Sunday, January 8, 2017

TOT - Braves Say Goodbye to Crandall, but Add Alou

Transaction of Today...January 8, 1964 - The San Francisco Giants traded a player to be named later, Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft to the Milwaukee Braves for Del Crandall, Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw. The San Francisco Giants sent Ernie Bowman (January 8, 1964) to the Milwaukee Braves to complete the trade.

Del Crandall is one of the truly underappreciated members of the good Milwaukee Braves teams of the late 50's. A true leader of men, Crandall was one of the most prolific hitting catchers in the game and even more renown for his work behind the plate. After becoming the everyday catcher in 1953, Crandall slashed .259/.320/.435 with 151 homeruns over the next eight years. He was "like a coach on the field," teammate Carl Willey remarked. The Californian was so respected for his defensive capabilities that he started his first game behind the plate four months after his 19th birthday, which made him the youngest starting catcher in history. He would have been named team captain soon after, but two years lost to time in the Army sidelined his career. Nevertheless, it's a true testament to the respect that Crandall demanded that he was named team captain before he had even turned 25.

Crandall, who won four of the first six Gold Gloves for an NL catcher, was beginning to decline with age as he reached his 30's. In 1961, he missed most of the season due to a sore arm. That allowed young Joe Torre to move behind the plate. Crandall would return in 1962 to win his final Gold Glove and go to his eighth All-Star Game, but still split time with Torre.

With a new manager named Bobby Bragan in the fold for 1963, Crandall was relegated to Torre's backup and struggled considerably. With no need for their former team captain and bad feelings between the player and team bubbling over, the Braves traded Crandall to the Giants in the offseason. Though I included this as today's Transaction of Today, the trade was completed on December 3 (mostly), but included a player to be named later. On January 8, 1964, "later" came when the Giants sent Ernie Bowman to the Braves. A light-hitting infielder, Bowman spent two years in the minors before later being traded to the Mets. The other two Braves sent in this trade with Crandall, Hendley and Shaw, both had short careers with the Giants. They were solid in their time with San Francisco and gave the Giants some good depth at pitcher, but the team was still the other best team in the NL. With no divisions to add a playoff slot until 1969, the Giants won between 86 and 95 games for eight consecutive years, but failed to make it back to the playoffs until 1971.

As for Crandall, he only spent one year with the Giants. He backed up Tom Haller behind the plate and shared the bench with another NL slugger nearing retirement - Duke Snider. The Giants sent him to the Pirates before 1965 and he spent a forgettable season behind Jim Pagliaroni. His swan song came in 1966 as he played 50 games for the Cleveland Indians, mostly as a personal catcher for 23 year-old Sam McDowell, who led the league in strikeouts. With his bat all-but-gone and catching more difficult with each passing day, Crandall retired at 36 years-old after 16 years of service.

The Giants really didn't get much from this deal - especially outside of 1964 when they had all three acquired players together for one year. The Braves, on the other hand, received Felipe Alou and would benefit from a post-30's renaissance. Alou had recently come under fire for an interview he conducted with the magazine Sport. In it, he spoke candidly in an article entitled "Latin Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights." Alou had been penalized for competing in an offseason tournament in the Dominican Republic, something that is now anticipated each year. Alou was angry about the fine and criticized the commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick, and his manager with the Giants, Alvin Dark (click here for an article from a few months back on Dark's time with the Braves).

Whether the fallout from the Sport article caused his trade to the Braves is up for debate, but Alou would have some good years with the Braves. After a troublesome '64 following an offseason knee injury, Alou rebounded in 1965. That year was followed by a Top-5 finish in the MVP race in 1966, the Braves' first year in Atlanta. Alou would hit .327/.361/.533 with a career-best 31 homeruns. The second Dominican to ever play in the majors, Alou again suffered through an injury-riddled '67 before hitting .317 in '68. That in itself was a pretty big accomplishment considering it came in "The Year of the Pitcher." The rest of the league hit .237 that season.

1968 would be the third and final time Alou was named an All-Star. The following season, Alou hit a respectable .282, but only managed 19 extra base hits in 509 PA (.345 SLG). By the end of the season, he was rarely in the lineup as the Braves went to the playoffs as the first winner of the NL West. Alou appeared just once in the first NLCS as he entered with the Braves trailing 7-4 in the deciding Game 3 against the Mets. With Nolan Ryan on the mound and two runners on, Alou lined out to short to end the rally. It was Alou's final postseason game. Six years to the day they originally acquired Alou, the Braves sent him the A's for Jim Nash in the winter of 1969.

In addition to Alou and Bowman, the Braves acquired pitcher Billy Hoeft and catcher Ed Bailey. Hoeft, already 32, played one year with the Braves and appeared 42 times out of the bullpen. He was released after 1964 and played parts of three more seasons before his career was over. Bailey, who was also a solid backstop during the 50's, replaced Crandall as Torre's backup for 1964, but would be traded back to the Giants before camp opened the following year. A few months later, Bailey was packaged in a trade to the Cubs with Bob Hendley, who went to the Giants in the original Crandall/Alou deal.

There were a lot of moving parts in this trade as both teams closed the door on a stalwart who had meant a good deal to their franchises. In the end, the Braves got six seasons out of Alou and a few really fine ones. That's what I call making the most out of a catcher who you already had moved on from.

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