Agee Memorable for Being Traded by Cleveland
By Craig Gifford
From the 1960s until the middle of the 1990s, questionable trades and signings doomed the Cleveland Indians to more than three decades of mediocrity and a lot of bad baseball. One such deal was in 1965 involving a young, promising center fielder named Tommie Agee.
Agee had a injury shortened career highlighted by an American League Rookie of the Year, two All-Star Game appearances and two Gold Glove awards. All of this came after the Tribe shipped him off to Chicago in a trade that could be viewed as an attempt to erase one of the most memorable bad deals in team history, five years prior.
A five-tool player, Agee was fast-tracked to big league stardom from day one. The Indians signed the 18-year-old as an amateur free agent before the 1961 season. At the end of the 1962 campaign, Agee was making his Major League debut at the young age of 20-years old. The numbers would indicate too much was perhaps put on his shoulders too soon. Agee, in three years bouncing between Cleveland and the minors, never put up the statistics he was expected to. At Triple-A, Agee was stuck batting in the mid-.250s. In brief stints with the Indians, he could never crack the Mendoza line of .200.
In parts of three years with Cleveland, Agee batted .170, with one home run, five RBI and zero stolen bases. Of course, the body of work in the majors was not much with just 31 games and 55 plate appearances in a Tribe uniform. However, he was not doing much of anything that would indicate future success.
In January, 1965, the Indians decided to cut bait with their struggling prospect. They sent him and Tommy John to the White Sox as part of three-team deal. In return, Cleveland received little used catcher Cam Carreon from Chicago and the one-popular Rocky Colavito from Kansas City.
It is well documented that Colavito was traded to Detroit in April, 1960 when Cleveland was just six years removed from it’s latest World Series appearance. That trade symbolized the beginning of Cleveland’s 30-plust year trek into obscurity gaining infamous notoriety as “The Curse of Colavito.”
Bringing Colavito back did little to reverse the curse. In 1965 The Rock would have what would prove to be his last good year in one of the Tribe’s last good seasons for a while. The Indians won 87 games while Colavito hit 26 homers, leading the league with 108 RBI. After that, with age started to hit Colavito and he never hit for the same power in three more big league seasons. The Indians won 81 and 75 games in their next two seasons with the player who led the league in homers the year before Cleveland dealt him away.
While Colavito and the Indians both began to go downhill, Agee started to fulfill his promise in Chicago. After his first season with the Sox, one in which he was seldom used, Agee was finally given the chance to shine in 1966. At 23-years-old, the talented player put it all together. He hit 22 taters, to go with 86 RBI and 44 steals, batting .273. He earned his first All-Star nod. He also flashed some good leather, picking up his first Gold Glove. It all led to Agee being an easy choice for American League Rookie of the Year.
Agee suffered the fateful “sophomore” slump in 1967, as his batting average dipped to .234. After that Chicago decided it may have gotten the best it was going to get from Agee and traded him to the New York Mets. Much like the Indians pulling the plug on the young player too soon, Chicago did the same.
Agee had a forgettable 1968 campaign in New York, but rebounded for excellent seasons the next two years. He was a big part of the 1969 Amazin’ Mets, one of the most memorable and surprising World Series winners of all time. Agee hit 26 and 24 homers in 1969 and 1970, respectively. He batted a career-best .286 in 1970. Both seasons, he was in the top 20 for Most Valuable Player voting and earned a second Gold Glove the latter year. The 1970 season also saw Agee swipe 31 bags.
Just as it seemed Agee was hitting his stride and entering what would be a strong prime of his career, Agee started battling knee injuries in 1971. At only 28, Agee started having knee problems that would strip him of his speed and hitting ability. In 1971, he did bat .285, with 14 round-trippers and 28 steals. The injury issue became evident in ’72, however. That year, he hit only .227 and stole just nine bases in 114 games.
Before the 1973 season, Agee was traded to St. Louis. In what would be his final year, Agee played 109 games between the Cardinals and later Houston. He hit .22 with 11 homers and a mere 22 RBI. He was clearly not the same player he was before the knee injuries. Despite being traded to the Dodgers in March of 1974, he could not catch on in Los Angeles and never made it back to the majors. His once promising career was over at 31-years old.
Agee, despite a handful of really good years, never quite reached the lofty heights some thought he would reach when he debuted with Cleveland. Still, the Indians did give up on him too early. That, or the Tribe should have given him more of chance than 31 games to see what it truly had. He is one of many players who became a solid player after leaving Cleveland.