Trading a player, in any sport, is always a tricky maneuver. One can never guarantee that the new arrival will actually be beneficial to the team, or that the one traded away won’t go on to have a Hall of Fame career that makes the GM regret his decision. There’s no crystal ball in sports, and this is exactly why, in retrospect, so many transactions now seem lopsided. But regardless of the end result, the idea usually appears pretty sound at the time. Every trade, presumably, should be in the best interest of the organization. If you're trading a key piece away, logic would dictate your aim should be to get something of equal or greater value in return.
However, there there are the times that a trade is downright ridiculous right off the bat because there’s some other motivation behind the move that created a sense of urgency. Maybe the team desperately and suddenly needed money or to fill a role for one reason or another. Maybe there was an odd personality issue at stake. Or maybe the owners or players (who can and do request trades) are just plain acting crazy. Regardless of the reasoning, it happens, and it can look pretty damn ridiculous to fans, journalists, and other people involved in the sport.
These are a few of the weirdest head-scratcher trades ever made, and the ridiculous true (or at least accepted) stories and reasoning behind them. Here are the top 15 athletes who were traded for ridiculous reasons.
15 Steve Downie
Current Arizona Coyotes winger Steve Downie has been a notorious troublemaker throughout his career, and his inappropriate actions led to at least two trades in his nine-year NHL career. Just how inappropriate, however, is still a bit of a question mark. Back in 2005, Downie (then in the OHL) was suspended for five games after he blindly cross-checked 16-year-old Flyers prospect Akim Aliu and chipped three of his teeth following an incident where the youngster refused to participate in a degrading hazing ritual. Downie was traded soon afterward, but oddly, it was at his own insistence.
In 2013, then a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Downie was traded back to the Flyers, likely due to yet another altercation with a teammate - this time involving Gabe Landeskog. As if the Flyers repeatedly trading for Downie despite being well aware of his terrible behavior issues wasn’t ridiculous enough, rumors also swirled that the trade was due to Downie sleeping with teammate Semyon Varlamov’s girlfriend - which was fueled by the fact that Varlamov was arrested on domestic violence charges just prior to the trade.
14 Jason Spezza
Although it’s usually just business, occasionally trades can happen for personal reasons. After spending 11 years with the Ottawa Senators, Jason Spezza requested a trade after his first full season as team captain. The center had had a good year (23 goals and 43 assists in 75 games) and officially said he simply wanted to get an opportunity elsewhere. Although this was true, Spezza admitted to reporters than the true reason was that he was sick of getting blamed for the team’s losses. I’m not sure which part of this is more ridiculous: the fact that a productive player could be repeatedly blamed for a whole team’s struggles, or the fact that a guy with one year left on his contract would waive his no-trade clause because his feelings got hurt a few times.
13 Joe Gordon & Jimmy Dykes
As the GM of various teams throughout his career, Frank Lane was notorious for his quick trigger on the trade front, earning him nicknames like “Frantic Frank” and “Trader Lane.” In the summer of 1960, however, Frank engineered his most ridiculous and diabolical trade yet: in order to shake things up (and also as quite the publicity stunt), Lane decided to trade his whole Cleveland Indians team. This plan was nixed by the commissioner at the time, so Frank settled for a lesser (but still wacky) trade, sending his manager, Joe Gordon, to Detroit in exchange for their manager, Jimmy Dykes. The result? Not much of a change. The Tribe finished in fourth place in the American League - two spots ahead of the Tigers.
12 Kei Kamara
Sometimes you just know a trade was made with a bit too much emotion involved, and possibly might be regretted down the road. This was likely the case when MLS footballer Kei Kamara of the Columbus Crew was shipped off to the New England Revolution just before this season’s trade deadline. The reasoning stemmed from an on-field incident in a game where Kamara, who had already scored two goals to give his team a 3-1 lead in the 51st minute, enthusiastically argued with teammate Federico Higuain over who should take a penalty kick. Kamara was likely looking for a hat trick, but Higuain ended up taking the kick and scored the goal. Still, the argument killed the team’s chemistry for the rest of the game and Columbus blew their lead, with the game ending in a 4-4 tie.
Kamara, however, wasn’t finished. He sounded off to the press after the game and tore into his teammate. Even though Kamara was the team’s leading scorer the previous year (and tied for the most goals in the entire league), the Crew sent him packing in exchange for money, two draft picks, and an international roster spot - all because of a completely pointless argument.
11 Cliff Dapper
When an important member of the 1948 Dodgers went down with an ailment, minor league catcher Cliff Dapper was traded away to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association for a replacement. However, it wasn’t another player that the Dodgers needed here, it was an announcer. With mic man Red Barber sick, Brooklyn acquired Ernie Harwell to fill in for the season. Although the idea is silly on principle, I’m honestly not sure who, if anyone, was getting slighted during this odd little exchange.
Dapper, a notoriously slick-fielding catcher, went on to bat .280 in Atlanta and became the team’s manager, but they guy he was given up for, Harwell, went on to have a Hall of Fame broadcasting career with the Detroit Tigers. Even though Harwell was only with the Dodgers for a single season, his replacement was (and still is!) a pretty good guy too: Vin Scully.
10 John McDonald
John McDonald played for eight different teams in his 15-year MLB career, but no move was more curious than his trade from Detroit to Toronto in 2005. On November 10, the Tigers shipped McDonald to the Jays as the “player to be named later” of a previous trade. This is perfectly normal, except for the fact that the initial trade that required the PTBNL was one that sent John McDonald to the Tigers in the first place. So, in effect, McDonald was traded for himself.
Oddly enough, it was actually the Blue Jays that requested him back. Even odder, this was the fourth time in history that an MLB player ended up getting traded for himself. Dickie Noles and Brad Gulen were also both traded under similar circumstances, but they weren’t the first…
9 Harry Chiti
When Harry Chiti was traded by the Cleveland Indians to the expansion team New York Mets in 1962 for a player to be named later, it didn’t really work out for anybody involved. The Mets went on to post an abysmal 40-120 record, and Chiti, who only played in 15 games, hit just .195. Who can a team send as a PTBNL when they quickly find out their original acquisition is a total bust? Well, in the Mets’ case, they simply sent the only player they had who was just as bad as Chiti. In June 1962, Harry Chiti became the first player ever to get traded for himself.
8 Tom Martin
Tom Martin was one of those players who bounced between the NHL and AHL during his 14 year professional hockey career, which means he wasn’t exactly the best trade bait at any point. But you can’t deny that the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Breakers really got somewhere by trading him - literally. On January 19, 1983, Martin was dealt to the Victoria Cougars for a bus. A used bus. But you see, this wasn’t like past novelty trades where a player was basically given away for a few bats or a box of balls (both true stories); Seattle really needed that bus, as their previous one had just recently broken down thanks to a burst engine. And the trade worked out for Victoria too. Although they weren’t in desperate need of reinforcements on the ice, the bus in question was actually an extra one that was stuck in Spokane due to a tax issue that prevented the team from bringing it into Canada. A perfect quid-pro-quo.
Martin was looking to make a move anyway, and his only exception to the humorous deal was the fact that the bus was constantly referred to as ‘used.’ “Well, it was used,” Martin later said, but clarified that it had only recently been used. “It was a fairly new bus.”
7 Hideki Irabu
When Hideki Irabu came over from Japan in 1997, the New York Yankees signed the pitcher to a four-year, $12.8 million contract and inserted him into their starting rotation after only eight minor league games. Irabu stumbled a bit in his first year (5-4, 7.09 ERA), but delivered fairly well in his second (13-9, 4.06 ERA), including helping the team on their way to a World Series title in 1998. However, Irabu showed up to spring training overweight in 1999, much to the chagrin of owner George Steinbrenner. Making matters worse, Irabu failed to cover first base in the 9th inning of an exhibition game on April 1, which completely enraged The Boss, who called Irabu a “fat p---y toad” and refused to let him accompany the team on their upcoming road trip.
Steinbrenner apologized a few days later, but as a notorious holder of grudges, he never quite got over the events of that spring. When the 1999 season ended (with another World Championship, no less), George sent Irabu to the Montreal Expos.
6 Urban Shocker
After pitching to a remarkable 15-3 record and a 1.31 ERA with 54 consecutive scoreless innings in the minors (the latter two stats are still International League records), Urban Shocker was called up to the Yankees in 1917 and pitched to the tune of 8-5 and a 2.61 ERA. When 1918 arrived, so did a new manager, Miller Huggins. Shockingly (no pun intended), the new skipper foolishly traded Shocker to the St. Louis Browns before the season even began. According to Huggins, some had told him that Shocker was “a troublemaker,” and it would behoove the manager to get rid of him as soon as possible. “I later discovered that my information had done Shocker a grave injustice,” Huggins said. “Urban has never made trouble for anyone.” He did make a trouble of sorts with the Browns though, as he terrorized hitters, winning 126 games in seven years with St. Louis, including four 20+ win seasons - one in which he struck out 149 batters.
5 Julius Erving
The path to becoming an NBA team wasn’t easy for the New York Nets. Originally an ABA squad, the team joined the NBA in 1976-77, and were immediately hit with a $4.8 million fee by the Knicks for “invading” their territory. Unable to pay, the Nets offered their superstar player, Julius Erving (whom the team couldn’t afford to give a well-deserved raise to, as he had won two championships, three MVPs, and three scoring titles with the team), to the Knicks instead. New York, in one of the most foolish decisions in franchise history, declined.
The Philadelphia 76ers eventually bought Julius for a bargain price of $3 million. “The merger agreement killed the Nets as an NBA franchise,” owner Roy Boe said. “[It] got us into the NBA, but it forced me to destroy the team by selling Erving to pay the bill.” The Nets promptly plummeted to a 22-60 record, while Dr. J of course went on to have a Hall of Fame career in which he was an 11-time All-Star and 1983 NBA Champion.
4 Frank Robinson
When it comes down to it, managers can find a way to trade any player if they truly have the desire, even if it’s not in the best interest of the team. Here’s a good example of that: Prior to the 1966 season, Frank Robinson had spent 10 years in Cincinnati, and had already amassed eight All-Star selections, an MVP Award, and a Gold Glove - but was given away in an incredibly lopsided trade to the Baltimore Orioles that year anyway. Reds manager Bill DeWitt’s reasoning? Even though Robinson was only 30, DeWitt called him “not a young 30,” and traded the allegedly aging athlete. The next year, the old man had a career year.
He absolutely crushed pitching to the tune of a .316/.410/.637 slash line while slugging 49 home runs and earning MVP honors. It was only after six very productive years in Baltimore (and two World Series Championships) that Robinson’s age finally began to show.
3 Bill Russell
In the 1956 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics and coaching legend Red Auerbach knew they wanted University of San Francisco center Bill Russell, and traded Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan (both future Hall of Famers) to the St. Louis Hawks in exchange for the second pick of the draft. But what about the first pick, owned by the Rochester Royals? Apparently Red wasn’t too worried about them drafting Russell, as they already had a star center and tight finances likely meant the Royals couldn’t afford him anyway. But the Celtics and owner Walter Brown needed a bit more insurance. To grease the wheels, Brown, who also owned the Ice Capades (which was actually a pretty big deal back then), offered to send the show to Rochester for a week if the Royals passed on Russell. They allegedly agreed, selected Si Green, and the rest is history...sort of.
Rochester owner Lester Harrison, for his part, repeatedly denied the Ice Capades bit before his death in 1997. On the other side, Auerbach repeatedly retold and reinforced the story before passing in 2006. We may never know the true details of this historic trade, but it’s now firmly planted in NBA lore.
2 Lefty Grove
Over the course of 17 seasons in the MLB, Robert “Lefty” Grove amassed a 300-141 record with a miniscule 3.06 record. He was an AL MVP, two-time World Champ, two-time triple crown winner, six-time All-Star, and one of the best pitchers of all time. He also holds another unique distinction, but not one to brag about. At age 20, Lefty was signed by the Class D Martinsburg Mountaineers of West Virginia, and gained notoriety by striking out 60 batters in 59 innings, which drew the attention of a AA Baltimore Orioles affiliate.
Although Martinsburg basically only had one good player (Grove), they had zero fences in their outfield, which forced the team to play all their games on the road. The cash-strapped Mountaineers solved this problem by trading their star pitcher to Baltimore for $3,500, which was immediately spent on the new fence. “I was the only player ever traded for a fence,” Lefty later said.
1 Babe Ruth
Although they won the World Series in 2004 (as well as 2007 and 2013) and broke “The Curse of the Bambino,” trading Babe Ruth will likely still go down in baseball history as the worst decision in Boston Red Sox history. And it’s not like the team didn’t know what it was doing; Ruth was already a dependable and often magnificent pitcher, and his sensational slugging was single-handedly reinventing how people viewed hitters - while also smashing attendance records. Nevertheless, on December 26, 1919, Boston owner Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan. Why the sudden need for so much cash? Frazee, a theatrical promoter, was allegedly focusing more on funding his play My Lady Friends.
After having won five of the first 16 World Series, it would famously be another 86 years before the Red Sox won another. On the bright side, the play eventually turned into No, No, Nanette, which became a hit on Broadway.