Cleveland and Detroit pull off a surprising swap just before the start of the season, as the Indians acquire reigning American League batting champ Harvey Kuenn for last season’s leader in home runs in the AL, Rocky Colavito.
The controversial trade of the revered Tribe slugger entering the prime of his career was just one of many moves questioned by then-Indians general manager Frank Lane. The Cleveland GM felt that Colavito was expendable after his late September batting slump the previous season helped prevent the Indians from claiming the AL pennant from the Chicago White Sox.
“Actually, both Joe [Gordon, Tribe manager] and I agree that the home run is overrated,” said Lane to The Plain Dealer on April 18, 1960. “Look at the Washington club last year. They almost led the league in home runs and finished last.
“Of course, Rocky could win a ball game for you with one swing and often did. But there was too long a period between home runs when he didn’t help at all. I don’t want to knock Rocky. He’s a fine player and a fine man. He may hit 50 or 55 home runs in that Detroit ball park, but I can’t be concerned about that. I think in terms of what our club needs. What we’ve done is this: We’ve given up 40 home runs for 40 doubles. We’ve added 50 singles and taken away 50 strikeouts. That about sums it up.”
In adding Kuenn, the Indians brought in a seven-time All-Star from the Tigers who was just 29 years old and coming off of one of the best years of his career. He will be an All-Star again in 1960 for Cleveland, but in typical Lane fashion, the former Rookie of the Year will be shipped out of town to San Francisco following the season for Johnny Antonelli and Willie Kirkland.
The fan favorite Colavito will continue to develop into a consistent power hitting threat for the Tigers, pairing up with Norm Cash and Al Kaline to form a formidable lineup in Detroit. The Tigers will topple the 100-win mark with the trio in 1961 for just the second time in franchise history (1934).