In 1957, starting pitcher Jack Sanford was the National League Rookie of the Year for the Philadelphia Phillies. Just over a year later, Sanford was traded to the San Francisco Giants.
It would prove to be one of the worst trades in Phillies franchise history. So how and why did this happen? You have to look at the details to understand the Phillies thought process at the time. That process turned out to be wrong. But was it foreseeable by the team decision makers of the day?
Let’s start with Sanford himself. Signed by the Phils as an amateur free agent in 1948 as a 19-year old, he began that year with a miserable 3-15 record and 7.20 ERA in 140 innings at the lowest level of the team’s minor league system.
Sanford survived that rough introduction to pro ball, and in 1949 bounced back to go 15-9 with a 4.39 ERA. The following year, while the ‘Whiz Kids’ were winning the NL Pennant, Sanford began to make a name for himself by going 12-4 with a 3.71 ERA.
From 1949-54, a 6-season period in which he aged from 20-25, Sanford went a combined 80-59. He broke the 200 innings pitched level in 4 of those 6 seasons. But he wasn’t given a shot at the Majors.
The biggest problems for the flame-throwing Sanford both involved the same basic issue: discipline. He was known for having a quick temper on the field, and he was also wild. In 4 of the 6 seasons from 1949-54, Sanford walked more than 100 hitters each season.
A 1955 stint in the US Army cost him a full season on the mound, but did wonders for both his personal and professional discipline issues. He returned in time to get a handful of late 1956 innings up with the Phillies, walking 13 in his 13 innings. But he showed enough to be in the mix come the following spring.
In 1957, Sanford not only made the Phillies roster, he put up an epic season. In his first full season at age 28, Sanford went 19-8 with a 3.08 ERA. He allowed just 194 hits in 236.2 workhorse innings. He did walk 94 batters, but he also struck out 188.
For this strong performance, Jack Sanford made the NL All-Star team, and then at season’s end was named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. He even finished in 10th place in NL MVP balloting.
But then in 1958, Sanford slipped back a bit. He went 10-13, and his ERA rose to the 4.44 mark. His strikeouts dropped to a mere 106, and he allowed more hits than innings pitched, making his 81 walks less tolerable.
The Phillies feared that the pitcher, who was about to turn 30 years old, may have been a flash-in-the-pan during his rookie campaign. Hoping to grab some value for him while it existed, GM Bob Carpenter crafted the trade with the Giants.
|Former Phillies GM Bob Carpenter|
Gomez had gone 71-72 and thrown over 1,253 innings across 6 seasons with the Giants.
While not a hard thrower, Gomez didn’t beat himself. He allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, and didn’t have Sanford’s wildness problems.
It seemed like a good deal for the Phillies. They got a guy with a more reliable track record with a longer history of success in exchange for a wild thrower with a temper who appeared might be a one-year wonder.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, to say that it didn’t work out would be an understatement. Over parts of 4 more seasons spread out over a 9 year period, Gomez would pitch just over 200 more total innings.
Thomas lasted just one season as the backup catcher in Philly, and retired after the 1961 season.
Meanwhile, from 1959-63, Sanford would produce an 80-55 record for the Giants, pitching more than 1,200 innings. In all five of those seasons, Sanford pitched more innings than would Gomez pitch in total for the rest of his post-trade career.
In 1962 alone, Sanford went 24-7 with a 3.43 ERA and tossed 265.1 innings, coming in 2nd in NL Cy Young Award voting and 7th in NL MVP balloting. He won 15 games in 1959, 16 in 1963, and made 36 or more starts in each of the 1959-63 seasons.
Finally slipping at age 36 in 1966, Sanford was sold to the California Angels, who transitioned him to a bullpen role. In this new role, Jack Sanford would hang on for a couple more years, even receiving AL MVP votes in 1967.
Sanford finally retired following the 1967 season. He had pitched a dozen years, 9 full seasons after the trade. After leaving Philly he pitched over 1,600 innings and won 107 games.
Why are we visiting with the memory of Jack Sanford and this awful trade for the Phillies? Because today is the trade’s 56th anniversary. The deal which GM Carpenter would call “the worst trade I ever made” went down on this very date in 1958.