, he became the player-manager of a minor league squad of Boston's. He later would take over the Toledo Mud Hens and become a coach with Brooklyn. In 1934, Stengel got his first shot to be a manager for some pretty weak Dodgers teams. After three years, the Dodgers let him go and after spending 1937 taking care of his oil fields, Stengel returned to Boston to become the then-Bees manager. As I mentioned recently when the Braves sold Rogers Hornsby to the Cubs, Boston had a lot of financial issues back then and Stengel was not only named the manager, but was a part-owner because he was a successful oil fields owner. Stengel's Bees/Braves had one .500 season - his first - before falling to seventh place for the next four years. After a sixth place finish in 1943, Stengel resigned. Three years later, Southworth took over the Braves.

Of course, Stengel later became The Old Professor for the Bronx Bombers after taking over the team in 1949. During his dozen years in pinstripes, he guided the Yankees to 10 pennants and 7 titles. Later, in his 70s, he took over the expansion Mets, who would lost 404 games before Stengel finally called it quits after breaking his hip shortly before his 75th birthday.

Rarely does a trade include three Hall of Famers. Even more rare did a trade include two players elected to the Hall of Fame completely because of their managerial success. Yet, that is exactly what happened 93 years ago today.

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