As you sit down to your Thanksgiving turkey this year and are about to carve that sucker up, just remember this: You could have dealt a professional ballplayer in exchange for your feast. At least, you could have if this was 1931 and your baseball team was owned by Joe
As you sit down to your Thanksgiving turkey this year and are about to carve that sucker up, just remember this: You could have dealt a professional ballplayer in exchange for your feast. At least, you could have if this was 1931 and your baseball team was owned by Joe Engel, the greatest showman this side of Bill Veeck.
Acting as an emissary for Clark Griffith, who owned the Washington Senators, Engel arrived in Chattanooga in 1929 with the cash necessary to buy the Chattanooga Lookouts, and quickly got around to building a new state-of-the-art ballpark for the club that could fit 10,000 fans. Though the team wasn't great, Engel would entice fans by giving away a house with a car in the garage and hosting a fake "wild elephant hunt" at the stadium with hunters and prey in costumes. He was also the promoter behind Jackie Mitchell's famous pitching appearance against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
But before all that, Engel traded his shortstop, Johnny "Binky" Jones for a turkey. Unlike Dave Winfield's long rumored deal for dinner -- which has been thoroughly debunked -- this one actually happened.
Jones, who had played 10 games with the Brooklyn Dodgers six years earlier, didn't hit very well for the Lookouts in the 1930 season and the press was always harping on his skills at the plate. (Sadly, while we know he was on the roster that year, there are no statistics available.)
Unhappy with his shortstop's performance, Engel dealt Jones that winter to the nearby Charlotte Hornets in the Class C Piedmont League. All he asked in return? A 25 lb. turkey, because “the turkey was having a better year.” He requested the bird in time for Feb. 22, so he could serve it to the sportswriters who were so hard on the team at the Southern Baseball Writers' Association's first meeting of the year.
The president of the association, Zipp Newman, got in on the laughs, writing that Engel must "promise more than one turkey -- and this turkey coming from Charlotte must not be as tough a bird as Johnny Jones, the showman shortstop. The boys' molars are not what they once were."
Like any good deal, this one hit a few snags. Felix Haymann, the president of the Hornets, wired back to Engel, "My understanding was that Jones must first report before you get turkey. Under such an agreement, I'm afraid you'll have to make other plans, for indications are now that he'll be a long time coming to terms." Though reluctant to agree to the deal, Haymann was willing to pose with the bird, leading to this absolutely amazing photograph in The Chattanooga News. (Jones, for his part, refused to be photographed with his trade partner.)
Somehow, the deal all came together, and the party went off without a hitch. The writers arrived at the stadium to find the turkey laid out on the table, with a placard placed in front reading, "through the courtesy of Johnny Jones."
Even with the free lunch, the writers weren't exactly kind. "It will be remembered that Joe Engel traded Johnny, a peach of a fielding shortstop," the Chattanooga Daily Times wrote, "but the most indifferent cus to ever don a uniform."
While they ate, Engel is reported to have told the writers, "You've been giving me the bird, so now have one on me," before declaring that Charlotte won the trade because the turkey was -- just as Newman feared -- tough.
Sadly, this was the end of the line for Binky -- that peach of a fielder -- who never appeared in another recorded Minor League game. I guess it's hard to keep your confidence up when you've literally been dealt for dinner.
Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.