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.