Matthew Taylor: A look (way) back at the O’s first deal at the deadline

The trade deadline is approaching. You know the names floating around the rumor mill in 2012, but do you know which players were involved in the first trade-deadline deal in Orioles history?

The O’s dealt Vic Wertz, a right fielder and first baseman, to the Cleveland Indians on June 1, 1954, for Bob Chakales. The deal came two weeks before the June 15 trade deadline that was in place until 1986, when it moved to July 31. Neither player spent a full season in Baltimore, but Wertz became part of one of the most memorable moments in World Series history soon after the deal.

Wertz played in the 1954 World Series with the Indians. He hit the famous Game 1 fly ball that traveled more than 400 feet to center field at the Polo Grounds before Willie Mays caught it on the run with his back to home plate. “The Catch” preserved a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, and the New York Giants won 5-2 in the 10th on their way to a World Series sweep.

Given what happened in the World Series, there’s an irony to comments Bob Kennedy made regarding Wertz’s excitement following the trade.

“Wertz hit nine balls that should have gone out and weren’t even hits, balls that were home runs any place but in Memorial Stadium. Even in Yankee Stadium, I’m talking about. They were caught there,” Kennedy said in John Eisenberg’s “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles.” “Vic was so elated that he was traded to Cleveland before the trading deadline. There was no fence. There was a hedge out there. The ball was in play. No one could hit it out there. It was just terrible.”

Wertz played 17 major league seasons. Of his career 1,862 games, only 29 were in Baltimore. He totaled a .202 average with one home run and 13 RBIs for the O’s in 1954. His 17 strikeouts in Baltimore were only two short of his 19 hits. Those numbers were well short of his career averages: .277, 23 home runs, 102 RBI and a .364 on-base percentage. Wertz was a four-time All Star, finished in the American League top 10 for home runs seven times, and was top 10 in MVP voting on four occasions.

Chakales, meanwhile, played seven years in the majors. He went 3-7 with a 3.73 ERA for the Orioles in 1954 with 44 strikeouts and 43 walks. The Orioles traded him to the Chicago White Sox in December 1954.

News coverage at the time noted that “the chance for a chain-reaction of trading before the June 15 deadline appeared bright” in the aftermath of the Wertz-Chakales deal. That potential existed because the exchange left Cleveland with seven outfielders and the Orioles with a pitching surplus. The Yankees, in particular, were rumored to be interested in O’s hurler Bob Turley.

The chain reaction did not emerge, at least not in the way one team had hoped it might.

A June 10 United Press article revealed the Yankees’ frustration with their inability to be deal-makers. In a section featuring the subhead “Orioles Too Expensive,” the article indicated the Yankees “are known to be interested in pitcher Don Larsen and shortstop Billy Hunter of the Orioles, but the Orioles’ demands have been prohibitive as far as the Yankees are concerned.”

Despite the lack of a deadline deal, the Yankees acquired Larsen in a November trade that also sent Turley and Hunter to New York. Larsen pitched a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Turley, meanwhile, won the 1958 Cy Young Award with the Yankees and finished second to Boston’s Jackie Jensen in the AL MVP voting.

It should be noted that prior to the Wertz deal, the Orioles swapped pitcher Dick Littlefield to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Cal Abrams on May 25. Given the timing, it’s difficult to make the case for the Littlefield trade as a deadline deal.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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