Top 10 Trades in Phillies History: #7 Phils Dupe Detroit

Detroit felt Bunning was on the downside of his career. He wasn’t and the Phillies acquired a Hall of Fame pitcher for very little.

Over the next two weeks, in conjunction with the run-up to the July 31 trade deadline, Phillies Nation will be presenting the Top 10 Trades in Phillies History. Consideration was given to the performance of the players traded with their new club v. the performance of the players acquired with the Phillies in addition to heavily weighing the success of the Phillies once the trade was completed.

This series will be immediately followed by the Top 10 Worst Trades in Phillies History, starting approximately on July 7.

The 1963 Phillies were a successful squad without an identity. Led by left fielder Wes Covington, then 31, and right fielder Johnny Callison, then 24, the Phillies had successfully blended veteran leadership with a small youth movement. Throughout the line-up, there was a solid blend of youth and experience: for every 26-year old Clay Dalrymple there was a 36-year old Roy Sievers, for the 26-year old Tony Gonzalez, there was 35-year old Don Hoak.

The mix of veterans and youngsters was less pronounced on the pitching staff where youth dominated the ranks. Including 19-year old spot starter Marcelino Lopez, the 1963 Phillies featured nine pitchers at age 26 or younger out of the 14 that appeared for them in 1964. Four out of five starting pitchers that started 16 games or more for the Phillies were 25 or under. The exception? 37-year old Cal McLish, who went 13-11 with a 3.26 ERA with 10 complete games.

The ’63 Phils had the unenviable task of competing with some of the finest dynasties and mini-dynasties of the time in the National League. The eventual World Series’ winning Dodgers won 99 games to run away with the National League pennant. The Phils finished a solid fourth, twelve games behind the Dodgers, six back of the second-place Cardinals, and just one behind the third place Giants, a line-up that featured Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda. Not bad, right?

In a rare aggressive move for a Phillies team of this time period, the Phillies sensed an opportunity to add a top-of-the-line pitcher to their young staff. With Detroit becoming skeptical of a then-31-year old Jim Bunning’s increasing ERA (2.79 to 3.19 to 3.59 to 3.88) from 1960 through 1963 and the fact that Bunning failed to complete 10 games or more for the first time since 1957, the Tigers decided it was the right time to move the 6’3” Kentuckian before the wheels fell off too fast for the then-five-time All-Star.

The Tigers’ move proved to be about four years too early.

Bunning was traded on December 5, 1963 with former three-time All-Star Gus Triandos to Philadelphia for outfielder Don Demeter and pitcher Jack Hamilton. Demeter was a .267/.313/.464 hitter at the time of the trade and earned a twelfth-place MVP finish in 1962 and a twenty-first-place MVP finish in 1963. Hamilton appeared primarily as a 24-year old reliever with the Phillies in 1963 after going 9-12 primarily as a 23-year old starter in 1962.

At the time, and even in retrospect, all signs pointed to this trade being at best a wash for the Phillies or, at worst, a possible small win for the Tigers. After all, the Tigers were receiving an outfielder that had garnered MVP consideration in each of the last two seasons and Hamilton was a young arm that was worth a gamble. Meanwhile, the Phillies received a catcher that hadn’t had 500 PA since 1958 who was entering his age-33 season and was coming off the two worst seasons of his career and a starting pitcher entering his age-32 season whose ERA kept climbing higher and higher as he got older.

But, a funny thing happened when Bunning got to Philadelphia. Bunning, at age 32, was better than he ever was. The apex of his fantastic 1964 came on Father’s Day, June 21, when Bunning dazzled Mets hitters, tossing a No Hitter in the recently-opened Shea Stadium. Bunning would be named to his sixth All-Star team in 1964, his first in the National League, while pitching 284.1 innings, posting a 2.63 ERA and winning 19 games for the Phillies.

Bunning’s final numbers for 1964 may have been even better had he received proper rest. With a clear shot at their first pennant since 1950, up 6.5 games with 12 to play on the second-place Cardinals, Phillies’ manager Gene Mauch decided to increase his chances of winning the pennant by pitching Bunning on four days’ or less rest nine times in the month of September, including four complete games. While four days’ rest was not uncommon until most teams expanded to five-man rotations, the three starts on just three days’ rest may have did him in, including two down the stretch where Bunning made it through just the third inning on both his September 27 and September 30 starts.

As we all know, the Phillies would cede the 1964 pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals, led by a late season hot-streak on the mound by former Phil Curt Simmons. But Bunning would remain an impact pitcher, one of the best in the game, for the next three seasons. Bunning went 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA over the first four years he was with the Phillies, pitching 60 complete games and 23 shoutouts. Bunning also recorded three saves in four relief appearances.

Bunning, whose 224 wins, 3.27 ERA, and no Cy Young Awards put him in the fringe of Hall of Fame candidacy, earned him a 1996 Veteran’s Committee selection, inducted as a Phillie. I am one of the many that believe his four-year, dominant run with the Phillies sealed his Hall of Fame induction. Triandos, the catcher the Phillies received with Bunning, went on to have a solid season as the club’s back-up behind Dalrymple, hitting .250/.339/.426 with eight homers in 220 PA. Bunning would be traded to Pittsburgh in a solid deal for Woodie Fryman, Bill Laxton, and Don Money on December 15, 1967 while Triandos was purchased from the Phillies on June 14, 1965 by the Houston Astros.

Bunning would return for the 1970-1971 seasons, posting a 15-27 mark with a 4.57 for some pretty bad squads before retiring. Of course, Bunning would hold numerous political positions before becoming a United States Senator in 1998. Bunning would serve two terms before choosing not to seek re-election in 2010.

As for the players the Phillies traded away, well, they didn’t amount to a whole lot, at least in comparison to the Hall of Fame-dominance Bunning gave the Phillies. Demeter would hit .262/.297/.452 over four seasons with Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland before retiring following the 1967 season. Hamilton would post a 21-27 record with 17 saves after the trade across six seasons with a 4.21 ERA, pitching for the Tigers, Mets, Angels, Indians, and White Sox.

Bunning was not able to get the Phillies a pennant, but it certainly was not his fault. From 1964 through 1967, Bunning led MLB pitchers in fWAR and innings pitched, ranked second in the NL in wins, ranked second in the NL in games started, and ranked third in the NL in ERA. For how little the Phillies gave up to acquire both Bunning and Triandos, this trade ranks as one of the best in club history.

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