On December 9, 1959, the Chicago White Sox traded Johnny Callison to the Philadelphia Phillies for Gene Freese. This was part of the White Sox’s campaign to shore up their pennant winning club with power, in order to stave off the expected challenge of the New York Yankees, and win the World Series. As part of the same campaign, they had already traded Norm Cash and John Romano for Minnie Minoso, and would later trade Earl Battey and Don Mincher for Roy Sievers.
As I argued here, both trades were disasters for Chicago. The White Sox did improve in 1960, but not enough to beat the Yankees. And Cash, Romano, Battey, and Mincher were all excelling long after Minoso and Sievers were gone.
The Callison-Freese trade was somewhat different on its face. Unlike the over-the-hill Minoso and Sievers, Freese seemed to be entering his prime. Only 25, he had hit 23 home runs for Philadelphia in 1959. Moreover, Chicago was able to obtain him for only one prospect.
On the other hand, Callision was the jewel of the White Sox farm system. He was just 20 years old and was considered a “can’t miss,” “five-tool” prospect. In 1958, he had smashed 29 home runs at the Triple A level for Indianapolis. In 1959, he had been comparably productive in Triple A before being called up by the White Sox.
I didn’t follow the minor leagues in those days, but I knew about Callison. Everyone seriously interested in baseball did.
The trade turned out to be another awful deal for Chicago. Freese gave the White Sox one decent year (17 home runs) before being traded to Cincinnati. There he played a big role in the Reds 1961 pennant winning season, but was never productive again.
Callison was an All Star by 1962 and substantial star in 1964 (when his walk-off home run won the All Star game for the NL) and 1965. He drove in more than 100 runs in both seasons. After that, for reasons I never understood, Callison was no better than average. Like Freese, he turned out to be an early bloomer who went into decline before reaching 30.
Meanwhile, the White Sox missed out on the 1964 pennant by just one game (as did the Phillies, more famously). With Callison having such a terrific year, it’s easy to think (as probably was the case with the other pre-1960 deals) that Chicago would have won the pennant in 1964 if it had not traded Callison.
However, the White Sox were able more-or-less to salvage the Freese-Callison trade by obtaining Juan Pizarro in the deal that sent Freese to Cincinnati. Pizarro was 19-9 with a 2.56 ERA for the White Sox in 1964.
So as it worked out, the Callison-Freese trade, though a terrible piece of business, did not hurt the White Sox nearly as much as the deals for Minoso and Sievers.
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