Lane Hit on Deal Sending Doby to Detroit for Francona
Vince Guerrieri | On 23, Mar 2016
Frank Lane is known by Indians fans – reviled even – for his trading tendencies.
Within a decade, the Indians went from having one of the best farm systems in the major leagues to one of the worst, thanks in no small part to “Trader” Lane’s almost pathological tendency to make deals. He traded away Norm Cash. He traded away Rocky Colavito. He even traded the Indians’ manager, Joe Gordon.
But even a blind squirrel finds a nut, and occasionally the Indians made out on a deal, like one made 57 years ago this week – involving a Tribe legend.
After eight years with the Indians, including one world championship and one American League pennant, Larry Doby was dealt after the 1955 season to the White Sox. After two years with the White Sox, he was dealt to Baltimore in a seven-player deal. He never played for the Orioles, instead getting traded back to the Indians before the 1958 season.
That year, Doby played in fewer than 119 games for the first time since his debut season. He remained popular in Cleveland as a link to the glory years just a few years earlier – but seemed more distant as the Indians sunk into the middle of the American League.
But on March 21, 1959, Doby – the last player on the Indians’ roster from the 1948 World Series-winning squad – was dealt to Detroit straight up for Tito Francona. It was the second time Francona and Doby were involved in the same trade. Francona was one of the other players involved in the seven-player deal between Chicago and Baltimore
“He was trying hard and doing a good job,” Lane said of Doby in the next day’s Plain Dealer. “But we’re trying to build a younger, faster club and Francona fits in better than Doby.”
The Plain Dealer coverage noted that Francona was nine years younger than Doby, and Lane said he’d heard that Francona was unhappy with the Tigers. “I’m always interested in guys who want to be traded,” Lane said. “They happened to be interested in Larry Doby so we made the deal.”
Doby, for his part, remained optimistic. “If I can play 140 games for the Tigers, I should be able to hit 25 or 30 home runs.”
Doby would never hit another home run in the majors again. He appeared in 18 games for the Tigers before being sold to the White Sox in May, where he played another 21 games in a reunion with Bill Veeck, the man who originally signed him to a major-league deal. The White Sox sent him to their Triple-A team in San Diego, where he broke his ankle sliding into second base. Doby was done as a major league player.
Francona, on the other hand, provided a spark for the Indians that year. The Tribe won 89 games, finishing second in the American League (to the White Sox). Francona batted .363 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs, finishing fifth in the MVP voting (behind Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Early Wynn – all future Hall of Famers – and teammate Rocky Colavito).
More importantly, Francona cemented himself in the Tribe’s everyday lineup, and would play at least 111 games every year for the Indians through 1964. But after the 1964 season, he was sold to St. Louis. He spent two years with the Cardinals, and then bounced around the National League with the Phillies and the Braves. In 1969, he went to Oakland, and ended up in Milwaukee in the Brewers’ first year in 1970 before being released.
But Francona, who hailed from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, always considered Cleveland home. “Cleveland was the best place I ever played,” he said In 2012 – when his son Terry, who also played a year for the Indians, was named the Tribe’s manager.