Add Another Player to My List of Sports ‘What Might Have Beens’
One of the cool things about writing for us, is, occasionally, I get to explore one of my favorite topics. "What might have been". What sparked this today was a tweet I saw from Detroit journalist Ken Coleman, who tweets out great Detroit and Michigan history photos from the past 70 years or so. Today's was a picture of Maury Wills in 1959, in the Detroit Tigers organization.
I never knew this. Willis was in the Detroit system briefly, in 1959. But, as the Tigers had another player they thought would be their shortstop of the future (Rocky Bridges), Wills was sold back to the Dodgers. By mid-season, he was playing in Los Angeles. Subsequently, the Dodgers beat the White Sox in the World Series that year.
The Dodgers traded their regular shortstop "Popeye" Don Zimmer to the Cubs at the start of the 1960, and Wills was the Dodgers full-time shortstop. And by 1962, he was NL MVP, played in three more World Series and revolutionized base-running and base stealing. Would that have happened if he had stayed in Detroit. Who knows, but that's fun of the exercise. The Tigers barely missed out on the 1967 pennant. Would an older Willis have helped. Probably, considering how light hitting the Tiger shortstops (Ray Oyler and Dick Tracewski) were. We're only talking winning one or two extra games here.
The point of this is not to point fingers at the Tigers. Every team has a story like this. Maybe call it the "one that got away." The worst are the trades where a contending team is looking for a veteran to put them over the top, and give away a prospect from either Single A or Double AA.
In the early 1960's, the Tigers were on the good end of one of these deals, picking up Norm Cash from the White Sox. (As a Sox fan, I can only imagine what Cash and Johnny Callison, who the Sox traded to the Phillies would have done, in say, 1964, when the Sox finished one game behind the New York Yankees, in the American League. This was the end of the glory days for the Bronx Bombers, but maybe with those two future All-stars, they could have ended New York's heyday a year earlier.
But a lot of long time Tiger fans know maybe the worst trade in Tiger history. It's 1987, and the Tigers are trying to win the American League East, and they need another pitcher. They picked up Doyle Alexander from Atlanta, and he went 9-0 for Tigers the rest of the way. Ordinarily, that would make one executive of the year. But, there's always a but. He was 0-2 in the ALCS against the 'Cinderella' Minnesota Twins, who went on to win their first World Series title. Yes, Alexander was an All-Star in '88. But the kid they traded, the kid from Lansing, John Smoltz, went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Braves, and is having another with Fox Sports calling baseball.