Another trading deadline has come and gone and once again the player to be named later has been sent packing. Whoever he turns out to be, he can take heart in the fact that he’s always wanted by someone, even if it means moving his family, finding a new house, forwarding his mail and the assorted other unpleasantness associated with changing your address. But it isn’t easy being a player named later. You're just sitting there enjoying an afternoon showing of “No Reservations” before dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen with a comely co-ed when, wham, you get a call on your cellphone and find out that you are the Player Named Later and need to be in Modesto by Friday. I don’t envy their life.
But sometimes it can work out for the best. Players to be named later tend to be minor-league chum, though they need not be, who aren’t named at the time of the deal because teams are trying to beat a deadline or fill an immediate need. Team A will submit a list of a few names and within six months Team B will select one and complete the transaction. When they do, it's up to that chosen player to become a footnote to history or one of the boldfaced names that make it.
The fraternity of PNLs will get larger after deals today that saw the Red Sox sent Joel Piniero to St. Louis and when the Astros dealt Morgan Ensberg to San Diego. It will be a shock at first when their names are announced but hopefully they will take a look at the history of the players named later. It’s a proud group and one that's always happy to welcome another member.
The first mention of a player to be named later, according to the always helpful Retrosheet, is in 1898 when Columbus of the Western League traded Sam Mertes and the unnamed player to the Chicago Orphans for Danny Friend and Buttons Briggs. Mertes would go on to play 1153 games in the majors, jump to the American League for its inaugural 1901 season and play for the winning New York Giants in the second World Series. The name of the pioneering PNL has sadly been lost to the sands of time. An interesting note about Buttons Briggs: One of his closest comps on Baseball Reference is Broadwalk Brown which I include as a note about how far baseball names have fallen in a century.
The first man confirmed to be a PNL was Harry Smith in 1900. The Englishman was Pittsburgh’s payoff for a March trade that sent Heinie Reitz to Milwaukee of the American Association. Reitz was a journeyman in the 1890’s National League; he even umpired one game in 1895, but never played in the majors again after the trade. Smith didn’t play for the Pirates until 1902, spending 1901 as a member of the inaugural Philadelphia A’s where he played against Sam Mertes.
The first trade involving a PTBNL between two major league teams wasn’t until 1910 but the wait was worth it. The Philadelphia A’s traded infielder Morrie Rath and a PTBNL to the Cleveland Naps for the circumcised talents of Bris Lord. No mohel, Lord was an outfielder who won two World Championships with the A’s in ’10 and ’11. A week after the Naps sent Lord to Philly they received an illiterate veteran of 40 at-bats to complete the deal. He went by the name of Joe Jackson and finished second in the league in batting average in each of his first three seasons in Cleveland. He was better known as Shoeless Joe and would face off against Rath in a rather famous World Series in 1919.
Shoeless Joe became the second player, John Knight was the first, to both be a PNL and then get traded for one later in his career. Cleveland, by now known as the Indians, sent him to the not-yet Black Sox in 1915 for a package that eventually included Larry Chappell. Chappell would play until 1917 and died the next year, Shoeless Joe has had books and movies created about him.
The PTBNL was now an established part of the game and a regular part of trades between teams in the major leagues as well as major league-minor league deals. Usually there was just one of them in a deal. But Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League and the Cubs changed that in 1921 when the Cubbies acquired Jigger Statz (another great name) and a PTBNL for, count ‘em, five PTBNLs. Strangely L.A. ended up receiving eight players in total but the best of the lot is the extra player they sent to the Cubs. Vic Aldridge won 97 games across nine years in the Show, including two in the Fall Classic for the 1925 champion Pirates.
Those earlier days did not have the strict working relationships between major and minor league teams that we have today so many deals that brought players to the bigs involved cash and PTBNLs going to the minors for hot prospects. In the 20’s, Paul Waner, Red Ruffing, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri each started their Hall of Fame careers in this manner, as did the latter trio’s Yankee teammate Mark Koenig and single-season doubles leader Earl Webb. Years later the Yankees would bring Joe DiMaggio east from San Francisco in the same manner. His brother Vince would be a PNL in a trade that brought him to the Bronx in 1939 but he never played alongside his younger sibling before heading to Cincinnati for, you guessed it, PTBNLs.
Another famous Yankee, Jimmie Reese, went the other direction to Minneapolis of the American Association in 1931. Reese, who roomed with Babe Ruth, was born with the name Hyman Soloman, which he changed because of anti-Semitism. His big league playing career ended after a brief stint with the Cardinals in 1932 Reese would play in the minors until 1940. After a stretch in the service during WWII, he became a coach and would serve in a variety of roles until 1973 when he was named a conditioning coach for the California Angels. He was a beloved member of the team, Nolan Ryan has a son named Reese, and served in that capacity until dying in 1994 at 93. His 77-odd years in baseball certainly helped make it a more interesting game.
The war years saw a major slowdown in trades involving PNLs, they were rationed alongside sugar and meat, but they came back when the Pittsburgh Pirates made an ill-advised deal with the San Francisco Seals to acquire the services of Bob Chesnes at the end of the 1947 campaign. Chesnes would pitch in 61 games over three years for the Pirates but one of the four unnamed players they shipped out, Gene Woodling, would go onto be a contributor on the five consecutive Yankee champs from 1949-53. Woodling would leave the Yankees in 1954, more on that in a second, but would play in the majors until 1962 when he wound up his career with the original Mets. The 1954 deal that sent Woodling to Baltimore was the biggest in baseball history. It involved 17 players, eight of whom were named after the completion of the deal. Don Larsen and Bob Turley went to the Yankees in that deal.
PNLs haven’t always been green youngsters. Ralph Kiner was an afterthought to a trade between the Cubs and Indians in 1954 and hit the last 18 of his 369 home runs as a Wigwammer. Sometimes they were excessively raw talents, though. Ryne Duren, a hard-thrower and hard-drinker who wore thick glasses, was dealt to the Kansas City A’s in 1956. He’d work his way to the Yankees, as all worthwhile K.C. players did, make three All-Star teams, won a World Series ring and terrify countless batters with his wild fastball. Another K.C. Athletic turned Yankee acquired in this manner was longtime third baseman Clete Boyer.
Now we meet the Chairman of the PNL board. In an innocuous December 1956 trade the Yankees dealt longtime backup catcher Charlie Silvera to the Cubs for what turned out to be Harry Chiti. Chiti never played for the Bombers and bounced around the bigs until ending up with the Indians before the 1962 season. The Mets traded a PTBNL for him on April 26 but the two teams had a hard time figuring out proper compensation. So, after playing 15 games for the first Mets team Chiti was sent back to the Indians and became the first guy traded for himself in major league history.
Chiti has probably had more than a few run-ins with the volatile Lou Piniella at the annual meetings of the organization. He was the PNL in a trade between the neighboring Senators and Orioles in 1964. He’d get just one at-bat with the Orioles before going to the Indians for five more and a spring training with the Seattle Pilots before eventually settling in with the Royals. He made all four teams look like idiots when he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1969 with Kansas City and playing for 11 more years and winning a pair of World Series rings.
Some more PNLs: Buddy Bell’s father Gus, Robb Nen’s father Dick, B.J. Surhoff’s brother Rick and Sandy Alomar, father of both Roberto and Sandy Jr. Papi Alomar was actually a PNL on two different occasions.
The 70’s were a decade full of PNLs but few of them ever amounted to much more than fringe players on the big league level. That changed in 1978 when the Mets began building a team that would capture the 1986 World Series when they traded one of their heroes from 1969. Jerry Koosman went to Minnesota in December for a minor leaguer and a PNL. When they gave the player a name it was Jesse Orosco and 24 years later baseball had its all-time leader in games pitched. Koosman would later become a PNL to complete a 1983 trade between the Phillies and White Sox.
Another reliever traded as a PNL was Larry Andersen in 1980. Dealt by Pittsburgh to Seattle for Odell Jones, Andersen would become an effective middle reliever for the Mariners, Phillies and Astros over the decade. He’d get so good, in fact, that the Red Sox traded for him at the 1990 August deadline to help facilitate a run at the title. They went ahead and named the player that fateful day: Jeff Bagwell.
The Padres dealt a PTBNL for Morgan Ensberg today, something that must have made San Diego manager Bud Black pause for a moment to remember his own moment in the spotlight. He’d win a World Series ring as a result of an October 1981 trade between the Mariners and Royals that relocated the southpaw to start his 121 win big league career.
When the Braves traded for Len Barker in 1983 they were getting a 27-year old righthander with 62 career wins and a perfect game on his resume. They got 10 wins over two-plus seasons and surrendered three PNLs for the pleasure. Rick Behenna did nothing but Brook Jacoby hit 69 homers between 1985 and 1987 and Brett Butler was a big league regular until he was 40.
The Yankees set the table for one of their infamous 1980’s trades when they acquired Doug Drabek to complete a 1984 trade that sent Roy Smalley to the White Sox. They’d turn Drabek into Rick Rhoden and Cecilio Guante two years later and he’d lead the Pirates to the playoffs three times while winning 148 more games.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the late Ivan Calderon, a 1986 PNL. On a gray day at Shea Stadium when I was about 14 my brother and I were down by the fence on the left field line yelling at Calderon, then with the Expos. He waved and mugged for us for most of the afternoon which was fun. His White Sox teammate Ron Hassey was never technically a PNL but he should have been. Between December 12, 1985 and July 30, 1986 Hassey was traded by the Yankees to Chicago, by Chicago to the Yankees and by the Yankees back to Chicago in three separate deals, one of which included actual PNL Bill Lindsey.
Tim Belcher was the first overall pick of the 1983 June and 1984 January drafts but that didn’t stop him from becoming a PNL in a 1987 trade for Rick Honeycutt.
Would it shock you to learn that baseball vagabond and schoolboy father Jose Mesa was a PNL?
When the forgettable Denny Gonzalez was traded from Pittsburgh to Cleveland before the 1989 each team included a PNL. Jay Bell would be a regular at shortstop and second base until 2003 and Felix Fermin had a few fair seasons before the Indians turned him into Omar Vizquel.
Freddie Toliver was a three-time honoree.
Scott Brosius was named later in a deal that sent Kenny Rogers to the A’s in 1997. He would go on to win the World Series MVP in 1998 and man the hot corner for the next two Yankee championships as well. He replaced Charlie Hayes who also came to the Yankees as a PNL in 1992, although he left and returned in 1996 in a trade for, surprise surprise, a PTBNL.
In 2005 the Futon Report put together a team of then-current players who were PNL’s. The list includes such notables as Scott Podsednik, Coco Crisp, David Ortiz, Moises Alou, Dmitri Young, Jason Schmidt and Jeremy Bonderman.
Ted Lilly was both a PNL (in exchange for Hideki Irabu) and a named at the time in the deal including Bonderman.
Kevin Brown was a two-time PNL in trades to and from the Mets.
Noochie Varner hasn’t made it to the Show but he does continue the century-plus history of excellent names on PNLs. He’s also as good a place to end this odyssey as any other. The ballad of the Player Named Later is almost as old as the game of baseball itself and just as rich. I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass in honor of these heroes of the game tonight.