SI Vault
William Leggett
June 03, 1968
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
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June 03, 1968

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

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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."

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