Historical Trade Rumors: Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio

Tim Kelly
April 13, 2020 - 10:12 am

The December 1919 sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees is perhaps the most iconic transaction in sports history. It set in place what some believe is the best rivalry in sports, and placed a curse on the Red Sox, who after winning a title in Ruth's second-to-last season with the team, didn't win another World Series until 2004.

However, approximately three decades later, a deal was verbally agreed to between the teams that likely would have been even more impactful.

Legendary baseball writer and historian Glenn Stout and late New York Times columnist Dave Anderson are among those that say in the late 1940s - Stout says he believes it to have been in 1947 - Red Sox' owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees' general manager Lee McPhail verbally agreed to a deal that would send Ted Williams to New York for Joe DiMaggio. There's some suggestion that a young Yogi Berra may have been part of these discussions as a piece to go back to Boston, but Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal weren't on the beat 70 plus years ago, so we don't know a ton of specifics.

Though both were future Hall of Famers, if the Yankees had been able to land Williams "just" for DiMaggio, history would have viewed them as the winners of the deal. DiMaggio, who was nearly four years older than Williams, would play through the 1951 season. Williams' final season proved to be 1960. From 1947 on, DiMaggio was worth 25.3 WAR per FanGraphs. Williams was worth 82.2.

Of course, Berra turned into a star in 1947, and put together an illustrious 19-season career. It's hard to fathom trading Williams, but if you were going to do it, a package of DiMaggio and Berra wouldn't have been a terrible return.

Ted Williams
Ted Williams is arguably the greatest hitter in MLB history. Photo credit (Getty Images)

For as dominant of a career as Williams had as an individual, he never won a World Series. In 1946, the only time Williams ever played in the postseason, the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Williams hit just .200 in 25 at-bats that postseason, which is perhaps the only stain on his otherwise perfect resume.

The Yankees won World Series titles in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958, which are all teams Williams would have presumably been a part of if this trade would have gone through. Would the Yankees have won all those titles if you replace DiMaggio - and potentially Berra - with Williams? Who knows. But he almost certainly would have won at least one World Series title with the Yankees, something he was never able to do in Boston.

DiMaggio would marry actress Marlilyn Monroe in 1954, an arrangement that lasted less than two full years. However, the two are among the most iconic power couples of all time. DiMaggio had been retired for a few years before he met Monroe, but it's hard to know if he had been traded to Boston in 1947 - or thereabouts - if he still would have met and married Monroe having relocated to Boston. Then again, Monroe spent most of her life in California and still ultimately met and married DiMaggio. The two were bi-coastal before that was a thing, so maybe they would have met and wed regardless. It's another interesting layer to think about, though.

Why didn't the deal ultimately get completed? While it's hard to know exactly how it affected their decision-making processes, it's believed that Yawkey and MacPhail were drinking during some sort of dinner when they discussed this trade. While they were drinking, the deal was Williams for DiMaggio, straight up. Berra's addition into the discussions apparently didn't come until Yawkey sobered up the next morning, at which time MacPhail promptly ceased trade discussions.

Such a trade would have had drastic consequences on baseball, pop culture and even a famous cartoon bear that resided at Jellystone National Park.

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