by Harold Friend
Rogers Hornsby won the National League batting title in 1928. He was traded that fall by the Giants. The next time a batting champion was traded occurred at the end of spring training in 1960, when the Tigers' president, Bill DeWitt, sent American League batting leader Harvey Kuenn, who hit .353, to the Indians for Rocky Colavito, who hit .257. No other players or cash were involved, and salary was not an issue. Kuenn's salary for 1960 was $47,500, while Colavito would be paid $35,000.
Rocky Colavito Tied for the Lead With 42 Home Runs
Rocky Colavito hit 96 points less than Harvey Kuenn in 1959, but Rocky's 42 home runs tied Harmon Killebrew for the lead in home runs. It was the first and only time the batting champion was traded for home run champion.
1953 Rookie of the Year
Shortstop Harvey Kuenn joined Detroit in 1952 at the age of 21. He appeared in only 19 games, batting .325. In his first full season, Kuenn was the American League Rookie of the Year, hitting .308, with a 356 on base average. He had a .314 lifetime batting average when he was traded, and failed to hit at least .300 only in 1957.
Rocky Colavito Hit for Power
Rocky Colavito became an Indian in 1956, although he appeared in five games the previous season when he was only 21 years old. In 1958, Rocky hit .303 with 41 home runs, 113 RBI's, and a .405 on base average. He followed that with his .257 average and 42 home runs, 111 RBI's, and a .337 on base average.
The Indians and Tigers Tried to Improve
In 1959, the Indians finished second, five games behind Al Lopez' go-go Sox. They led the American with an average of 4.84 runs a game. The opposition scored 4.19 runs a game, but the Tribe's defense allowed 66 unearned runs. The Indians brain trust thought Kuenn, who was now an outfielder, not a shortstop, would tighten the defense.
The Tigers finished a dismal fourth, winning 76 games, losing 78, which put them 18 games behind. Detroit scored 4.63 runs a game, gave up 4.75 runs a game, and allowed 97 unearned runs. They were a poor defensive team, but they were a team in transition that had four solid starters in Frank Lary, Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack, and Don Mossi.
Opinions About the Trade
Opinions were divided about the trade. The Tigers' Bill DeWitt felt his team needed more power. "I have a high regard for Harvey Kuenn's ability as a player, but we felt we needed more power at the plate and we're hopeful this move will enable us to score more runs."
Casey Stengel's VIews
Most Yankees' players thought that the Tigers got the better of the trade because of Colavito's power. Casey Stengel clearly stated, "I think both clubs will come out fairly well. Colavito is a left-field hitter and should have it a little easier to reach the stands in Detroit than in Cleveland. Kuenn isn't the home run hitter the other feller is, but his hitting for average and the fact he's a better fielder should give Cleveland a big help."
Kuenn Didn't Strike Out
Yankees' coach and Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey: He may not hit the long ball with Colavito, but with a runner on second or third in a close game he doesn't strike out. I'd favor him to bring the run home with a single." Bill Dickey would have loved Chris Davis, who struck out 114 times in 258 at-bats before being sent to the minors in early July, 2009.
Baseball Writers Thought the Tigers Did Better
The baseball writers were also split, although most believed that a home run champion trumped a batting leader. Arthur Daley of the New York Times thought the trade didn't make sense for the Indians. He had spoken to many of the Red Sox players, all of whom thought the Tigers got the better of the deal because of Colavito's power.
Colavito Excelled in 1961
Rocky Colavito batted .249 in 1960, with 35 home runs and 87 RBIs as the Tigers finished sixth, winning only 71 games. The Indians won only 76 games to finish fourth, 21 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees, but in 1961, an expansion year that saw the American League add the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators, Colavito hit 45 home runs, batted in 140 runs, and hit .290 as the Tigers gave the Yankees a run for the money. Colavito remained with the Tigers through the 1963 season, when he was shipped to Kansas City. He ended his career after the 1968 season, compiling a .266 batting average but over a projected 162 game season, he would hit 33 home runs.
Kuenn Helped the Giants
Harvey Kuenn batted .308 with 9 home runs and 54 RBIs in 1960, and that was enough for Cleveland. In need of pitching and a power hitter, the Indians sent Harvey to San Francisco in return for the services of left-hander Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland. Kuenn helped the Giants win the 1962 pennant, and he ended his career in 1966, finishing with a .303 batting average.
CLEVELAND LANDS BATTING CHAMPION :Indians Part With Powerful Colavito to Get Kuenn, a .353 Hitter in 1959 . (1960, April 18). New York Times (1857-Current file),38. Retrieved July 11, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 90660661).
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1960, April 21). Study in Audacity. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 36. Retrieved July 11, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 105191331).