Trade Bait in the Biggest Ever Transaction

Imagine a player trade so large that it makes more sense for the general managers to just switch caps rather than move the underlying players. The thought must have run through the minds of Yankee and Oriole fans alike in 1954 as the teams swapped 17 players after more than two weeks of negotiations.

The Yankees were looking to restock their pitching rotation after two of their most trustworthy starters began to decline (Ed Lopat) or retire (Allie Reynolds). They had a well-known and defensively-minded contact hitter in Gene Woodling to offer, as well as numerous minor leaguers blocked by a plethora of star power already entrenched on the parent club. The Orioles gave up a pair of top pitching prospects in the form of Bob Turley and Don Larsen, the latter of which would pitch a perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series.

The transaction will likely remain the largest trade in MLB history. A lack of free agency and contract trade clauses make future moves of this nature highly improbable, though not impossible. A 12-player trade between the Astros and Padres took place during the 1994 off-season. Collector’s Choice included all the relevant players on a checklist as card #358 in its 1996 set.

1952 Topps Gene Woodling

Above: My 1952 Topps Gene Woodling card. There is a small tear in the bottom border.

Gene Woodling appears in his pre-trade days with the Yankees as card #99 in the 1952 Topps set. While he played for a half dozen teams and spent less than 1/3 of his career with New York, it is his time with the five straight championships that most define his career. He frequently batted over .300 and posted impressive on base percentages with his high walk rate. Consistent, low-level All-Star quality play marked much of his playing time and makes him one of the better players appearing in Topps’ 1952 edition.