December 8, 1966: Yankees trade Roger Maris to the Cardinals

In one of his final trades as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Howsam traded journeyman third baseman Charley Smith to the New York Yankees for baseball’s single-season home run king, Roger Maris.

Little did Howsam know that Maris had informed the Yankees that he planned to retire in advance of the 1967 season.

Injuries to his hand and knee had depleted the power that made Maris a household name in 1961, when he slugged 61 home runs and replaced Babe Ruth at the top of the record books.

Despite back-to-back American League MVP awards in 1960 and 1961, Maris feuded with the New York media, which found him grouchy and uncooperative. New York Daily News columnist Dick Young shared a story that Sandy Koufax told with him regarding Maris and his relationship with the Gotham press:

It seems that a newsman did a story on Maris and took some liberties with the quotes. Maris was upset. He went to the newsman and said how come you quoted me that way? The newsman said he would write whatever he pleased, and after Maris got through telling him where he could go, Maris added that that went for all newspapermen.

“That’s where he made his mistake,” says Sandy Koufax. “Roger is a beautiful person, believe me. There is no more honorable man. But instead of blaming the guy who had crossed him, and marking one man lousy, he wiped everybody off his list.”[1]

Maris’s relationship with the media – and Yankees fans – only grew worse as injuries began to take their toll. He missed most of the second half of the 1963 season with an infection. In May 1965, he suffered a broken hand that required surgery. The operation was successful, but it left him without strength in that hand, which in turn sapped his power and bat control.[2]

Then, in 1966, he suffered a collision with Tigers catcher Bill Freehan that injured his knee. Yankees manager Ralph Houk cautioned Maris to run only when he had to, Young reported.

“There’s no sense in trying to run hard when you don’t have to,” Houk said. “You’re apt to hurt yourself work, and then I won’t have you in the lineup at all. I want your bat in there.”

Of course, the Yankees didn’t publicize Houk’s orders, so when Maris failed to race out ground balls, the fans began to boo him.

“I remember a time when they booed Maris for that on his first trip to bat, and later that night he hit the ball into the bleachers to win the game, and they stood up in Yankee Stadium and cheered him all the way around the bases,” Young wrote. “… He didn’t raise his eyes or give the faintest sign of recognition. He went the other way, in fact. He stared straight down at his feet as he trotted around the bases, and he ran into the dugout with his head down through all that cheering. I went to the clubhouse after the game and asked Maris why he didn’t give some sign of acknowledgment to the fans who were cheering him. I can’t tell you what he said, but what he said and what he feels is why the Yankees traded him, straight up, for Charley Smith.”[3]

That July, Maris informed the Yankees that he planned to retire after the season, and Houk asked him to wait until the following spring training to make it official. Maris agreed.[4] When Yankees president Lee MacPhail called in December to confirm that Maris planned to retire, the slugger had a feeling that something was up.

“Just detecting the way he was talking, I thought he had something in mind, and I said, ‘Lee, if you have any intentions of trading me, let me know now and I’ll announce my retirement.’ He said, ‘No, we have no intentions of trading you.’”[5]

In fact, MacPhail was shopping Maris around the league without much luck. After the trade to the Cardinals was completed, MacPhail said only three other teams showed any interest in Maris and listed the reasons why to the New York Daily News.

“One, he has a peculiar attitude, and everybody seems to know it,” MacPhail said. “Two, he is 32 years old. Three, his physical condition has been questionable lately. Four, he has just had two bad seasons. Five, he has been talking about quitting. Six, he makes over $70,000.”[6]

The Cardinals, however, were in desperate need of offensive firepower after they ranked last in the National League in scoring in 1966. When Howsam ran into Houk on the last day of the winter meetings, the beginnings of a trade were born.

“I started to kid Ralph and said, ‘Hey, when are we going to make a trade?’” Howsam recalled. “Houk then said, ‘Would you be interested in Maris?’ I told him that I’d have to think it over. And when I got on the plane headed back to St. Louis, I figured we might be able to use Maris.”[7]

Howsam called manager Red Schoendienst to see if he would be interested in a trade for Maris. Schoendienst replied, “Who wouldn’t?”[8]

In exchange for Maris, the Cardinals sent Smith to New York. The 28-year-old third baseman had hit .266 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in his lone season with the Cardinals. Smith, who replaced Ken Boyer as the Redbirds’ starting third baseman, was now replacing Ken’s brother Clete Boyer, who had been traded from the Yankees to the Braves earlier in the offseason.

“Unless Maris declines to report or fails utterly to come back with the Cardinals, all Bob Howsam will be out is some of Gussie Busch’s money, the difference between Maris’s salary and Smith’s,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg. “This might not be a good deal, but it’s certainly not a bad one and it could be great.”[9]

Responding to the concerns regarding Maris’s personality, Broeg noted that “Charley gripes in a southern drawl and acts as if he’s tired even before the season begins.”[10]

Broeg continued: “Smith did become one of the better-fielding third basemen, but the long balls he hit were too far and few between. And he ran the bases as if he were playing girls’ softball, begging the pardon of the more aggressive young women of the diamond. In moving to the Yankees, the 28-year-old Smith will be playing for his sixth big-league club in seven seasons. If that doesn’t suggest something, it should.”[11]

When the Associated Press contacted Smith to ask him his thoughts about the trade, he admitted that he hadn’t heard the news.

“I’ll be darned,” he replied.[12]

Like Smith, Maris found out about the trade through an unofficial source. The Yankees tried to call him, but when they couldn’t reach him, they sent a telegram instead. Maris had been at the grocery store, where for the second time in his career, he learned that he had been traded.

“I wasn’t at all surprised,” he said. “I rather expected it. In fact, I expected to be traded ever since 1962. This is the second time I have heard of my being traded in a grocery store. It was the same thing back in 1959, when the Athletics traded me to the Yankees.”[13]

Given Maris’s previous statements about considering retirement, St. Louis reporters asked him whether he intended to play in St. Louis. The Post-Dispatch reported that if Maris failed to report to the Cardinals, he would go on the voluntary retired list and the trade would be nullified.[14]

“I just don’t know,” Maris said.[15]

Ultimately, the Cardinals offered Maris a $75,000 contract to play in 1967, which he accepted.[16]

“When this (trade) came up the way it did, I had voiced to only a couple of people that I was retiring, and the writers would have made me look bad again,” Maris said. “They’d say, ‘Well, he’s not going to play because he was traded away from the Yankees.’ They would have jumped on me like it was a big news story. So I finally agreed to go ahead and play the year.”[17]

While Maris never proved to be the power hitter the Cardinals hoped, he was a steady professional for Cardinals teams that won the World Series in 1967 and the National League pennant in 1968.

“Contrary to what we’d read about him in the papers, Maris wasn’t chronically miserable,” Bob Gibson wrote in 2015. “… He was just a plainspoken, chain-smoking North Dakotan who was happy to be away from high-rise apartments and the media capital of the universe; and happy to finally be happy.”[18]

After the trade, Schoendienst told the St. Louis media that with Maris playing on a new team, in a new stadium and a new league, they shouldn’t expect him to be the same power hitter he had been in 1961.[19]

“I think he was so happy to be out of New York and that pressure cooker that he would have done anything we asked of him,” Schoendienst wrote in his 1998 autobiography. “The only thing he ever told me that he didn’t want to do was play left field, because he said he really had trouble picking up the ball off the bat from that angle. That was no problem for me, and he played very well.”[20]

With Maris playing right field, Mike Shannon moved to third base.

“I think I deserve a chance to play every day and I think they want me to play every day,” Shannon said. I feel that if I play every day I can hit .300 or better, hit 20 to 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. I hope I can drive in Maris 50 or 60 times next year.”[21]

Maris hit .261 with nine homers and 55 RBIs in 1967, and enjoyed the experience enough that he returned for 1968. He batted .255 with five homers and 45 RBIs in 1968 before announcing his retirement, having played 225 regular-season games with the Cardinals. During his 12-year major-league career, he played in seven World Series, winning three.

Smith played two seasons with the Yankees, batting .224 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 181 games. He played one season with the Cubs before retiring following the 1969 campaign.


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[1] Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” New York Daily News, December 11, 1966.

[2] Joe McGuff, “Maris, a Complex Man, Reaches His Baseball Point of Decision,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1966.

[3] Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” New York Daily News, December 11, 1966.

[4] Peter Golenbock (2011), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 479.

[5] Peter Golenbock (2011), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 479.

[6] Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” New York Daily News, December 11, 1966.

[7] Neal Russo, “Maris Could Balance Attack – Howsam,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[8] Neal Russo, “Maris Could Balance Attack – Howsam,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[9] Bob Broeg, “Sound Maris Could Help Cardinals If He Wants To,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[10] Bob Broeg, “Sound Maris Could Help Cardinals If He Wants To,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[11] Bob Broeg, “Sound Maris Could Help Cardinals If He Wants To,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[12] Associated Press, “News to Him,” New York Daily News, December 9, 1966.

[13] Joe Trimble, “Rog Goes to St. Loo For Smith – Even Up,” New York Daily News, December 9, 1966.

[14] Neal Russo, “Maris Could Balance Attack – Howsam,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.

[15] Joe McGuff, “Maris, a Complex Man, Reaches His Baseball Point of Decision,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1966.

[16] “Maris Offered $75,000 By Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 1967.

[17] Peter Golenbock (2011), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” HarperCollins Ebooks, Page 479.

[18] Bob Gibson (2015), “Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game,” Kindle Android version, Page 36.

[19] Red Schoendienst with Rob Rains (1998), “Red: A Baseball Life,” Sports Publishing, Champaign, Ill., 145-146.

[20] Red Schoendienst with Rob Rains (1998), “Red: A Baseball Life,” Sports Publishing, Champaign, Ill., 145-146.

[21] Neal Russo, “Maris Could Balance Attack – Howsam,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1966.