Nobody ever discusses the most equal trades of all time. Conversely, the awful trades come up periodically: Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi, Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb, Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater (and a player to be named later, Mario Guerrero, who evened out the deal a little, at least to me), Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Babe Ruth for No No Nanette. I guess the even trades seem to have a way of dissolving in collective memory. No scars are produced. I could only think of one equal trade without Googling “equal trades” and “baseball,” a search which turned up even less than the trade I’d thought of on my own the moment I looked at this card: Toby Harrah for Buddy Bell. No minor league throw-ins, no cash, no players to be named later. One guy for another guy. Perfect.
In retrospect, some might be tempted to give an edge in the trade to the Texas Rangers, who received Bell from the Indians while parting with Harrah. In most expert opinions, Bell seems to rank a few guys ahead of Harrah on the list of all-time best third basemen. In the 2001 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James ranked Bell 19th and Harrah 32nd. Though I’m not qualified to argue with Bill James about anything even remotely connected with baseball, I still am tempted to stick up for Toby Harrah a little on the basis that Harrah matched Bell in the ability to drive in runs and surpassed him in the ability to get on base and, once on base, advance. He had good power, good speed, he drew a lot of walks, and he is probably the best palindrome-surnamed baseballer of all time. Also, a recent study by Baseball Prospectus
revealed him to be, statistically speaking, the second-best clutch hitter of the last 35 years (behind Mark Grace). Bell’s career lasted a little longer than Harrah’s, and he also was one of the all-time best defensive third basemen, whereas Harrah in the field was merely like he was at every other aspect of the game: pretty good. James mentions how nice a guy Bell was several times throughout his book, so maybe that helped Bell move up a little versus Harrah in his estimation, especially considering that his entry on Harrah consists of an anecdote about how as a very young player Harrah was among those on the Washington Senators secretly lobbying for a mutiny on manager Ted Williams. But anyway, as trades went, the 1978 exchange of Bell and Harrah struck me at the time as perfectly balanced, and I still see it that way, each team getting a good but not great third baseman in his prime. Beyond that, the trade seems perfect to me because of the teams involved. The players changed teams but nothing really changed, good or bad, not for the Rangers, nor the Indians, nor Harrah, nor Bell. First place remained a rumor, decent personal statistics were compiled, empty seats bore witness, and history continued to unfold elsewhere.