Three of the Craziest “Almost” Trades in Sports History
By Max Toth Blockbuster trades. One of the most intriguing parts of pro sports - seeing a superstar change teams in a heart beat. However, it’s not easy to swing those sort of earth-shaking deals and there have been a number of times when a trade that would‘ve changed the entire sports landscape is agreed upon, but later rescinded. So read on, trade junkies, as here are three almost-deals that could‘ve altered sports history forever.
1. DiMaggio For Williams (1947)
This potential blockbuster was the result of a night on the town at a New York City restaurant featuring Yankees owner Dan Topping and Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox. The magical “Williams for DiMaggio“ transaction is one of baseball‘s most legendary off-the-field tales. The truth is, swapping the “Yankee Clipper“ for “Teddy Ballgame“ would’ve made a lot of sense for both clubs. The intamicy of the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park would‘ve been perfect for DiMaggio‘s right-handed power and Yankee Stadium‘s shallow right field porch would’ve been just as kind to Willams as it was to his lefty hitting contemporaries Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In the end, however, the Red Sox refused to pull the trigger unless the Yankees threw in a promising 22 year old part-time catcher by the name of Yogi Berra and New York ultimately declined.
2. Kobe Bryant to the Bulls (2007)
It‘s almost impossible to imagine Kobe Bryant in a jersey other then the purple and gold of the L.A. Lakers. But after a disappointing 2007 season that saw the Lakers finish a mediocre 42-40 and lose to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the play-offs, “The Black Mamba“ made noise about wanting to be traded. Bryant also owned a no-trade clause, meaning he could turn down a deal that would send him to any franchise he deemed undesirable. At the time, Kobe dreamed of suiting up for the Chicago Bulls - the same team his idol Micheal Jordan brought to relevance. In fact, the Lakers and Bulls did come to an agreement which would‘ve sent Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon and Joakim Noah to Los Angeles for Bryant. However, as it turned out, Bryant was unwilling to join a Bulls team that didn’t include Deng and the entire negotiation fell apart. In the end though, the “no-deal“ worked out for both teams, as the Lakers would win two championships in the next three seasons while the Bulls would land future MVP Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft.
Maple Leafs for Oilers (1980)
Yep, you read that right. According to then-Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, in 1980 Edmonton and the Toronto Maple Leafs almost traded all of their players, coaches, janitors......everything. While admittedly, Edmonton’s best in custodial engineering wouldn’t actually have to pick up and move to “The Big Smoke”, the deal did include a 19-year old Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” was coming off his rookie NHL season that saw him lead the NHL in points and win his first of nine Hart MVP trophies. Meanwhile, Number 99’s famous Oilers running mates such as Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey would’ve also been Toronto-bound. But what would Oilers fans have received in return for a team that would win their first Stanley Cup in four short seasons? A tattered Blue and White bunch that boasted Wilf Paiement, a slightly less-talented number 99, as the leading scorer of a Leafs squad that wouldn’t make the playoffs for 13 years after the proposed trade. It shouldn’t come as too big of a shock that Leafs owner Harold Ballard was the one who proposed this bizarre trade. According to Pocklington in his 2009 published life story, the eccentric Leafs owner was in financial trouble and, in addition to the total exchange of rosters, Ballard also demanded Edmonton fork over $50 million in cash. Once all the big, bad details were worked out Pocklington and Gretzky would‘ve been front and centre in Toronto, while Ballard and his brigade would‘ve set up shop in Edmonton. Pocklington figured that with his exciting young team based in Hogtown, he’d have a licence to print money. Fortunately for Oilers, fans, however, Ballard got cold feet and chose to keep his club in Toronto. That meant Leafs fans were completely cursed for another decade or so, while Oilers fans were on the brink of watching an historical dynasty - until Pocklington, no stranger to colourful behaviour himself, pulled off a real Gretzky trade in the summer of ‘88.
So, there you have it.
The next time you hear a trade rumour featuring a superstar, you can reminisce about a few shocking trades that were this close to becoming the real deal.