Chick Hafey

April 11, 1932: Cardinals trade defending NL batting champion and future Hall of Famer Chick Hafey

At its height, Branch Rickey’s innovative farm system produced such a wealth of quality players that he could trade away the defending National League batting champion and a future Hall of Famer and barely skip a beat. On April 11, 1932, the Cardinals traded outfielder Chick Hafey to the Reds for outfielder and first baseman Harvey Hendrick, right-hander Benny Frey, and an amount of cash that Reds president Sidney Weil said was one of the largest sums ever paid by Cincinnati in a trade.[1]

Rickey, who was notorious for paying his players pennies on the dollar compared to teams in larger markets such as New York, made the trade after Hafey held out of spring training for the second consecutive year. With young players such as Ripper Collins, Pepper Martin, and Joe Medwick emerging, Rickey could afford to sell off aging stars such as Hafey, secure in the knowledge that the next generation of Cardinals stars were waiting for their opportunity.

The Cardinals initially signed the California-born Hafey as a pitcher in 1922 and assigned him to Class C Fort Smith for the 1923 season. Hafey never reached the mound in a game, however. After witnessing Hafey’s proficiency in batting practice, the Cardinals moved him to the outfield, where he batted .285 with 16 home runs in his first pro season, then hit .360 for the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League in 1924.

After a slow start to the 1925 season, Hafey was returned to the Cardinals’ farm system, but after Ray Blades was injured, Hafey returned for good and finished the year with a .302 batting average.

With Blades, Taylor Douthit, and Billy Southworth all hitting over .300, Hafey was limited to 78 games as the Cardinals won their first world championship in 1926. Playing for the injured Blades in the World Series, Hafey hit just .185 and may have already been feeling the affects of the sinus issue that required offseason surgery.

Despite a series of physical issues, Hafey emerged as one of the National League’s top hitters. In 1927, he hit .329 with a league-high .590 slugging percentage.

The following year, he became one of the few position players in the majors to wear glasses. From 1928 through 1930 he was a model of batting consistency, batting .337, .338, and .336, respectively, hitting at least 26 homers and driving in at least 107 runs each season.

Hafey and the Cardinals struggled to agree on a contract prior to the 1931 season and Hafey held out of spring training. When he finally signed a one-year contract for $12,500, Rickey informed the outfielder that he would not begin to draw his salary until he was deemed ready to play. That took approximately a month, resulting in the Cardinals deducting $2,500 of his salary and paying him $10,000 for the year.[2]

Despite (or, arguably, with the benefit of) his late start, Hafey won the National League batting title with a .3489 average, finishing just fractions of a point ahead of the Giants’ Bill Terry (.3486) and his teammate, Jim Bottomley (.3482). Hafey also hit 16 home runs and drove in 95 RBIs in 122 games.

Hafey and the 1931 Cardinals won their second world championship and fourth National League championship in six seasons, but Hafey hadn’t forgotten Rickey’s decision to dock his salary for the first month of the season. When the Cardinals offered him a contract of $12,500 for the 1932 season, the same base salary he had agreed to the previous season, he turned it down. He then turned out another offer for $13,000. Instead, he told the Cardinals that he wanted a $15,000 contract plus the $2,000 that had been docked from his 1931 salary.[3] Throughout the spring, Hafey held firm with his contract demands, once again holding out of training camp.

This time, however, Rickey felt that he could afford to part ways with Hafey. Martin had hit .300 with seven homers, 75 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases in 1931 during his first extended look with the big-league club. Collins, meanwhile, had appeared in 89 games, primarily in place of the injured Bottomley at first base. He hit .348 with nine homers and 75 RBIs.

“(Manager Gabby) Street informed me he considered Collins was in line to become another Pepper Martin,” Rickey said. “That report was good enough for me. After conferring with President (Sam) Breadon, it was definitely decided to arrange a trade for Hafey.”[4]

The Reds had inquired about Hafey the previous year but been turned down, and had even asked about a possible deal during the 1931 season. When Hafey held out for the second consecutive spring, the Reds were again rebuffed.[5] As the start of the season drew closer, however, Rickey reached back out to Cincinnati.

“Two years ago, Weil asked us to place a price on Hafey,” Rickey said. “We informed him that we had no intention of disposing of Chick, but that if we ever found ourselves facing the situation where we cared to trade him, the Cincinnati club would receive the first call. We made good on this promise.”[6]

The St. Louis Star and Times reported that the Cardinals also had spoken with the Cubs about a possible trade; however, the Cubs named 13 different players who were off-limits in a potential trade for Hafey, ultimately making a deal impossible.[7]

Once the trade with the Reds was announced, Rickey reached out to the St. Louis papers to defend the deal, including a verbose statement to the Star and Times.

“While this deal may not meet with the approval of our supporters here, I want it distinctly understood that this organization is not a one-man ball club and never has been,” Rickey said. “When we traded Rogers Hornsby to the New York Giants following the pennant conquest in 1926 we were bitterly criticized and assailed. Yet, we have won three pennants without the services of Hornsby. We have a player whom we consider far superior to Hornsby in Frankie Frisch.

“Then we disposed of Bob O’Farrell to the Giants one month after the 1928 season opened. The fans said: ‘They’re looney again!’ We have the greatest catcher in baseball in Jimmy Wilson. We weren’t wrong in those deals. Early last season it was the opinion of President Breadon, Manager Street, and myself that we had one of the greatest prospects in baseball sitting on the bench and a center fielder who was slowing up. We traded Taylor Douthit to the Reds and sent Pepper Martin to center field on our club. Who will question our judgment on this transaction?

“Now, I am coming to Chick Hafey. We made every attempt to sign him at what we consider fair terms for the player. We offered him a contract calling for $13,000 – the highest salary any player who has been developed in our organization received. Hafey rejected our terms. He informed friends and others that he would retire from baseball unless we paid him $17,000. We would not pay him $17,000. Therefore, the next best move for us was to trade Hafey.”[8]

Rickey lamented Hafey’s lack of loyalty to Star and Times sports editor Sid Keener.

“In a way I regret parting with Hafey,” Rickey said. “Do you remember back in 1923 when he joined us down in Florida? A gawky kid who was greener than grass. I took him in charge, worked with him, guided him, and prepped him carefully to make him a great ballplayer. I am not saying Hafey owed anything to this club. He made the hits at the plate and I realize I didn’t swing the bat for him. Nevertheless, it’s kind of tough in this business when a ballplayer loses all traces of loyalty. That’s what hurts me in trading Hafey.”[9]

Rickey’s media blitz appeared to work. Ed Wray of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “For once the sympathies of fans appear to be with the club. There are two reasons for this: One is that Hafey had become a chronic conscientious objector to any salary offered him; the other is that fans, while appreciating his hitting average, had little faith in Chick when he was called upon in a pinch.”[10]

Wray was referring to Hafey’s World Series struggles. Though he had helped the Cardinals capture the National League pennant in 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931, he had just a .205 batting average in 24 World Series games.

For his part, Hafey welcomed the trade.

“I’ve always liked manager Dan Howley of Cincinnati and I’m ready to go back and bear down,” Hafey said. “I haven’t heard from the club yet, but I’m all set.”[11]

Howley was equally pleased to welcome Hafey to a lineup that had ranked seventh in the eight-team National League in runs scored.

“I think it is a fine move,” he said. “With Hafey and (Babe) Herman in our outfield, we are sure to have much more power than we had last season and will win some of the games which we lost, so many by small scores, through failure to hit. I honestly believe this deal, together with the trade made with Brooklyn some time ago, improves our chances very materially for a good finish in the approaching race.”[12]

Hafey hit .344 in 1932, but made just 279 plate appearances due to his late start to the season and a monthlong bout with the flu. The following year, he hit .303 and appeared in Major League Baseball’s first all-star game.

After batting .293 in 140 games in 1934, Hafey was just 15 games into the 1935 season when he was struck with the flu. After briefly recovering only to suffer a relapse, Hafey returned home to California and missed the remainder of that season as well as the entirety of the 1936 campaign. By the time he returned in 1937 at age 34, he wasn’t the same hitter, batting .261 in 284 plate appearances.

Hafey retired with a .317 career batting average and 1,466 career hits in 1,283 games. Though he played 120 games in a season just six times over his 13-year career, Hafey was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Neither of the players the Cardinals obtained in the trade stayed in St. Louis for long before Rickey sold them back to the Reds.

Frey pitched just three innings for St. Louis before he was sold back to Cincinnati on May 9. Hendrick lasted a bit longer, batting .250 with one home run before the Reds purchased him back on June 5.

Though Collins hit .279 and led the Cardinals’ offense with 21 homers and 91 RBIs, the Cardinals won just 72 games and fell to sixth in the National League in 1932. Two years later, however, with Collins, Martin, and a young outfielder named Joe Medwick helping to lead the offense and two brothers named Dizzy Dean and Paul Dean handling the mound duties, the 1934 team that came to be known as the Gashouse Gang brought another World Series championship home to St. Louis.

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[1] Tom Swope, “Reds Get Chick Hafey, League Batting Champ,” Cincinnati Post, April 11, 1932.

[2] “Hafey Traded By Cardinals To Reds,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 11, 1932.

[3] “Hafey Is Traded To The Reds For Frey And Hendrick,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 1932.

[4] “Hafey Traded By Cardinals To Reds,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 11, 1932.

[5] Jack Ryder, “Reds Get Hafey – Give Frey and Hendrick – Opener Today,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1932.

[6] “Hafey Traded By Cardinals To Reds,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 11, 1932.

[7] Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 12, 1932.

[8] “Hafey Traded By Cardinals To Reds,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 11, 1932.

[9] Sid Keener, “Sid Keener’s Column,” St. Louis Star and Times, April 12, 1932.

[10] Ed Wray, “Wray’s Column,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1932.

[11] “‘Satisfactory,’ Says Hafey; He Will Start for Cincinnati at Once,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 1932.

[12] Jack Ryder, “Reds Get Hafey – Give Frey and Hendrick – Opener Today,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1932.