6/23/2014 2:45 P.M. ET
Mills-for-$1 can't touch Wares-for-rent as oddity
Baseball history full of unusual swaps -- players for inanimate objects
By Anthony Castrovince: / MLB.com
The A's newest rotation member will make his second start for the club on Wednesday against the Mets, and it feels reasonably safe to assert that Brad Mills has already been worth the cost of his acquisition from the Brewers.
That cost, after all, was just $1.
Mills had a June 15 out clause in his Minor League contract with the Brew Crew that included "zero compensation" language, which means that if any other club assigned him to its active big league roster, the Brewers couldn't fight it.
Given that context, the $1 seems downright generous on the part of Billy Beane and the A's.
But Mills isn't the first player swapped for a dollar (Wil Nieves and Wes Helms are two rather recent examples), nor is this A's-Brewers trade anywhere near the kookiest of baseball barters.
Heck, we've seen teams (Tigers and Indians) swap managers (Joe Gordon and Jimmy Dykes), and even players (Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson) swap wives (Marilyn Peterson and Susan Kekich). We've seen two guys (Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote) dealt for each other between games of a doubleheader. We've seen John McDonald, Dickie Noles and Harry Chiti traded for ... themselves. (They turned out to be the "player to be named" in deals that had briefly shipped them elsewhere.)
But in terms of players dealt for inanimate objects, these are a few of our favorites:
Lefty Grove for a fence: Before he went on to win 300 games and a whopping nine ERA titles, Grove pitched seven games for the Martinsburg Mountaineers in 1920. He was sold to the Orioles in June of that season for $3,500 -- the cost to replace Martinsburg's outfield fence, which had been leveled by a storm.
Dave Winfield for dinner: The Indians thought they had acquired a valuable veteran piece for their up-and-coming lineup at the July Trade Deadline in 1994 when they landed Winfield from the Twins. Only one problem: The Players Association went on strike two weeks later, before Winfield even played a game for the Tribe. The strike wiped out the rest of the season, and the "player to be named" from the Winfield deal was never named. To settle things, Indians executives took Twins executives out for dinner. If the steak was anywhere near as good as Winfield, it must have been a heck of a meal.
Buzzy Wares for rent: The 1913 Montgomery Rebels, of the Southern Association, were kind enough to let the St. Louis Browns use their ballpark during Spring Training. When camp concluded, the Browns left behind a token of their appreciation -- Wares. The shortstop would eventually make it to the big leagues with the Browns later that year.
Johnny Johns for a live turkey: OK, the turkey was -- briefly -- an animated object. This still qualified. Johns never made it to the big leagues, but his name lives on in infamy as the player Joe Engel, "the Barnum of Baseball," traded for a turkey. Johns was a light-hitting shortstop for the Chattanooga Lookouts who had drawn the ire of the local press. So Engel sent him to the Charlotte Hornets of the Piedmont League in exchange for a 25-pound turkey that Engel had cooked for the Southern Writers' Association Dinner. The turkey, though, turned out to be a little tough, so it was decided by the press that the Hornets had gotten the better end of that deal.
Kerry Ligtenberg for bats and balls: Undrafted out of college, Ligtenberg landed with the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League, pitching for $650 a month. In 1996, he was one class away from graduating from the University of Minnesota with an engineering degree and likely leaving baseball behind, but the Braves took an interest in him at the urging of Loons manager Greg Olson. The Braves signed Ligtenberg, and assistant general manager Dean Taylor offered to compensate Olson for the find. Olson was practical enough to ask for what his club really needed -- 12 dozen baseballs and two dozen bats. A steal of a deal for the Braves, for whom Ligtenberg went on to make 254 appearances over the next six seasons.
Joe Martina for oysters: Martina pitched just one season for the Washington Senators in 1924, but his name was not lost to history because of the 1921 Texas League swap in which Dallas sent him to New Orleans for two barrels of oysters. Martina was forever known as "Oyster Joe."
Cy Young for a suit: The Cleveland Spiders needed an arm, and owner Frank Robison decided to take a chance on Denton Young, who had put together a solid season with the Canton Nadjys of the Tri-State League. Young would inspire not only a great nickname ("Cy" for "Cyclone," a nod to the tenacity of his pitches) but also the game's most prestigious pitching award, named in his honor. And all it cost Robison to acquire him was about $250 or $300 (accounts vary) and a new suit for Canton's skipper.