Memorable Lane Deal Moved Future MVP Maris Out of Cleveland
Bob Toth | On 15, Jun 2016
Frank Lane was certainly known for his penchant for trading, flipping rosters, and trying to reinvent the baseball wheel. His tenure as the general manager of the Cleveland Indians was filled with all of the things that earned him the moniker, “Trader”. Its homophone, ‘traitor’, was likely synonymous with Lane at the time as well.
After Lane completed his four years of World War II service in the Navy, he returned to the baseball world. He climbed the ranks to general manager of the Chicago White Sox, and through more than 200 trades, turned the Sox into a team capable of contending. He moved on to St. Louis with the Cardinals, receiving a public black eye when it was revealed he tried to trade the beloved Stan Musial to Philadelphia for Robin Roberts. He came to Cleveland in November of 1957 and by June 15 was already making questionable decisions regarding the Indians roster and farm system.
Just hours ahead of the deadline on June 15, 1958, the Indians made their second trade with the Kansas City Athletics in just four days as Lane acquired utility guy Woodie Held and infielder Vic Power for infielder Preston Ward, pitcher Dick Tomanek, and former top prospect outfielder Roger Maris.
While the move may not have been hated at first, it would take just a few years for the league to learn what Maris was capable of at the plate. Maris was once thought to be a “can’t miss” type of prospect. He had played in the minor league playoffs in each of his first four seasons and broke into the Majors for the first time in 1957. His rookie season started promising, but broken ribs and later an injured right instep slowed his progress on the field. With manager Kerby Farrell and GM Hank Greenberg both relieved of their duties following that season, Lane shipped Maris away.
“Naturally, we wouldn’t have made this trade if we didn’t think it would help up,” Lane was quoted in The Plain Dealer on June 16, 1958. “We made it to build for the future. Both Power and Held are only 26.”
Lane acknowledged that he had also considered a trade of Maris to the New York Yankees in a one-for-one swap with second baseman Bobby Richardson, someone Lane had pursued for the last six months.
“But I couldn’t make the deal,” shared Lane with The Plain Dealer. “Richardson is not that much better than [Billy] Moran. In fact, he may not be any better at all.
“Before I let the Athletics have him, I made sure they wouldn’t turn around and trade him to the Yankees. They assured me they would keep him themselves.”
Richardson, playing in his fourth season with the Yankees and an All-Star in 1957, would spend his entire 12-year career in pinstripes, making seven trips to the Midsummer Classic while winning five Gold Gloves at second base and taking home the title of 1960 World Series MVP. Lane would not find a true replacement for the aging Bobby Avila in his time in the Tribe’s front office, trying the likes of Billy Martin, Ken Aspromonte, and Johnny Temple in part-time auditions. Moran played 115 games for Cleveland in 1958 and eleven in 1959 before being farmed out. He would be an All-Star once – for the Los Angeles Angels in 1962.
Maris, meanwhile, would stay just a year and a half in Kansas City. He hit 19 homers and drove in 53 while hitting .247 for the A’s after the trade and, the following season, he made the first of four consecutive American League All-Star teams.
He was dealt following the 1959 season in a seven-player swap – to the Yankees – and he would reach stardom in the Big Apple. He hit 39 homers and drove in 112 runs his first year in New York, winning the AL MVP. The next season was even more memorable – he won his second consecutive MVP award and, even more notably, established the long-standing (and still, to some) record for most home runs in a season with 61 while driving in a league-best 141 runs.
That October, he got his first of two World Series rings with the Yankees. He would add another in 1967 in his first of two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he added his final 14 homers to go with the 203 he hit in the Bronx and 35 he hit with the A’s.
The other members of the trade between the Indians and A’s made their marks, but none with the lasting power of Maris.
Power, a two-time All-Star in Kansas City in 1955 and 1956, would reach that status again with Cleveland in 1959 and 1960. He was a Gold Glover in all four seasons in Cleveland before he was dealt to Minnesota. He later spent time with the Los Angeles/California Angels and in Philadelphia.
Held remained with the Indians through the 1964 season, playing regularly, oftentimes at shortstop, but would take the field at five other positions as well. Three times in six seasons with Cleveland he topped 20 homers, but never had the star power or home run power that Maris possessed. Held also played with the Washington Senators, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, and Chicago White Sox over the final five years of his MLB career.
Tomanek, an Avon Lake, Ohio, product, had appeared in just 54 games with the Indians in 1953, 1954, 1957, and 1958. The left-hander pitcher nicknamed “Bones” appeared in 36 games for the A’s in 1958 and 16 more in 1959 before spending a season in their farm system in 1960.
The 29-year-old Ward, who broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, was joining his fifth big league club after hitting .338 with four homers and 21 RBI in 48 games prior to the trade. The corner infielder and corner outfielder would add six more homers and 24 RBI while hitting .254 in his first season with the A’s. His career would conclude with 58 games for Kansas City the following season.
Photo: Hulton Archives/Getty Images