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The terrible trade of Jack Sanford

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 forseeable 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.

Jack Sanford trade one of worst in Phils history
Former Phillies GM Bob Carpenter

In exchange for Sanford, the Phillies received righty starting pitcher Ruben Gomez and backup catcher Valmy Thomas.

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.

After the fire, the fire still burns

John the Baptist began to spread the new way with a fiery oratory style and a radical message that inspired the masses and threatened the establishment. So the powers-that-be chopped off his head and extinguished his fire. Or so they thought.

Little did they know that Jesus Christ was there to pick up the torch. He would not allow the flame to be extinguished. Instead his message and his style went even further, flaming up so brightly that many saw the hope of an entirely new world, one which would not see the current authorities retain their traditional power.

And so again out of fear, they took him away. They beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to a cross where he would also die. They thought that they had extinguished the flame once again. The fire was out as Jesus died and his followers, it’s final flickering embers, dispersed into the wind. Or so those same powers of this world thought.

Jesus had indeed been put to death on Friday, and his body taken away and buried in a tomb on Saturday. A massive stone had been set against the opening to the tomb, and guards set outside so that none would be able to remove it. And so night time fell, and into the early still-dark hours of Sunday morning, Jesus lifeless body lay there entombed.

Early on Sunday morning, three of Jesus’ female followers arise before dawn, gather their spices and oils, and set out for the tomb. Mary Magdalene, Salome, and another Mary intended to further and better care for Christ’s body, which had been hastily prepared for initial burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

They had followed Jesus in the group of his closest friends for some time. They had the fire lit inside them by his new teaching that included “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Setting out at about the same time was a 2nd group of women, led by Joanna, who had arranged to meet Mary Magdalene’s group at the tomb. They too had the fire lit inside of them by Christ’s teachings that included “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” 

They knew that a large stone had been rolled in front of the tomb, but they had no idea that it had now been sealed and had guards placed at its entrance.

Before they arrived, an angel suddenly appeared at the tomb and frightened the guards with his brightness. The guards fled in awe and terror, and when they did so, the angel rolled the stone away from the tomb.

As Mary Magdalene’s group approached they immediately saw that the stone was rolled aside, and that the tomb was open. She left the other two there and immediately returned to town to let Jesus’ Apostles know that the tomb was open.

The other two women decided to enter the tomb, and there they found the angel who said to them

Do not be afraid. I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” 

The two women quickly ran back to town to give the message to the Apostles.

Then Joanna’s group arrived, are met by two angels, and are given the same message. They also excitedly return to tell the message. They catch up with the first group, and all of the women are suddenly met on the road by Jesus. They immediately fall to his feet and do him homage as he gives them the message himself: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Peter and John, having been given the message by Mary Magdalene, run ahead of her and arrive at the tomb. The fire of Jesus’ teachings which included “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” has fully engulfed their lives. There they see that Jesus is gone, and examine the burial cloths. They observe that in the condition the cloth is found, it appears as if Christ’s body was not removed, but instead appears to have simply disappeared from within.

For all of these men and women, these close followers of Jesus Christ, the Word burns like a flame within. It will be further inflamed as the reality of his rise from the dead and the continuation of his teaching takes place in the coming weeks. Christ had died, but now he had risen and thus had defeated darkness, sin, and death. The authorities had once again misunderstood. Just as with the snuffing out of John’s life they had not put out the fire of his message, neither had they with Jesus’ death.

Jesus spread his fiery message during his lifetime and his public ministry, and the authorities believed that fire had been put out. These earthly ‘authorities’ failed to realize that after the fire of Christ’s life had been extinguished, the fire of his message still burned.

On his return it now burned again even brighter, and would begin to spread around the world as a raging inferno of peace, hope, and love.

Joseph: A righteous man

He couldn’t have been happier with the way in which his life was finally turning out. A hard-working tradesman who plied his craft with the best of them, he had met a beautiful young girl and fallen in love at first sight.

Sure she was much younger than him, but he was determined to have her in his life. He continued to pursue her gently, and finally got up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage.

She was a very young girl, much younger than he was, yet she was in some ways wise beyond her years. She wasn’t completely sold on the man who was pursuing her affections, but her family was completely taken with him. After all, he was a hard worker who would absolutely be able to provide for their daughter. He was ruggedly handsome and possessed a maturity that told them the man would treat their daughter right.

So the young girl somewhat grudgingly entered into the engagement. The engagement period was going along smoothly until one night the young lady realized that she was pregnant.

By now you have figured out, in all likelihood, that this young woman was named Mary, and her fiancee was named Joseph. She learns of the pregnancy when an angel appears to her and announces to her that the child has been created by God through the Holy Spirit.

Now this creates many problems for the couple. How was anyone supposed to believe Mary when she revealed the news to her family that she was pregnant, and that she was to bear the Son of God from her womb?

Of course, no one would believe such an outlandish story. They would all believe that she had a secret affair going on with one of the young men from the area, or that perhaps she had been violated by a soldier.

Mary got up the courage to tell her story to her family, and almost immediately there was tremendous skepticism and antagonism. Her fiancee Joseph was crushed, though not embarrassed.

As described in the gospel of Matthew (1:19), he was “a righteous man”, and so decided to set their relationship aside in a quiet manner. He would make no accusations against her, and would bow out peacefully. Fact was, he still cared deeply for her.

That night, Joseph was awoken by the appearance of the same angel who had visited Mary. The angel said to him the following:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph was a practical man, but this was no dream. It was not the manifestation of some meal that he had eaten that evening working on his digestive tract as he slept. It was not his conscience acting in a dream state due to his continued affections for Mary. He was very much aware that what he had experienced was real, and he was not about to question his God.

Joseph got out of bed, and began to do as the angel of the Lord had commanded. He took Mary into his home as his wife, and would forever after be a father to the Son of God in every way that is meant.

He had no relations with Mary until after she had bore the child, whom they faithfully named Jesus. He taught Jesus practical lessons in carpentry and in life, and Jesus grew up over the next couple of decades in his house.

The story of Joseph is a timeless one of commitment and sacrifice, and of faith. Joseph was under extreme pressure from the people and powers of this world to turn his back on the woman that he loved. He was considered a fool by some, a martyr by others. Yet he was actually neither of these.

What Joseph showed is that he was a man of God, a man who listened to what the Lord said and put that first in his life.We can all take a lesson from this righteous man as we move through life.

Many times we have been and will be called by God to do something, say something, act in a certain way, treat someone in some way. In responding we may be asked to make a sacrifice, or to go out on a limb, to leave our own comfort zone, perhaps even to embarrass ourselves. When that time comes, remember Joseph, the earthly father of our Lord.