You can’t go home again

In April 1960, the Detroit Tigers traded Harvey Kuenn to the Cleveland Indians for Rocky Colavito. It was a blockbuster deal involving the reigning American League batting champion (Kuenn) and the reigning American League home run king (Colavito).

The Indians soon developed a case of buyer’s remorse. Colavito proved to be (and already had been) a much more valuable player than Kuenn. He had also been a fan favorite in Cleveland.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Cleveland sought to re-acquire Colavito when the Tigers put Colavito on the trading block following the 1963 season. More surprisingly, Detroit tried to bring back Kuenn during the same off-season.

Cleveland’s attempt to re-acquire Colavito failed because the Tigers demanded Max Alvis in return. As a 25 year-old rookie, Alvis had hit .274 with 22 home runs in 1963. Cleveland was unwilling to trade its third baseman of the future for the 30 year-old Colavito.

Too bad. Alvis never matched his 1963 batting average or home run total.

After Detroit traded Colavito to Kansas City, the Tigers sought a replacement outfielder. Their first choice was Felipe Alou of San Francisco. Detroit used Jim Bunning as trade bait, San Francisco being desperate to bolster its starting pitching. When the Giants rejected that deal, the Tigers asked about Kuenn, now a reserve outfielder for the Giants.

Re-acquiring Kuenn would have made sense. The Tigers had young outfielders Willie Horton, Gates Brown, and Jim Northrup coming up. Although none of them seemed ready to take over from Colavito in 1964, they were only a year or two away. Kuenn, still a .280-.290 hitter, could bridge the gap.

The Tigers weren’t prepared to trade Bunning for Kuenn (now 35 years old). But they would have parted with a lesser starter — perhaps, for example, Ed Rakow whom they had acquired in the Colavito deal.

However, the Giants traded Alou to the Braves for two starters — Bob Shaw and Bob Hendley. No longer interested in pitchers, they terminated their talks with Detroit about Kuenn.

Thus, neither Colavito nor Kuenn went home again.

But the biggest losers in the 1963 off-season may have been female Tigers fans, many of whom adored Colavito. The day after the Colavito deal, the Detroit Free Press ran the headline “The Rock is Gone and the Gals are Grieving,” with a picture of a gathering of anguished Detroit women to support this claim.

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