Twenty-three year old Cy Young (then known as "Dent" which was a shortened version of his first name) was pitching in the Tri-State League for a team from Canton, Ohio. The owner was so financially strapped, he traded the hurler to the Cleveland Spiders for $300 and a new suit. Young became baseball's all time wins leader and ended up having a prestigious award named after him.
A young Lefty Grove was still learning the ropes for a Blue Ridge League team known as the Martinsburg Mountaineers. The team's stadium was in need of a new outfield fence since a storm had blown the old one down. Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn offered to cover the cost in exchange for Grove. After dominating the International League, Grove ended up with the Philadelphia Athletics, winning a pair of triple crowns and seven consecutive strikeout titles.
For a period of time, Frankie Frisch served as team captain of the New York Giants. He was among manager John McGraw's favorites. But McGraw was notoriously hard on his players and Frisch grew tired of being berated in front of teammates. He left the team for a little while and McGraw ended up trading him to the Cardinals in December of 1926 for Rogers Hornsby. Frisch spent eleven seasons with St. Louis--several as a player/manager. He guided the club to four World Series berths and wound up in the Hall of Fame. Hornsby hit .361 for the Giants in '27, but didn't stick around New York long enough to make a lasting impression. He signed with the Braves for the 1928 campaign, receiving a $4,500 salary increase.
Braves owner Emil Fuchs offered an aging Babe Ruth a position as "Assistant Manager" and "Vice President" before the '35 slate. Fuchs's $25,000 salary offer was a substantial pay cut for the Babe, but the two worthless titles appealed to his vain and arrogant nature. Ruth played in just 28 games and hit .181. He quit the team in early-June.
During his first ten seasons in Cincinnati, slugger Frank Robinson averaged 32 homers and 100 RBIs per year. Reds GM Bob Howsam made a vast miscalculation when he said that Robinson was "an old thirty" before the 1966 campaign. Traded to the Orioles, Robinson made Howsam regret that statement by capturing a triple crown. He was named MVP. Several more fruitful seasons would follow.
Though he struggled with control issues, Nolan Ryan averaged roughly a strikeout per inning during his time with the New York Mets. When he posted a 10-14 record with a 3.97 ERA in 1971, the Mets gave up on him, trading him to the Angels for Jim Fregosi. Ryan collected more than 300 victories, tossed seven no-hitters and became baseball's all time strikeout leader.
In the prime of his career, Reggie Jackson left Oakland for a significant pay raise. He led the league with a .502 slugging percentage in '76 with Baltimore. Enamored with the slugger's talents, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner personally wined and dined Jackson, ultimately convincing him to come to the Bronx. Just as Reggie had predicted, a candy bar was named after him. He became a World Series legend in New York. The Orioles were in contention throughout the decade and it will never be known what Jackson's prolonged presence might have done for them.
Rod Carew had established himself as the American League's top hitter with seven batting titles to his credit before the '79 campaign. But the Twins were non-contenders and the Angels had money to throw around, quadrupling Carew's salary while additionally parting with four players. Carew made six consecutive All-Star appearances with California and compiled a .314 batting average over a seven-year span. The four players the Twins received have all been forgotten (deservedly so).
By the end of the '81 season, Ozzie Smith was universally recognized as the National League's premier defensive shortstop. The Padres clearly missed the boat, sending him to St. Louis in a multi-player deal. The Padres did get Sixto Lezcano and Garry Templeton, but neither player made an impact significant enough to justify losing a future Hall of Famer who would end up setting the all time record for assists at his position. Smith helped St. Louis to three World Series appearances and won thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves.