February 16, 1953: Joe Adcock is traded as part of a 4-team trade by the Cincinnati Reds to the Milwaukee Braves. The Milwaukee Braves sent cash to the Cincinnati Reds. The Milwaukee Braves sent Earl Torgeson to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Brooklyn Dodgers sent Jim Pendleton to the Milwaukee Braves. The Brooklyn Dodgers sent Rocky Bridges to the Cincinnati Reds. The Philadelphia Phillies sent cash to the Milwaukee Braves. The Philadelphia Phillies sent Russ Meyer to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH
At a time when the Reds were suffering 11 consecutive losing seasons they trade away two of their best players. Sauer was a slow footed slugger that struck out a lot, but the Reds were offensively challenged during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (Ted Kluszewski exploded in 1953). Adcock was a first baseman playing left field and was blocked by Kluszewski. The Reds essentially gave both of them away.
Hank Sauer was a late blooming outfielder who didn’t make the majors for good until age 31 in 1948. Sauer had had three previous trials with the Reds in 1941, 1942, and 1945, then spent two years in the Coast Guard. Upon his return, he switched to a 40 oz bat and the bombing began. In his first full season as a starter, Sauer batted .260 with 35 homers and 97 rbi. The 35 home runs was a Cincinnati record at the time, but he also led the league in strikeouts with 85 and was slow in the field. When he started slowly in 1949 (.237 with 4 homers in 42 games), the Reds packaged Sauer and good fielding, singles hitting center fielder Frank Baumholtz to the Chicago Cubs for veteran outfielders Peanuts Lowrey and Harry Walker.
Baumholtz was a pretty good player in his own right. He had finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year balloting playing for the Reds in 1947, leading the league in at bats with 711 and batting .283 with 32 doubles. He followed up in 1948 with a .296 average, mainly playing rightfield for the Reds. He was 29 years old at the time of the trade.
Lowrey and Walker were “professional hitters” nearing the end of the line for them. Lowrey was in his 7th season with the Cubs and typically hit around .280 with little power. Walker was in his 8th major league season and had led the league in hitting in 1947 with a .363 batting average. However he had only two other .300 seasons (one was a partial season). The Cubs had acquired Walker from the Phillies in the offseason and were trading him because of his slow .264 start.
Neither Lowrey nor Walker spent much time with the Reds. Walker lasted 86 games in 1948 and batted .318 and was traded to the Cardinals for infielder Lou Klein and outfield Ron Northey. Klein never played for the Reds and Northey played 27 games. Lowrey played parts of two seasons with the Reds, batting .271 and .227, before being sold to the Cardinals. He played five more lackluster seasons before retiring from baseball.
Sauer, however, went on to become the first MVP for a second division team with the Cubs. The Cubs finished fifth in 1952, but Sauer batted .270 and led the league with 37 homers and 121 rbi. He hit 11 home runs in his first month with the Cubs, and clubbed more than 30 homers five different times with a high of 41 at age 37. He finished his career with a .266 batting average and 288 home runs.
Joe Adcock was another huge hitter, but the Reds already had Ted Kluszewski at 1B. Kluszewski had not developed his home run struck at the time, but was a high average line drive hitting, crowd favorite at 1b. From 1953-56, though, Kluszewski powered 171 homers and drove in 464 runs, batting over .300 each year.
Adcock had already been traded to the Braves. He played three years in LF for the Reds, ages 22-24, and still was developing, too, batting .271 with 31 homers over that period. He requested a trade and the Reds obliged, dealing him to the Boston Braves in a strange four-team trade that netted the Reds weak hitting middle infielder Rocky Bridges and some cash.
Of the players in the deal, Adcock, fellow first baseman Earl Torgeson, and starting pitcher Russ Meyer were the quality players in the deal. Pendleton was a rookie prospect who had one good year for the Braves after the trade. Meyer was a good starting pitcher, who won 31 games over the next three years for the Dodgers. Torgeson was a good first baseman for the Braves; some power, lots of walks, .270 BA type of guy…he continued to do the same for the Phillies and other teams for the next eight years. Adcock became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball for the Braves.
Bridges was a 24 year old middle infield prospect, who earned the starting second base job for the Reds and batted .227. He was a starter one other year in his career…and he batted .227. Bridges’s lifetime batting average was .247 with 16 homers over an 11 year journeymen career.
Adcock went on to have a higher home run rate than Hank Aaron. His best season was 1956, when he batted .291 with 38 homers and 103 rbi. He also homered 35 times in 1961 and hit more than 20 in five other seasons (those 35 homers would have liked awfully nice on the Reds 1961 World Series team…). Adcock once homered four times in one game; amazingly he only swung at five pitches during that four homer game. Adcock homered 336 times in his career, including 10 grand slams, and 28 multi-homer games.
The Reds thought they had themselves protected with the acquisition of power hitting outfielder, Jim Greengrass. Greengrass was obtained in a trade with the Yankees in 1952 for a finished Ewell Blackwell and performed well. He finished sixth in the 1953 Rookie of the Year race on the strength of batting .285 with 20 homers and 100 rbi at the age of 25. He followed that with .290, 25 homers, 97 ribi, but he was struck with phlebitis and never performed at that level again. He was traded to the Phillies for good hitting catcher Smoky Burgess during the 1955 season and was finished by 1956.
Two different general managers accounted for these deals. Gabe Paul traded away Adcock; Warren Giles traded away Sauer. Both became famous executives; Giles has been selected to the HOF, and Paul served as George Steinbrenner’s Yankee president during the 1970s. For comparison’s sake, I tend to think of Sauer being an earlier Adam Dunn (without the walks), and Adcock’s situation would probably be compared to the Reds situation with Paul Konerko–Sean Casey in 1993.
By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Reds had some talent starting to arrive. Sauer, Adcock, Kluszewski, Wally Post, Frank Robinson, Roy McMillan, Johnny Temple, and Joe Nuxhall had been signed to free agent contracts. They began filling some holes by scouring for second tier pitchers and acquiring them from other teams…the table was set for some big power numbers at the end of the 1950’s.