Though the transaction took place over four decades ago, I know I screamed in anguish when I heard about the trade. Three weeks before Christmas in 1971, the Yankees sent their 1968 Rookie-of-the-Year-winning right-hander, Stan Bahnsen to the Chicago White Sox. They took a guy who had won the impressive total of 55 games for some mediocre New York teams during the previous four seasons and sent him to the Windy City in exchange for a 25-year-old utility infielder named Rich McKinney.
I knew what Yankee skipper Ralph Houk and the team’s GM, Lee MacPhail were thinking when they pulled the trigger on that one. New York desperately needed a good starting third baseman. They hadn’t had one since they traded Clete Boyer to the Braves in 1966.
McKinney, a native of Piqua, OH, had been in the big leagues for just two seasons and was coming off a decent year in which he had averaged .271 in 114 games as Chicago’s primary utility infielder. There was nothing in his resume that indicated he was going to be anything special, but after trying to win with guys like Charley Smith and Jerry Kenney at the hot corner, Houk and MacPhail figured this kid was worth a shot. But he wasn’t worth Stan Bahnsen!
The veteran right-hander took his “Bahnsen Burner” to Comiskey Park and won 21 games in 1972. Meanwhile, McKinney was a complete bust in the Bronx. He started out slow and never got better. By June he was playing down in Syracuse and the Yanks were using the infamous Celerino Sanchez as their starter at third. That November, McKinney’s Yankee career ended, when he was traded to Oakland in the deal that brought Matty Alou to New York.
|OAK (4 yrs)||147||306||277||22||53||10||0||7||30||0||24||49||.191||.252||.303||.556|
|CHW (2 yrs)||157||546||488||47||120||16||2||12||63||3||46||62||.246||.312||.361||.672|
|NYY (1 yr)||37||128||121||10||26||2||0||1||7||1||7||13||.215||.258||.256||.514|
At the 1986 All Star break, just about everyone playing for and following that year’s Yankee team thought the club’s top acquisition priority was starting pitching. That’s why everyone was a bit surprised by the deal New York swung with the White Sox. The Yankees sent Chicago their starting catcher at the time, Ron Hassey and the organization’s top minor league shortstop, a guy named Carlos Martinez. In return, New York got power-hitting DH Ron Kittle, a new starting catcher in Joel Skinner and a scrappy middle infielder named Wayne Tolleson.
At the time of the deal, Tolleson, a native of Spartanburg, SC and an all-league star in baseball and football at Western Carolina was 30 years old. He had debuted in the big leagues in 1981 with Texas and became the Rangers starting shortstop in 1983. He was only five feet nine inches tall and weighed just 160 pounds, which helps explain why he would hit just 9 home runs during his decade in the big leagues. A switch hitter, he made up for his lack of pop with constant hustle, good speed and solid defense.
Yankee skipper, Lou Piniella made Tolleson his starting shortstop during the second half of the 1986 season, replacing Bobby Meacham. Tolleson put together a solid first half-season in pinstripes, averaging .284 and committing just five errors. That 1986 Yankee team finished with 90 wins but missed the postseason. Piniella stuck with Tolleson at short but his bat went ice cold and he hit just .221 during his first full season as a Yankee. That 1987 team again failed to reach the postseason and the New York front office decided Tolleson was no longer the answer at short. They went out and got Rafael Santana from the Mets and Tolleson his final three seasons in the Bronx as the Yankees top utility infielder.
This pitching star of the 1957 World Series, this hitting star of the 1998 World Series, this former third baseman and this current Yankee catching prospect all share Tolleson’s November 22nd birthday.
|TEX (5 yrs)||427||1357||1225||156||307||32||9||4||50||79||94||180||.251||.305||.301||.607|
|NYY (5 yrs)||355||947||837||106||187||21||5||2||54||16||87||161||.223||.298||.268||.565|
|CHW (1 yr)||81||310||260||39||65||7||3||3||29||13||38||43||.250||.342||.335||.677|
The Yankees certainly thought Lew Burdette was going to be a good big league pitcher, when they signed him to a contract out of the University of Richmond in 1947. He ended up spending most of his first year in minor league ball right in my hometown of Amsterdam, NY, pitching for New York’s Rugmakers farm team in the Class C Canadian-American League.
What might have prevented him from getting the opportunity to become a big winner for the Yankees was the fact that he was a right-handed finesse pitcher who depended on stuff instead of power to get batters out. When righthanders without a good fastball struggled with their stuff on the mound of the old Yankee Stadium, balls had a tendency to fly off the bats of the opposing team’s left-handed hitters and quickly get over the waist-high railing of the old Stadium’s short right field porch. A second reason Burdette probably didn’t get to spend a large part of his career wearing pinstripes was the plethora of starting pitching Yankee GM, George Weiss had assembled in the late 1940s. That stable included Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Whitey Ford. Weiss also knew if he needed more pitching he could easily exchange young arms for veteran arms, which by the way is exactly what happened to Burdette.
After getting his first call-up to the Bronx in September of 1950 he appeared in two games out of Casey Stengel’s bullpen. Those would be his only two games as a Yankee because in August of the following season, Weiss sent Burdette and $50,000 to the Braves for veteran pitcher Johnny Sain. For the next three seasons, Sain was the best combination starter/reliever in baseball for New York. It was the Braves however, who ended up getting the better end of the deal. Burdette evolved into one of the best starting pitchers in the NL for the next decade. He won 179 games during his 13 seasons with that team which included back-to-back 20-victory seasons in 1958 and ’59. He teamed with Warren Spahn to give Milwaukee one of the Senior League’s elite starting pitching tandems. Together, they won 443 Braves games in thirteen years and led Milwaukee to two NL Pennants and, in what was Burdette’s finest big league moment, the 1957 World Championship versus his original big league employers, the Yankees..
In that Fall Classic, Burdette beat Bobby Shantz, 4-2, in Game 2. He next won Game 5 with a brilliant 1-0 shutout. Then, when Spahn came down with the flu, Burdette got the Game 7 start on just two-days’ rest and threw his second straight shutout in a 5-0 Brave victory. The two teams would meet again the following October and Burdette would beat the Yankees a fourth straight time before New York finally figured him out in Game 7, capturing the Series with a 6-2 victory over their nemesis.
Burdette was one of the meanest men in baseball. He once called Roy Campanella a “nigger” during a Braves-Dodger game. He was also a bit of a flake on the mound, always fidgeting with his arms and hands and talking to both himself and the baseball. He was dogged throughout his career by accusations that he threw a spitball. Burdette did little to dispel the rumor that he doctored the baseball, knowing it kept opposing hitters on edge. He died in 2007, at the age of 80.
|MLN (13 yrs)||179||120||.599||3.53||468||330||88||146||30||23||2638.0||2698||1163||1036||251||557||923||1.234|
|STL (2 yrs)||4||8||.333||3.58||29||14||5||3||0||2||108.0||116||53||43||7||19||48||1.250|
|CAL (2 yrs)||8||2||.800||3.67||73||0||30||0||0||6||98.0||96||42||40||8||12||35||1.102|
|CHC (2 yrs)||9||11||.450||4.94||35||20||3||8||2||0||151.1||178||91||83||18||23||45||1.328|
|PHI (1 yr)||3||3||.500||5.48||19||9||2||1||1||0||70.2||95||50||43||5||17||23||1.585|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||0||6.75||2||0||0||0||0||0||1.1||3||1||1||0||0||0||2.250|