Red Sox trade of Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio falls apart

The baseball trade of the century would have been the Boston Red Sox sending Ted Williams to the Yankees for Joe DiMaggio. What could have happened?

There are blockbuster trades and then there’s the New York Yankees trading Joe DiMaggio to the Boston Red Sox for Ted Williams. The Yankee Clipper for Teddy Ballgame! The greatest player for the greatest hitter. A point in baseball history that occasionally surfaces and as a Williams fan I found it a fascinating concept. Would it have changed history?

In the 1947 offseason, the Yankees GM Larry McPhail met with Tom Yawkey regarding such a move and Yawkey was amicable to it. One trade scenario had Yogi Berra as part of the eventual package. A verbal agreement was reached and then a day later it dissolved. One assumption is both McPhail and Yawkey were good friends who would enjoy an adult beverage – often to excess. Was this the result of too much booze? When they sobered up did they view it differently?

The Yankees were coming off a World Series title having defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Red Sox had faded to third – 14 games in arrears to the Yankees – after a World Series visit in 1946. I am sure the two baseball men tossed around along with their whiskey a series of what-ifs? A question that fans often tossed around. Williams for DiMaggio! Both in favorable ballparks.

Yankee Stadium was constructed specifically to take full advantage of the left-handed power of Babe Ruth. The short porch in right-field became an inviting target to a lefty hitter like Williams. In his career, TSW hit 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium and hit .309. Of course, Williams had to hit against a perennially solid Yankee staff. And the power alley’s in left-field were frustrating as even a ball clearly tattooed would be tracked down.

Fenway Park also had a design that favored the right-hand hitters with the short left field target that is now The Green Monster. DiMaggio hit .334 in Fenway Park for his career and would certainly find the lineup shift from New York to Boston minimal as would Williams. Both teams produced lineups that were noted for giving pain and no comfort to pitchers. For both ballparks, there were vast spaces where fly balls went to die.

In 1948, DiMaggio would be 32 years old and finished with one of his best seasons, winning his third MVP Award and slamming an AL-leading 39 home runs and 155 RBI. For The Kid, it was another batting title in 1948 (.369) and leading the AL in OBP, Slugging, OPS, doubles, and OPS+. The Splendid Splinter was three years younger than DiMaggio.

After that remarkable season for both a different pathway followed. In four seasons Joltin’ Joe had retired and Williams kept on for 13 seasons including almost two years lost to military service. The Yankees would have certainly benefited long-range and Boston may have short-range by possibly winning the pennant in 1948 – a pennant they lost with a playoff to the Indians.

In his remaining four seasons, DiMaggio posted a 19.6 bWAR and Williams in his 13 seasons a 68.2 bWAR. This certainly shows that New York would have profited from the deal with William’s lengthy playing career and DiMaggio’s cut short over frustrating injuries, but that brings us back to that tossed in player – Berra.

Berra went on to win three MVP Awards and entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A lifetime .285 hitter with 358 career home runs and arguably one of the best players of his era playing extensively at the critical catcher position. If Berra was part of the package the edge shifts to favor the Red Sox, but would it mean titles in Bean town?

Would the addition of Berra and the exclusion of Williams dramatically changed the balance of power in the American League? I do not see a cataclysmic shift in power. The Yankees without DiMaggio continued to develop superstars and  continued to win titles. Williams would have been part of eight teams that went to the WS. For Boston, my assumption is they would have continued down the path to mediocrity even with Berra.

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Both DiMaggio and Williams transcend time in baseball as their careers are the stuff steeped in legend and most of it accurate. Both were considered baseball nobility and aloof. Good teammates, but on a level that appeared unapproachable. If baseball has royalty they are part of it.