Old rumors become new at Hall of Fame Library
By Trevor Hayes
Rumors are nothing new to baseball.
But no matter how unsubstantiated they may be or at least may seem to be, they had to come from somewhere. Earlier this week we saw yet another example: Albert Pujols, arguably the biggest name in the game, considered in a trade for Ryan Howard, the slugging St. Louis native.
Both stars balked. They say haven’t heard anything and the clubs aren’t saying anything. When the report surfaced, it also spawned references to Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams, another famous non-deal.
In 1946, the Yankees and the Red Sox both denied the idea – in the media at least. Combing through the Library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, you can find a number of items about what could have been – a blockbuster that would “set the American League on its ear!” as Richard Ben Cramer put it in the DiMaggio biography “The Hero’s Life.”
The Sporting News headlines just before and during the 1946 World Series show both teams denying interest. But after trading Joe Gordon – another future Hall of Famer – to Cleveland, accounts hint the Bombers needed an overhaul with the Yankee Clipper on the trading block.
The dynamics of DiMaggio for Williams were much simpler than Howard for Pujols. Both pull hitters could have easily taken advantage of their new parks: Williams hitting into the short porch in right wearing pinstripes, and DiMaggio banging hits and lofting flies over the Green Monster in crimson stockings.
Gossip started swirling before the Series started, but denial on both sides all-but-signaled the death of the story. In the Oct. 16, 1946, Sporting News, Red Sox management said Williams wasn’t for sale while the Yankees expressed a lack of interest.
That set the stage for one of the most inconspicuous conversations in baseball history at Toots Shor’s in New York City. Sometime in December 1946, the future Hall of Fame executives of the two rivals sat down for a long night at the tavern. After several hours, Yankee owner Larry MacPhail proposed the swap to Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. MacPhail said DiMaggio could play next to his brother, Dom, and let fly over the Monster – just 315 feet away. Yawkey suggested Williams could crush Ruth’s record aiming at stands just 296 feet away. Before the night ended, the two shook – DiMaggio for Williams, straight up.
But the next morning, Yawkey called MacPhail to nix the deal. According to the book “The Era” by Roger Kahn, Yawkey said: “I can’t do it. They let Babe Ruth out of Boston. If I let Williams go, the fans will crucify me.”
Some versions of the story, like the one in “Emperors and Idiots” by Mike Vaccaro, say Yawkey tried to salvage the deal by asking for “the kid catcher from Newark” but MacPhail declared: “You’re out of your mind,” to throw in Yogi Berra, who would also be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
It goes to show that you can never be sure about baseball rumors. Howard for Pujols? It could happen. DiMaggio for Williams almost did.
Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.