The 10 strangest trades in MLB history

July 22nd, 2023

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

We’ve seen all kinds of strange trades in baseball.

We’ve seen teams (Detroit and Cleveland) swap managers (Joe Gordon and Jimmy Dykes). We’ve seen a broadcaster (Ernie Harwell) traded for a player (Cliff Dapper). We’ve seen two guys (Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote) dealt for each other between games of a doubleheader. We’ve seen the likes of John McDonald, Dickie Noles and Harry Chiti traded for… themselves (they turned out to be the “player to be named” in deals that had briefly shipped them elsewhere).

And if you want to get literal in the strange trades discussion, we’ve seen Lou Frazier traded for … Doug Strange.

The strangest trades, though, are when human players are dealt for animals, food or inanimate objects. With that as the theme, here are 10 of the strangest trades the sport has ever seen.

1. Lefty Grove for a fence
Grove pitched six games for the Martinsburg Mountaineers of the Blue Ridge League in 1920. He was sold to the Baltimore Orioles of the International League in June of that season for the sum of $3,500 -- the cost to replace Martinsburg’s outfield fence, which had been leveled by a storm.

The Orioles had Grove until selling him to the Philadelphia A’s in 1925 for $100,600 (or $600 more than the Yankees paid for Babe Ruth). He went on to win 300 games and nine ERA titles. No word on how the fence held up.

2. Dave Winfield for dinner
The 1994 players' strike wiped out the end of the season and World Series, and it also brought us one of the oddest transactions in MLB history.

The strike began in mid-August, but the season was not canceled until mid-September. Until that happened, teams could still operate as if play would continue, and Cleveland -- still holding out hope for a postseason run -- swung a trade for Winfield just before the now defunct waiver trade deadline on Aug. 31. The club was supposed to get a player to be named from Minnesota, but because of the strike, that never happened. To settle things, Cleveland executives took Twins executives out for a nice dinner. If the steak was anywhere near as good as Winfield, it must have been a heck of a meal.

3. Tris Speaker for rent
The Boston Americans signed Speaker out of the Texas League in 1907, but he hit just .158 in seven games with Boston. With the organization rather uninterested in him at that point, Speaker had to pay his own way to the team’s Little Rock, Ark., training camp in '08. And at the end of Spring Training, the Americans -- who changed their name to the Red Sox -- gave his contract to Little Rock’s Southern Association team as payment for use of the field.

The only stipulation was that if Speaker developed, Boston had the right to repurchase him for $500. Well, he developed all right. Into a future Hall of Famer. The Red Sox got him back later in the year, and he wound up leading them to two World Series titles.

4. Johnny Jones for a live turkey
Jones never made it to the big leagues, but his name lives on in infamy as the player that Joe Engel, “The Barnum of the Bushes,” traded for a turkey.

Johns was a light-hitting shortstop for the Chattanooga Lookouts, and he had drawn the ire of the local press. So in 1930, Engel sent him to the Charlotte Hornets of the Piedmont League in exchange for a 25-pound turkey that Engel declared was “having a better year.” Engel had the bird cooked up for the Southern Baseball Writers’ Association Dinner. Alas, the meat turned out to be a little tough, so it was decided that the Hornets had gotten the better end of that deal.

5. Kerry Ligtenberg for bats and balls
Undrafted out of college, Ligtenberg landed with the Minneapolis Loons of the independent Prairie League, pitching for $650 a month. In 1996, he was one class away from graduating from the University of Minnesota with an engineering degree and likely leaving baseball behind. But the Braves took an interest in him at the urging of Loons manager Greg Olson.

The Braves signed Ligtenberg, and assistant general manager Dean Taylor offered to compensate Olson for the find. Olson was practical enough to ask for what his club really needed -- 12 dozen baseballs and two dozen bats. A steal of a deal for the Braves, for whom Ligtenberg went on to make 254 appearances over five seasons.

6. Keith Comstock for $100 and a bag of baseballs
This one is a step beyond the previous trade, because the left-handed Comstock actually had to deliver the baseballs himself.

Comstock had been toiling away in the Minors for quite a while and was with the A’s when, in the spring of 1983, the Tigers showed interest in him. Detroit offered $100. When that didn’t work, the Tigers sweetened the deal by throwing in the baseballs. Comstock wound up making it to the Majors in ’84 and is now known not so much for getting traded for a bag of baseballs but for hilariously posing with one.

7. Joe Martina for oysters
Martina pitched just one season for the Washington Senators in 1924. But his name was not lost to history because of the '21 swap in which Dallas sent him to New Orleans for two barrels of oysters.

Because of that deal, Martina was forever known as “Oyster Joe.”

8. Len Dondero for donuts… almost
Dondero was an infielder with San Antonio in the Texas League in 1930. When Dallas owners George and Julius Schepps, who also owned a bakery, offered San Antonio owner Homer Hammonds a dozen donuts for Dondero, Hammonds bit. Literally. The owners from the two teams wound up sharing the donuts, and the deal was disallowed.

(By the way, Leonard Peter Dondero’s nickname is listed on Baseball Reference as “Mike.” Perhaps he traded names?)

9. Cy Young for a suit
The Cleveland Spiders needed an arm, and owner Frank Robison decided to take a chance on Denton Young, who had put together a solid season with the Canton Nadjys (that’s a type of horse, for the record) of the Tri-State League.

Young would inspire not only a great nickname (“Cy” for “Cyclone,” a nod to the tenacity of his pitches) but also the game’s most prestigious pitching award, named in his honor. And all it cost Robison to acquire him was about $250 or $300 (accounts vary) and a new suit for Canton’s skipper.

10. Mike Cisco for … nothing
No word on whether George Costanza pitched this trade, but it happened during Spring Training 2013. At the time, Cisco, a 36th-round Draft pick in 2008 out of the University of South Carolina, was going nowhere in the Phillies’ system, despite some solid numbers as a reliever in Double-A and Triple-A the previous year. The Angels needed organizational help, and the Phillies let them have Cisco as a goodwill gesture.

Every so often, you’ll hear about a guy being dealt for a dollar just so that something is entered into the transaction system. But “no compensation” is a rarer return. Cisco never reached the big leagues, but he put up a 3.99 ERA in Double-A in his lone year with the Angels, which is … better than nothing?