A small part of the fun in delving through baseball's long, glorious history is the useless playing of the 'what if' game. It's almost as useless as making preseason predictions, but we can't help doing it all the same. What if Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio had swapped places? Certainly many more homeruns for both, and a very different individual public perception for each. What if ballplayers were excused from military service during WWII? Williams may own all the major hitting records. What if the Red Sox and Yankees weren't so slow in shaking their racist sensibilities in the aftermath of Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson? Willie Mays should've been in Boston, either hitting in front of, or behind Williams. What fun would've been had in Boston. The Yankee dynasty would have likely extended beyond the end of the Mantle Era. Would Georgie Porgie have gotten his hands on the team if they hadn't fallen from prominence? There are countless of these scenarios, and they are fun to postulate about in barrooms. But here's a silly one that surely would've created some exciting roster instability. What if Frank Lane and Jack McKeon had been GMs at the same time? Ooh Boy! No player's job would've been safe.
Everybody gets worked up over a trade. Or the potential of a trade. The television gets all excited in July, to the point of almost forgetting that the boys are still actually playing baseball. Panties get twisted, palms get sweaty, twitter accounts ejaculate at record intervals. But no two men in history appear to have gotten quite as hot and bothered over the wheeling and dealing of talent than Lane and McKeon, or Trader Frank and Trader Jack, respectively.
Lane managed to hold down a General Manager job through four decades, I think mostly out of sheer will (and surely some grit).
Chicago White Sox : 1948-55
St. Louis Cardinals : '56-57
Cleveland Indians : '58-60
Kansas City Athletics : '61
Milwaukee Brewers : '71-72
That's a lot of teams to at one time control. Only the White Sox took an inordinately long time realising that Lane's compulsive trading created, to say the least, a certain measure of uncertainty in the clubhouse. Trader Lane earned his name by making over 400 trades in his career, 241 of those while running the White Sox. According to award-winning author David Halberstam, Lane was "a man who traded not so much to build a better team, but almost out of psychological need...there was no particular grand scheme to Lane's trades, and it appeared likely that given the chance, he would continue to trade as an end in itself." While with St. Louis, Lane was set to pull the trigger on the kind of deal that just isn't made. Mr. St. Louis, Stan the Man Musial for Robin Roberts of the Phillies. This would have been one of the biggest blockbuster trades in history, with both players still performing at an All-Star level. If news of the trade hadn't leaked out to the media through one of Musial's business partners, creating a preemptive backlash, The Man would have finished his career in Philadelphia. Which would have been a shame.
Cleveland fans are well-acquainted with Lane's whimsical dealings. In a four month span, Lane essentially deconstructed a team on the rise without seeming to even comprehend his own actions. In 1959 the Indians finished second in their division. Then Trader Frank became an excitable boy.
12/6/59 : trades 4 players including Minnie Minoso* to CHW for 3 players including Norm Cash
12/15/59 : trades 3 players to CIN for Johnny Temple
04/12/60 : trades recently acquired Norm Cash to DET for Steve Demeter
04/17/60 : trades fan favorite Rocky Colavito to DET for Harvey Kuenn
The two notables are Colavito and Cash. All-Star and fan favorite Colavito was in his prime, and Cash was turned around before even seeing an inning of play in a Cleveland uniform. Trader Frank sent them to division rival Detroit, where they would become major cogs in the superb Tiger teams of the 1960s. Over the next four seasons, they combined for 263 homeruns and 38.4WAR. The players Lane got in return? Demeter managed five plate appearances in 1960 for a -.01WAR before disappearing from the major leagues, while Harvey Kuenn managed 2.4WAR in 1960 and then was sent packing to San Francisco. The Cleveland Indians wouldn't finish as high as 2nd until the 1995 season.
*Minoso was a favorite trade piece of Lane's. He traded for him while running CHW in '51, traded for him again in '57, then away in '59.
Notable players traded: Roger Maris, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Early Wynn, Jim Busby
Notable players acquired: Nellie Fox, and too many too list--getting tired of listing names
And one for good measure: Lane's trigger finger didn't merely extend to the players. While with CLE, he traded manager Joe Gordon to DET for manager Jimmy Dykes. Just imagine how many trades the man would have made if he had the luxury of cell phones, emails, and twitters.
McKeon's tenure as a GM wasn't as long as Lane's, nor did he seem to trade with the same level of reckless abandon. But he didn't leave many rocks unturned either.
San Diego Padres : 1980-90
Where Trader Jack failed in the sheer number of transactions, he made up for it in convolution. He loved the multiple player deals. He wanted to turn over as much of the roster as possible in as short a time as possible. Granted, the Padres were awful before he took over baseball operations. In their eleven year history before McKeon's arrival, the franchise posted a record of 719-1052 (.406%) including four 100-loss seasons. Some shaking up was certainly warranted, but good gravy!
Notable players traded: Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Ozzie Smith, Ozzie Guillen, Luis Salazar, Mitch Williams, Kevin Mitchell, Craig Lefferts, Storm Davis, Goose Gossage, John Kruk, Luis Salazar, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar, Jr.
* italics = Hall of Famer
Notable players acquired: Graig Nettles, Kevin Brown, Joe Carter, and most of the players listed above.
Trader Jack made at least eleven transactions involving five or more players, including an eleven player trade with St. Louis right off the bat in 1980 as well as a handful of seven players trades. At least the players could carpool to their new homes. It should also be noted that the monster deal between San Diego and Toronto, where Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar were exchanged for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff occurred in 1991, the year after McKeon stepped down to be field manager. More than likely, this trade was the handiwork of Trader Jack rather than successor Joe McIlvaine, kind of like the Medvedev/Putin relationship over there in Russia.
Trader Frank was certainly the most dynamic of the two, but given ten more years and the increased pressures brought on by escalating free agency dollars, 'ol Trader Jack could've made a run at him. If the two had coexisted, they likely would've been fast friends, smoking big cigars in small hot tubs like men of means and leisure should.