The anatomy of a baseball trade, once a fascinating, anticipated part of the game with its meaningful deadlines and colorful general managers, can sometimes take strange twists. I speak from a long-ago day of rookie-baseball-writer experience that resulted in a happening that meant a scoop for my newspaper.
It was during the Braves' first season in Atlanta, and we were in Pittsburgh, at old Forbes Field playing the Pirates managed by Harry "the Hat" Walker. Walker was an old friend from triple-A days in Jacksonville, Fla., where I covered the Suns that he skippered. It was a St. Louis Cardinals farm club at the time.
I was on the field prior to the game between the Pirates and Braves when I heard from the Pittsburgh dugout: "Hey!" I knew who was yelling. Harry Walker started almost every conversation with, "Hey!" I turned to see him motion for me to join him.
"What's up, Hat?" I said.
"I want to talk about pitchers," he said, which came as a surprise because Walker always talked hitting. Always. He was to hit-it-up-the-middle that Ted Williams was to hit-it-as-far-as-you-can. In Jacksonville, players coined a verse:
"Step and glide, step and glide
"See the ball before you stride;
"If you're having trouble with the bat,
"Just go and see Harry the Hat."
Anyhow, Walker wanted to talk more than pitchers. He wanted to discuss the trading of pitchers.
"Do me a favor?" he said.
"Sure, Hat. What do you need?"
"O'Dell's arm okay?" he asked, meaning Braves relief pitcher Billy O'Dell.
"So far as I know."
"Go ask Bragan if the Braves would consider O'Dell for Schwall. Tell me what he says."
I approached Braves Manager Bobby Bragan.
"Harry Walker says he'd like to trade you Don Schwall for Billy O'Dell," I tell Bragan. "What do you think?"
"I think it's a deal we would like to make," Bragan said.
Returning to Pittsburgh's dugout, I tell Walker, who peers out at Bragan and gives the thumbs-up sign.
I wrote the story, leaving out the go-between act and using the old, ". . . The Atlanta Constitution has learned from a reliable source that the Braves will trade Billy O'Dell to Pittsburgh for . . ."
Walker and Bragan consulted their general managers, John McHale and Joe E. Brown, and the deal was done. Not that it had great bearing on the National League pennant race, but it did cause O'Dell a short night of sleep about a month later.
O'Dell's road roomie with the Braves was pitcher Tony Cloninger. On July 3 of that year, 1966, Cloninger hit two grand slams and a sac fly to knock in nine runs in a win over the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. A giddy Cloninger had to share his feelings with his old pal and former teammate and, ignoring the three-hour time difference, aroused O'Dell at 4 a.m.
"Once he became awake and knew it was me on the phone, he was almost as happy and proud as I was," said Cloninger.
Schwall, who had his best years with the Boston Red Sox, never quite cut it with the Braves, who were desperate for starting pitching most of their early years in Atlanta. But it was heady stuff, acting as go-between in a trade that included good names in a deal between two major league baseball teams. It was, I thought at the time, a long way from the mill village where I grew up loving baseball and thinking how the major leagues were several light years away.
O'Dell long since retired to his farm in South Carolina and lives there still, as far as I know. Cloninger was most recently bullpen coach for the Yankees and lives in North Carolina. I have no idea about Schwall's whereabouts. Walker passed away a few years ago.
Today, as the off-season approaches, it is a different era. The Hot Stove League isn't about trades so much as it is about which free agents will be signed. It is about finances and budgets and, until players get between the white lines next spring, the stories that warmed us in past winters are changed to ones of money and how to maintain rosters that don't rival the national debt in salary. Today, Harry Walker would only say, "Hey! Lets talk hitting."
Wayne Minshew was the Public Relations Director for the Atlanta Braves from 1978-1987. He joins BravesCenter.Com as a Special Correspondant
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