THE Wayne Gretzky blockbuster hockey trade caused many writers to say, ``Perhaps the biggest trade in all of sports.'' It was a big trade, no question, but it is already quieting down. There was a bigger trade in December of 1926, Rogers Hornsby for Frankie Frisch, that took a year to get settled. That was the biggest trade ever in sports, and it had to be made by both the Cardinals and the Giants. Rogers Hornsby in the years 1920-1926, hit .370, .397, .401, .384, .424, .403, and .317. Look at those figures again. Incredible, but not for Hornsby, considered the greatest right-handed batter in history.
Hornsby was a fine second baseman, who became manager of the Cardinals in June 1925, and in 1926 led the Redbirds to their first pennant, and then the world championship over the mighty Yankees. In Game 7, you'll remember, 39-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander struck out young Tony Lazzeri in the seventh inning with the bases full, and held the 3-2 lead the rest of the way. The final Yankee out came when Babe Ruth tried to steal second base, and Hornsby himself put the tag on Ruth.
St. Louis went wild! And Hornsby was the man of the hour. As a three-time .400 hitter, the winner of six batting titles, and the field leader of a team that brought the city its first pennant and world title, he was on a peak even Gretzky would find difficult to imagine.
Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals. Branch Rickey was the general manager who had built this championship team, and had managed it until Breadon ordered him out of the dugout in place of Hornsby.
Hornsby was always his own worst enemy. He was blunt, too much so, in his speech. In the September surge for the pennant, Breadon scheduled the Cardinals to play a meaningless exhibition game. The team was tired, and Hornsby tried to get Breadon to cancel the game so that the team might rest. Breadon refused and Hornsby sounded off to the owner, then repeated his words to the press. After the season, the two men deadlocked over a new contract.
Rickey told me, years later, that one day Breadon walked into his office and said, ``Branch, he has to go!'' To which Rickey said he replied, ``How can I trade this man now...and for whom?''
Frank Frisch was the star second baseman, and captain, for John McGraw's New York Giants, who had won four straight pennants in the years 1921-24. McGraw was a temperamental man who for reasons of his own was always yelling at Frisch. Bill Terry told me that Frisch would answer back in kind, and that it was a terrible situation. Terry said that with the Giants playing in St. Louis, he, teammate George Kelly and Frisch were in Terry's room, and Terry said, ``I told Frisch that if I were him, I wouldn't take it anymore from McGraw, and that I would get on the train and go back to New York.'' Frisch did that the next day. He jumped the ball club.
There it was. Two great players who had to be traded at the peaks of their careers.
St. Louis couldn't accept Breadon and Rickey trading Hornsby. The Chamber of Commerce formally condemned Breadon. Fans hung black crepe on Breadon's house and on his automobile agency. All winter the city remained angry and bitter. It was serious.
Frisch accepted the challenge. He spent the winter getting into top physical shape. In the next season he won the hearts of St. Louis with his hitting, his superb fielding, his fleetness of foot, and his all-out sliding on the bases. He remained
Hornsby, as it turned out, played only that next season with the Giants, then drifted around - the Boston Braves, the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Browns. He was still a great hitter - .361 for the Giants in 1927, a league-leading .387 in Boston the next year, .380 to help the Cubs win the pennenat in '29. He tailed off after that, however, while Frisch remained a star at St. Louis the rest of his playing days, and was the manager and second baseman for the Gas House Gang that won the World Series in 1934.
Rickey later told me, ``Frank Frisch saved my life.''