Cy Young for a $300 business suit?
That’s the legend that has grown around the acquisition of the all-time baseball great by the Cleveland Spiders, one of the most consequential deals in Cleveland sports history.
That trade goes back to the 19th century, but the most recent one in Cleveland that brought receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns also ranks among the biggest made by the city’s professional sports teams.
Which leads to the question: Where does the Beckham trade, which has energized a city and fan base like few before, rank not only in Browns history, but in Cleveland sports history?
Here’s a look at some of the biggest deals:
Cy Young for $300, or a suit, take your pick
On July 30, 1890, the Canton semipro baseball team sent the pitcher who had already earned the nickname “Cyclone” to the Cleveland Spiders, a National League team that preceded the Indians. Young would pitch in Cleveland for nine seasons and win 240 games before he went to Boston to win 327 more.
The compensation remains hazy. The New York Times reported in Young’s obituary that Young was traded “for a suit of clothing.” The Society for American Baseball Research says it was for $300. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Aug. 2, 1890, that “the consideration [for Young] is unknown, while some claim it was $300.” Other sources have reported it was for $300 that the Canton manager then used to buy a new suit for himself.
The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, researched the matter, and learned from Reed Browning’s biography of Young (Cy Young, A Baseball Life) that the suit has become a baseball legend. Browning’s book reports that because Young did not own a good suit when he was traded, the Canton team helped buy him one. Young himself started the legend later in his life that the various transactions meant he was traded for a suit.
Regardless of the “consideration,” the Indians acquired a pitcher who won 511 games in his career, one of the all-time greats, for a paltry sum of cash. That $300 would be worth $8,080 today, according to the CPI Inflation Calculator.
Bernie Kosar arrives via the supplemental draft
Kosar grew up near Cleveland and wanted to play for the Browns. It appeared he was headed to the Vikings, though, after Minnesota made a trade to get him in the 1985 draft. But Kosar, who left the University of Miami after graduating early, delayed submitting his paperwork for the regular draft. That allowed Browns owner Art Modell to trade a first-round pick and linebacker Chip Banks to Buffalo for the first pick in the supplemental draft. Kosar would go on to lead the Browns to three AFC title games. Though two of those games ended in the heartbreak of The Drive and The Fumble, Kosar remains beloved in his hometown.
The great Speaker comes to Cleveland
Tris Speaker was a star for the Boston Red Sox, but in 1916, he was traded to the Indians for pitcher Sad Sam Jones, infielder Fred Thomas and $55,000. In 11 seasons in Cleveland, Speaker hit .354 and established a level of defensive play in center field that was among the best ever. He played shallow and went back on a ball without effort. He twice in a month had unassisted double plays when he caught a line drive and beat the runner back to second. He led the AL in putouts seven times and double plays six times.
Frank Ryan for two draft picks
Ryan’s career might not be Hall of Fame worthy, but he did something that no Browns quarterback has done since he played. Ryan quarterbacked the Browns when they won the 1964 championship, the last time they won a title. He played his best on the most important stage, throwing three touchdown passes in a 27-0 win over the Colts in the NFL championship game. That’s a strong return given the Browns traded third- and sixth-round draft picks to the Rams to acquire him in a 1962 trade. Ryan did an interview with TheMMQB.com in 2017 in which it was put to him that he was the last Cleveland quarterback to win a championship. His reply: “Isn’t that awful?”
There are no tangible results for this trade, so it’s all potential. But Beckham makes the Browns’ offense more exciting and better, and if he can do what Ryan did and help the Browns win a championship, this trade shoots to first or second on the list. Right now, though, it’s the most consequential trade by the Browns for an elite player in his prime. The compensation included a first-round pick and starting safety in Jabrill Peppers, but there was zero hesitation. As general manager John Dorsey said, when you can get a player like Beckham at this point in his career, you take the shot.
Mike Phipps to the Bears
The Browns acquired first- and fourth-round picks in a 1977 trade for quarterback Mike Phipps. With the first-round pick, the Browns selected Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome. This trade’s significance is its entire history. Phipps originally was drafted by the Browns after Modell broke many hearts by sending Paul Warfield to Miami for the draft pick that became Phipps. Warfield went on to the Hall of Fame; Phipps never lived up to the selection. That he was traded for the pick that turned into Newsome eased some of the sting of the Warfield deal, but not all of it.
The Love trifecta
Larry Nance (acquired for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, Kevin Johnson, a first- and two second-round picks) and Brad Daugherty (acquired for Roy Hinson and $800,000) were great players for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Nance, Daugherty, Mark Price and the rest could not get by Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Kevin Love joined the Cavs in 2014 when Cleveland sent Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick to Minnesota. That put him with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and that Cavs team made history by erasing a 3-1 deficit to the Golden State Warriors to win the 2016 NBA title.
Shoeless Joe comes to Cleveland
Again from the history books. In 1910, Connie Mack sent Jackson to Cleveland for $6,000 (the highest-paid player the previous season earned $9,000) and Bris Lord. Jackson hit .375 in Cleveland before financial issues forced owner Frank Somers to trade him to the White Sox in 1915. Four years later, Jackson was part of one of the greatest scandals in baseball history, as Chicago was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. A jury trial acquitted the players, but commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all of them from baseball for life. Jackson claimed he was not part of the scheme (he hit .375 in the Series), but Landis’ judgement has kept him and his .356 career average out of the Hall of Fame.
Mike McCormack one of 15 in a trade
The oddities of this trade were the numbers and the timing. Paul Brown needed a lineman, so he made McCormack the centerpiece of a 15-player trade that brought him to Cleveland in 1954 — even though McCormack was in the service in Korea. Among those who went to Baltimore: Don Shula, who would become a Hall of Fame coach and guide the NFL’s only unbeaten team to a championship. Brown figured waiting one year for McCormack was worth it; McCormack now has a bust in Canton. The savvy Brown always considered this one of his best personnel moves.
Cy Young in Cleveland, more than 100 years later
At the trade deadline in 2010 the Indians sent Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals as part of a three-team deal with the Padres for starting pitcher Corey Kluber. Kluber’s career took some time to get going, but when it took off, it did quickly. Kluber has been to the All-Star Game four times and is the only Cleveland Indians pitcher to win the Cy Young Award twice. This deal just edges out the trade that brought Omar Vizquel to the Indians for Felix Fermin and Reggie Jefferson.
A rundown of Cleveland trades would not be complete without mentioning that they have made some memorable clunkers as well. This is the city that in the 1970s sent Graig Nettles to the Yankees for Charlie Spikes and three other players, and Chris Chambliss to New York for pitchers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline and Fritz Peterson. Chambliss and Nettles became key parts of Yankees World Series teams; the Indians never won more than 81 games in the years either of the pair were in New York.
There’s also the Harvey Kuenn-Rocky Colavito deal that many believe enacted a curse on Cleveland teams. Colavito was a former Rookie of the Year and the American League home run champion in 1954, Kuenn the AL’s leading hitter. Colavito was beloved, but Frank Lane sent him to Detroit.
Cleveland is also the city that sent defensive linemen Willie Davis and Henry Jordan to Green Bay and Doug Atkins to the Bears. Paul Brown did them a favor. He didn’t have room for them on his roster; all three went on to Hall of Fame careers.
Finally, former Cavs owner Ted Stepien made so many bad trades and traded so many first-round picks that the NBA changed its rules to prohibit trading first-round picks in consecutive seasons.