On April 17, just 48 hours before the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians were to meet in the American League 1960 season opener, the clubs pulled off a blockbuster trade.
The home run co-champion of 1959, Rocky Colavito was sent from the Indians in exchange for Detroit's Harvey Kuenn, the 1959 A.L. batting champion.
The trade was basically precipitated by Colavito's refusal to sign for 1960 at the $35,000 the Indians were offered; he had made a reported $28,000 in 1959.
Cleveland's general manager Frank Lane said of the Colavito for Kuenn swap, Kuenn gives us greater speed, better defense and more consistent hitting. We think we have enough power without Rocky. We've given up 40 home runs for 40 doubles. We've added 50 singles and taken away 50 strikeouts. That about sums it up."
Lane neglected to mention that while Colavito seldom missed a game, Kuenn was often injured. He had missed 12 games in 1955, 15 in 1956, 10 in 1958 and 15 in 1959. He also added a $44,500 salary to the Indians' payroll.
The Indians must have thought they were pretty shrewd when Colavito started the season for the Tigers going 4-for-39, all singles, before homering on May 10 with two out in the top of the ninth inning to beat Washington 1-0 and snap the Tigers 10-game losing streak.
Colavito's 1960 season showed 145 games played, batting .249 (his lowest mark to that date) with 35 home runs (fourth in the A.L.) and 87 RBI. Kuenn played in 126 games (his fewest since becoming a regular in 1953). He dropped 45 points off his batting average, to .308, with nine home runs and 54 RBI.
As for Lane's predictions about relative production between Colavito and Kuenn . . . the Indians gave up 26 home runs, while adding six doubles and 29 singles. They "saved" 55 strikeouts.
Topps got caught flat-footed by the trade. A surviving flexichrome that pictures Colavito as an Indian, with the Senators' Harmon Killebrew, was evidently intended for a multi-player feature card in the 1960 set. With Colavito wearing Tigers' livery by the time the season started, it appears Topps scrapped the idea of a Colavito & Killebrew card.
I bought that 5" x 4" Topps relic some 25 years ago from Bill Bossert, of Mid-Atlantic Coins in Swathmore, Pa. Bill was an early friend of Baseball Cards magazine. From the day I bought it, I knew it would have made a great baseball card. When I began making custom cards seven or eight years ago, I always knew that someday I'd be putting that Topps artwork to the use for which it was intended.
My custom card creation is shown at top, the Topps artwork is at bottom.