Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas

One of Baseball’s Most Lopsided Trades

By guest blogger, baseball historian and author

Gary Livacari

I have recently written about many of the lopsided trades in Major League Baseball history. Today, I would like to highlight the December 9, 1965 trade of the great slugger, Frank Robinson, from the Reds to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldshun, and Dick Simpson. The trade is generally regarded as one of the worst in baseball history, especially considering that Robinson was only 30 years old and appeared to have many productive years ahead of him. The skeptics were proven right: he did indeed have many productive years ahead of him!

Reds’ GM Bill DeWitt, the architect of the trade, attempted to downplay the fiasco by famously referring to Robinson as “not a young 30.” Outrage over the deal made it difficult for Milt Pappas to adjust to his new team, and he was traded out of town after only three seasons.

Frank’s great 1966 Triple Crown season, one of the best individual offensive seasons ever, immediately followed this ill-advised swap. It’s actually frightening to speculate just how good the “Big Red Machine” of the early 1970s would have been if this deal had never been made.

Frank Robinson’s Career Stats Are Staggering

Check out these numbers!

Frank Robinson played for five teams from 1956 to 1976 and is the only player to win league MVP honors in both the National League and American League. Over his 21 seasons in the majors, Robby compiled a .294 batting average, with 2943 hits, 1829 runs, 528 doubles, 72 triples, 588 home runs (currently tenth all-time), 1812 RBIs, .389 OBP, .537 slugging average, and a 154 career OPS+ (100 being the major league average).

Other career highlights include: 14-time All-Star, Triple Crown winner (1966), two World Series championships (1966 and 1970), World Series MVP (1966), Rookie of the Year (1956), and All-Star Game MVP (1971).

In his rookie year, 1956, he tied the rookie record of 38 home runs and received Rookie of the Year honors. Although the Reds won the National League pennant in 1961 and Frank won his first MVP that year, he had arguably an even better offensive year in

1962 when he hit .342 with 39 home runs, 51 doubles, 208 hits, 136 RBIs, and 134 runs. It’s hard to understand how a player of this caliber could soon end up on the “trading block,” but that’s exactly what happened a couple years later.

Frank Robinson’s Great 1966 Season

In Robinson’s first year in Baltimore, following the 1965 trade, all he did was win the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs, and 122 RBIs. But that hardly tells the story of this remarkable season. He led the American League in virtually every offensive category: 122 runs, .410 on-base percentage, 367 total bases, an incredible .637 slugging average, 1.047 OPS, and a Ruthian 198 OPS+. It was definitely a season for the record books.

With Frank Robinson leading the way, the Orioles went on to win the 1966 pennant and World Series, and Frank was named the World Series MVP. In the Orioles’ four-game sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Robinson hit two home runs, the first in Game One, which Baltimore won 5–2; and the second in Game Four, the only run of the game in a 1–0 series-clinching victory. Both home runs were hit off Don Drysdale.

A True Baseball Pioneer

Following his playing career, Frank managed for 16 seasons in the majors for the Indians, Giants, Orioles, and Expos/Nationals, and was named American League Manager of the Year in 1989. A truly historic baseball pioneer, he became the game’s first black manager when he took the Indians’ helm in 1975. 

Milt Pappas Was a Fine Pitcher

Although there’s no doubt that the Orioles got the better end of this deal, what’s often overlooked is that Milt Pappas was a fine pitcher with a 17-year Big League career (1957-1973) during which he went 209-164 (.560), with a 3.40 ERA. Prior to the trade, he had spent nine seasons with the Orioles, posting an outstanding 110-74, 3.24 ERA record. His tenure in Cincinnati was short-lived, but he still had some productive years ahead of him. After three mediocre seasons with the Braves, he had four solid years with the Cubs, going 51-41, 3.33 ERA. It’s a shame that most baseball historians remember Milt for being on the wrong side of this Bill DeWitt orchestrated trade. He deserves much better.

So today, we’re glad to shine our baseball spotlight on one of the game’s all-time greats, Frank Robinson, as we recall a lopsided trade that definitely went the Orioles’ way. Frank’s #20 has been retired by both the Reds and the Orioles. He received his well-deserved plaque in Cooperstown in 1982. Frank passed away on February 7, 2019.

Great thanks to Gary

Visit his website:

http://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com

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