50 years ago today (according to Retrosheet), the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians made perhaps the strangest trade in baseball history. The two clubs swapped managers. The Indians sent their manager, Joe Gordon, to Detroit in exchange for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes.
The trade was the brain-child of Cleveland’s General Manager Frank “Trader” Lane. Lane had a reputation for making trade for the sake of making trades. As General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, he even tried to trade the great and beloved Stan Musial, but was prevented from doing so by Cards owner Gussie Bush. Cleveland fans were not so lucky. Lane made the awful deal that sent Rocky Colavito to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn.
The Gordon-for-Dykes seemed to make sense, though. Both were considered solid managers, and with justification. Dykes managed mostly poor teams and usually coaxed more wins than expected from them. According to one measure of managerial performance, the A-E rating, he ended his managerial career with a positive “actual wins minus expected wins” number of plus 15.7. And in 1959, he had rallied the Tigers, who started the season 2-15 under a different manager, to a 74-63 record the rest of the way.
Gordon, though he finished his career right around .500 (305-308), was well over .500 at the time of the manager swap. And he had guided the Indians to second place (89-65) in 1959. His record suffered later when he managed the lowly Kansas City A’s and then the expansion Kansas Royals. (I was not able to find an A-E rating for Gordon).
Why make the trade, then? Because both teams seemed to be underperforming in 1960. The Tigers had returned to their losing ways; their 45-52 record had them mired in sixth place. Meanwhile, the Indians had fallen off the pace in the AL pennant race. After being in close contention, they were now in fourth place (50-46), six games behind the Yankees.
Moreover, Dykes and Gordon apparently had contrasting styles. The colorful Dykes, a players’ manager, was more laid back; Gordon was more fiery. Indeed, Gordon had clashed with Lane to the point that Lane “fired” him twice in 1959 before thinking better of it. Both front offices could reasonably believe that bringing in a new, capable manager with a different style might well enable their team to win at closer to its 1959 level, even if neither manager was significantly better overall than the other.
Unfortunately, instead of helping both teams, the trade helped neither. Detroit went 26-31 (nearly the team’s exact pace before Gordon’s arrival) the rest of the way and Tigers fired Gordon at the end of the season. The next year, under Bob Scheffing, the Tigers won 101 games, suggesting that neither Dykes nor Gordon managed with much distinction in Detroit.
Cleveland went downhill under Dykes. Although the Indians remained in fourth place, they fell below .500 and finished 21 games behind the rampaging Yankees. Dykes returned for the 1961 season and again the Indians failed to win half their games. This time, they finished fifth.
At 65 years old, Dykes was finished managing. And the Indians were finished participating in pennant races for a few decades.
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