April Fools Day One Day Late for Tigers

Whom ever said for the first time, "Sometimes the best trade is the one you don't make" was a straight-thinking guy, and when Detroit turned down a transaction that would have landed them shortstop Maury Wills in 1959, the Tigers realized just how true the adage is.

On April 2, 1959 the Detroit Tigers sent shortstop Maury Wills back to the Dodgers at the end of spring training. Los Angeles had traded Wills to Detroit in 1958, after their first year in L.A. saw them finish just a tick above last place. Detroit was to supply "future considerations" which meant either some cash or an inconsequential player.

Just just one year removed from Brooklyn, Los Angeles had Don Zimmer at shortstop in 1958, and "Popeye" as he was called had a sterling season had his best season in the Major Leagues.

He not only hit well (17 home runs, 60 runs batted in), he also had the best range factor (5.59) since Dave Bancroft in 1928. Zimmer's numbers are still a Los Angeles record.

It was obvious that the Dodgers didn't need a shortstop so they sent Wills to their Triple-A club in Spokane, Washington. And at age 26, it looked like his future was probably with another club.

The old Brooklyn catcher, Bobby Bragan, was the manager at Spokane and could see that Wills was a typical "good field-not hit" shortstop. He had no trouble convincing Wills of that fact, then he pointed out that Wills was not using all of his speed batting right handed, and why didn't he learn to switch-hit?

Why, indeed, said Wills and set about to learn the difficult art of hitting from the opposite side during the season. In a remarkably short time, he had mastered it and was hitting .313.

Back in Los Angeles, Zimmer was struggling both in the field and at bat and the Dodgers tried Bob Lillis at short with about the same results.

So Wills got the call and in his first dozen games didn't hit the ball out of the infield. When his average hit .143 (4-for-28), manager Walt Alston couldn't see much improvement so he told Zimmer, "Get back in there, you're by shortstop."

In Zimmer's first game back, he took a 3-2 pitch that nearly hit him on the foot and the umpire called him out. Zimmer turned to him and pointed out in no uncertain terms that he was not only blind, but his mother and father had hardly met before he was born.

"You're out of here," the umpire screamed and Wills took his place at shortstop the rest of the game. Zimmer didn't realize it, but he was really "Out of here" because Wills got hot with the bat and hit .282 over the final two months of the season, including .345 in September,

Not only that, the Dodgers went from an ugly seventh place finish in 1958 to winning the National League pennant and then the World Championship by beating the White Sox in the series.

Wills would go on to become a star. He won six straight stolen base titles, breaking Ty Cobb's record with 104 in 1962 and winning the Most Valuable Player. He played on four Dodger pennant winning teams (1959, 1963, 1965, 1966) and won three World titles.

Wills is currently the baserunning and bunting coach for the Dodgers and is also a vice president of the Fort Worth Cats.

Zimmer was traded in 1960 but don't feel sorry for him, he played a number of years after leaving the Dodgers, became a manager and was voted the Manager of the Year in 1989. Zim is still working in baseball and has never had a job outside of the game.