Joe Gordon was known as many things. The second baseman, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2009, was a mainstay for the pre-World War II Yankees as they won five pennants and four World Series in six years. And Gordon was a key addition to the Indians as they won the 1948 World Series.
But 12 years later, Gordon would become a key subtraction from the Tribe in what remains one of the strangest deals in Major League history.
During the 1959 World Series, headlines on sports pages throughout Northern Ohio talked about the potential new addition to the Indians’ bench. Leo Durocher, who had managed the New York Giants to a World Series sweep of the Tribe in 1954, was the hot candidate for the Indians job as Gordon was viewed as a dead man walking. Indians general manager Frank Lane was openly critical of Gordon.
Durocher, who was also named as a possible Indians manager in 1956, was offered a three-year contract, but turned it down in 1959, and the Indians retained Gordon. “He deserved another shot anyway,” Durocher said.
Before the 1960 season, Lane dropped a bombshell that took a generation to recover from, dealing slugger and fan favorite Rocky Colavito, the reigning American League home run champion, to the Tigers for reigning batting champion Harvey Kuenn. But Lane, who had an almost pathological need to make trades, wasn’t finished.
On Aug. 3, the Indians and Tigers made another swap – of managers. Gordon left Cleveland for Detroit, and was replaced as Indians manager by erstwhile Tigers skipper Jimmy Dykes. “Lane is famous for his trades, but this one probably tops them all,” the Associated Press reported.
Lane described Gordon’s departure as mutual. “Joe felt it might be best for all concerned,” Lane said. Gordon, for his part, seemed thrilled to be gone. “It’s always nice to know when something happens in one place, you’re wanted in another.”
Gordon finished the season as Tigers manager. The following year, he was hired by Charlie Finley as the manager of the Kansas City Athletics. Finley, described once as a self-made man who worships his creator, fired Gordon midway through the season, with an assist from his new general manager – Frank Lane. Gordon’s last stint as a major league manager came in 1969, managing another team in Kansas City, the expansion Royals in their first year. Dykes remained Tribe manager through 1961. It was the sixth major league team he managed – the most in the 20th century.