It was a trade that shocked the team, it was a trade that shocked the fan base, and some around the league scratched their head at its intent. Some laughed, and yet some got ready for the opportunity it would provide. The fact was the Reds were coming off a losing season, a season where the offense of the departing player might have helped, but never the less it didn’t do anything to push them over the top and into a winning record, a feat that the franchise had been finding hard to hold onto.
But why would a team jettison a starter who could hit for a middle reliever, a middle infielder who once was a Cardinal (The Horror) and a question mark? What would the receiving team say about the injured players arm, what would the medical tests say?
It made little sense… or did it?
I’m not kicking around Krivsky’s trade of Lopez and Kearns; instead I’m focusing on a trade that occurred 45 years ago, a trade that occurred out of nowhere, a trade that was made to help the team that season, a trade that when you look at didn’t help at all and eventually it didn’t matter, because the Reds succeeded despite its failure.
April 27, 1961
Traded Ed Bailey to the San Francisco Giants. Received a player to be named later, Bob Schmidt, and Don Blasingame. The San Francisco Giants later sent Sherman Jones to the Cincinnati Reds to complete the trade.
Ed Bailey was a fan favorite, a slugging catcher whose slow southern drawl was a good fit in a town that bordered the south. His bat made his reputation, and somehow in the midst of that he was known as possessing a strong arm. However the prior three years to the 1961 season had shown a rise in stolen bases and a drop in home runs, the game was changing. As was the Reds front office, Bill DeWitt was a Rickey man, which meant that he valued youth and speed, something that Ed Bailey had neither of. On April 15th Ed Bailey paid his taxes like every other American, he also turned 30, which in the world of Rickey men was the proverbial “coach into a pumpkin” moment. Sensing a change in Bailey as well as the speed game DeWitt traded Bailey to the Giants (A team that was picked to finish ahead of the Reds) for a 30-year-old middle infielder Don Blasingame (Law #1 Rickey men would often bend their own rules to fix holes) a catcher who had just turned 28 five days before the trade and a middle reliever.
A real head scratcher to many Reds fans, the season was early, surely there must time? Surely there had to be better deals out there, like a starting pitcher.
After all the Reds were 5-7 and in the pre-season Sporting News query, none of the over 200 baseball writers asked had picked the Reds to finish 1st, surely the move was made too soon, it smacked of desperation.
A month after the trade it looked like a wasted move, the replacement (Bob Schmidt) for the departing Bailey was bust, whereas Bailey had a bat that the Reds could count on Schmidt had no such thing, compiling a putrid .140/.229/.140 batting line in the month of May. Meanwhile rookie catcher Jerry Zimmerman who was earmarked as the backup was pushed into a role he wasn’t ready for, after Schmidt produced a line of .095/.208/.238 in June he was sent down and replaced by 23 year old Johnny Edwards who split the year with Zimmerman, the Reds catchers that season produced a .534 OPS, a huge drop from the .704 that Bailey and company had produced the prior year.
To compound matters the centerpiece of the trade for the Reds was 2nd Baseman Don Blasingame a man who up until 1960 had produced a robust .341 on base percentage in the National League, unfortunately his bat never made it to Cincinnati. Don batted as poorly as he ever would in the game and his .222/.287/.286/.573 line would have Reds fans pining away for Billy Martin, the man who was the first to go in Dewitt’s attempt to reshape the Reds when he took over in the late fall of 1960. The middle reliever (Sherman Jones) didn’t do to well either, appearing in only 55 innings that season and surrendering 2 home runs in his first appearance in a Reds uniform. The next year would be his last as he experienced the ultimate insult, being cut from the expansion New York Mets. In fact in two years the other two acquired players would be toiling for the Senators, the American Leagues answer to the Mets at the time.
From the onset it was an odd trade, from the Reds point of view it was not only odd, but a bad trade, they lost a steady starter with pop and got nothing to build on, Blasingame ended up being known as the man who was moved aside for Pete Rose, and essentially in the eyes of Reds fans he’s the Wally Pip of Reds lore. Meanwhile the starting catcher that the Giants were obtaining began to show his warts, namely a bum arm and declining batting skills. Bailey produced his lowest on base percentage and power numbers as a starter, but it was his arm that worried the Giants, the league was changing running was sneaking back into the offense of many teams and with that occurring the need to have a healthy arm behind the plate was an important need, especially if the team to the south was going to run on you every time the chance arose. In hopes of finding a problem with Bailey’s wing x-rays were taken, but alas nothing was found. Bailey’s descent was more or less natural. The Rickey men had forecasted his path and 1961 would be the last year that Ed was a fulltime catcher.
In the end the Reds would jump from a .435 winning percentage in 1960 to first place and a .604 winning percentage in 1961, cementing that team in the hearts of the locals who had been patiently waiting for a championship of any kind since 1941, the odd trade faded into the background and the players involved followed shortly after. Meanwhile the Reds and Giants would do battle the following year with the Dodgers, neither missing the men that had been such a major part of “The Trade.”