The most famous transaction in sports history wasn’t technically a trade. Needing money to cover his debts, Boston Red Sox owner Harold Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, thus creating the Yankees dynasty and the Red Sox Curse. There have been a lot of major times when a team is lucky enough to get their hands on a mega-star. It was literally the flip of a coin that allowed the Lakers to beat out the Bulls to draft Magic Johnson. The Bulls would get that back when Portland shockingly passed on Michael Jordan. There are also many free agency signings that can majorly shift a team and provide a new boost.
However, trades are still big in sports and in many cases, they can be amazing. Some teams trade a major figure out of nowhere, sometimes with the guy himself not knowing it was coming. They can rock the fanbase and often give a team a shot in the arm needed to turn them into champions. Of course, the team doing the trading might be worse off, as the guy they get in exchange turns out to let them down and thus, the trade turns out a bad move. This is nothing new to sports over the years but some stand out, as major athletes are traded away often with little warning and the impact of those trades could affect the two teams involved for years (sometimes decades). In the wake of a handful of NHL trades that rocked the masses (P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators, for example), here are 15 of the most shocking trades in the history of sports:
15. Rocky Colavito – Detroit Tigers
The only team in baseball that can approach the litany of woe of the Cubs and the Red Sox are the Cleveland Indians. Once a major American League powerhouse, the team hit a bad patch with numerous horrible seasons and most fans attribute it to a single trade. The Rookie of the Year in 1955, Colavito became hugely popular in Cleveland, with over 40 home runs in consecutive seasons and an excellent fielder who would spend hours signing autographs for fans after games. One would have to be crazy to look at this guy and think he should be traded. General Manager Frank Lane turned out to be just that nuts because in 1960, he traded Colavito to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Harvey Kuenn, who had won the batting title in 1959.
While Kuenn was a good player, Colavito was an icon in Cleveland and losing him rocked the fanbase hard. (This wasn’t helped by Lane’s infamous line of “I traded a hamburger for a steak.”) Colavito did his best but Tigers fans never accepted him while the Cleveland fans were irate at losing their star. Lane became known as “trader” to the fandom and many claim this trade kicked off a “curse” on the Indians that has never fully faded.
14. Randy Moss – Oakland Raiders
Thanks to his terrific career at Marshall, Randy Moss was a high consideration in the 1998 NFL draft, with many teams eager to get him. Moss openly said he wanted to play for the Dallas Cowboys and warned them if he wasn’t picked, he’d “make life miserable for them.” Dallas allowed the Vikings to get Moss and he was true to his word, beating the Cowboys several times over his career. Moss was soon the top player for the Vikings, putting up fantastic rushing numbers and a record for touchdowns for a rookie. Despite some conflicts with coaches, Moss was a top guy and mostly everyone thought the Vikings were smart to carry him. Instead, in 2005, the team traded Moss to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Napoleon Harris and two draft picks. Minnesota was appalled at the move and the Vikings would suffer badly without Moss. However, his tenure in Oakland was not a happy one, marred by injury among clashes with the media and coaches.
In 2007, the Raiders decided it was time to get rid of Moss and the Patriots were the best choice. Moss was sent in exchange for a draft pick, eager to join the best team in the league. He clicked right off the bat, proving doubters wrong by bouncing back from a leg injury to help New England to several key victories for their undefeated season. He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the Super Bowl, only to have the Patriots lose to the Giants. He did his best afterward, and was traded without warning to the Vikings. His return lasted only a few days before he was waived after publicly badmouthing coaches. He never got a Super Bowl ring but Moss’ fantastic play was a reason his trades were among the biggest of the NFL at the time.
13. Keith Hernandez – New York Mets
In 1982, the St. Louis Cardinals ended a 14-year drought by winning the World Series. A key player was Keith Hernandez, a great outfielder and sharp hitter who was the team’s star and poster boy. As the 1983 season got underway, Hernandez clashed with coaches and Cardinals management, who were concerned about his drug use. So with little warning, they shipped Hernandez to the New York Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. It was announced during a home game at which point the St. Louis fans loudly booed. Ownbey himself would immediately joke that he knew he was “going to be the answer to a future trivia question.”
As it turned out, Hernandez was just what the Mets needed, bringing his skill and experience to the team and helping them win. Thanks to his Golden Glove-winning work, the Mets went from the cellar in 1983 to World Champions in 1986. The Cardinals, meanwhile, would become the first World Series champs of the post-division era to fail to make the post-season the next year, and would suffer for a long while. Hernandez’s drug issues did come back to bite him but by that time, he’d completed a Hall of Fame career and showed how losing one guy can cripple one team while firing up another.
12. Pau Gasol – Los Angeles Lakers
First claimed by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2001 draft, Pau Gasol was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies as part of a deal. He established himself fast, winning the Rookie of the Year award and putting up great numbers. The six-time All-Star played in 240 consecutive games before that was snapped by a foot injury. Almost on his own, Gasol turned the Grizzlies into a top team and playoff contenders to boot. Which was why Vancouver fans were agog that on February 1, 2008, the team traded Gasol to the Lakers for four players (including Gasol’s younger brother, Marc) and two first-round draft picks. Despite denials, many believe owner Michael Heisley wanted to make the team “more attractive” for a future buyer and the rough-looking Gasol didn’t fit that image, something Gasol didn’t take well to as he really enjoyed the city.
It didn’t take long for Heisley to regret the move, as Gasol instantly clicked as a Laker, with he and Kobe Bryant forming a great team on the court. Despite an ankle injury, Gasol helped the Lakers rise right back to contention and eventually reached the Finals. They would end up winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, and Gasol was a key reason for that. He would be hampered by injuries that slowed his output, as the Lakers decided to let his contract expire in 2014, only to realize they had to pay him $20 million due to various conditions. Gasol finished his career with the Bulls but his work in L.A. made the team champions once more and the way the Grizzlies have sunk since then proves this was the worst move by their management.
11. Lou Brock – St. Louis Cardinals
The Chicago Cubs have seen a lot of bad moves over the last century of their curse,” but this is a special place of pain. In 1964, the Cubs were looking to beef themselves up for the coming season and thought they had the perfect guy in Ernie Broglio, a rising pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. To get their hands on a guy who looked to be the next great ace, the Cubs offered young outfielder Lou Brock, who wasn’t exactly winning with his running or hitting. The trade was made…and it took little time for the Cubs to realize they had made a very, very big mistake. Broglio hit a major slump, his fast arm fading quickly, going 4-7 as he had kept quiet how he injured his arm in the off-season. By 1966, he was out of baseball and the Cubs were rocked at how little they’d gotten out of him.
Meanwhile, as if invigorated, Brock would explode in St. Louis, hitting .348 and setting the record for stolen bases. Thanks to his great hitting and quick play, Brock was key in the Cardinals winning the 1964 NL pennant and then the World Series. He would go on to help “El Birdos” win back to back pennants in 1967 and 1968, another World Series and be one of the most beloved players in Cardinals history. He also stands as one of the greatest examples of a bad trade in baseball history, as Cubs fans still grouse over the great star they could have had.
10. Bobby Layne – Pittsburgh Steelers
Once upon a time, the Detroit Lions were a great team and a major reason for that was Bobby Layne. Acquired by a trade from the Chicago Bears, Layne established himself as one of the best quarterbacks of his time, putting up terrific numbers and leading the Lions to three NFL titles. He loved the city and the team, and they loved him back. So it never made sense that in 1958, the Lions decided to trade their best guy to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Layne did his best but could never lead the Steelers to the post-season, citing it as his biggest disappointment.
According to legend, Layne was outraged by the trade and supposedly announced that the Lions would “lose for the next 50 years” without him. Most claim it was made-up but the facts do seem to back it up, as the Lions have since amassed the worst winning percentage of any NFL team and never made it to a Super Bowl. Notably, 2008, the last year of the “curse,” the Lions didn’t win a single game all season.
9. Tom Seaver – Cincinnati Reds
In 1967, Seaver established himself as one of the best pitchers the MLB had seen in a while, winning 16 games, a 2.76 ERA and named Rookie of the Year. It was thanks to Seaver’s great skills that the Mets transformed themselves from the joke of baseball to World Champions in 1969. He kept the Mets in contention and was among the most popular players of the team, considered “the Franchise” by fans. In 1977, as free agency took over, Seaver made it clear he wanted to stay in New York, but management balked at his price. Things were rough when a newsman reported that Seaver’s wife was pushing for him to make more money than Nolan Ryan. Outraged, Seaver demanded a trade and it happened with “The Midnight Massacre.”
On the morning of June 15, 1977, Mets fans woke up to the news Seaver was gone to the Cincinnati Reds for four players. The outrage was massive, as fans flooded the Mets front office with hate mail and torn-up season tickets. The Mets suffered, ending up in last place for the next three seasons. Seaver would continue his good work for the Reds but in 1982, was traded back to the Mets, welcomed back and promised to finish his career where he started. Instead, in 1984, he was as shocked as anyone when he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox as part of a complex free-agency draft, the Mets mistakenly thinking he was safe. He recorded his 300th win with that team before finishing with the Boston Red Sox as Seaver’s pitching skills proved why his trades were so massive for baseball.
8. Brett Favre – New York Jets
Of the many mistakes the Atlanta Falcons made over the years, one stands above the rest. Drafting Brett Favre after he set records in Southern Mississippi, the Falcons felt Favre wasn’t the guy to have leading the team, with coach Jerry Glanville openly saying “It will take a plane crash” for Favre to be the starter. So, the Falcons traded Favre to the Packers for a first-round pick. Favre would soon establish himself as a legend for the Packers, putting up great numbers and leading them to a Super Bowl victory. In 2006, injuries were hampering Favre and Aaron Rodgers was showing his stuff for the team. So, Favre announced his retirement, a seemingly great capper to a good career. However, after a few months away, Favre began making noises of a return and as he was technically still under contract to the Packers, which meant they would have to decide between him and Rodgers.
It was tense for Green Bay fans, who loved Favre but were wary of his age and injuries, not to mention eager for Rodgers. Still, it came as a blow when the Packers decided to trade Favre to the Jets in exchange for a draft pick. Favre’s career in New York wasn’t exactly stellar, eight interceptions for two touchdowns in a handful of games, and thus the Jets let his one-year deal expire fast. Favre moved to Minnesota and did have better luck there, pushing the Vikings into playoff contention, but ultimately losing. Some feel the later trades and deals hurt Favre’s overall legacy (not helped by how Rodgers would lead Green Bay to another Super Bowl win), but Favre’s star power is what made these trades so stunning.
7. Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen – Boston Celtics
Once the biggest dynasty around, the Boston Celtics had hit the skids by the 2000s, lost amid more powerful and popular teams, and ending up at the low end of the season standings with attendance drooping. Something had to be done, but few could have imagined this. In 2007, the Celtics pulled off what remains one of the greatest and most unexpected coups in NBA history by making not one, but two blockbuster trades. First, Ray Allen was acquired from the Seattle Supersonics as part of a multi-player deal, nabbing a fresh young talent. Then, Boston made one of the biggest trades ever, giving seven guys to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Garnett, who had established himself as a fantastic player who the Wolves to the divisional title and the playoffs. Many thought it was a risk for Boston to give up so much for two guys, but it ended up paying off.
Together, Garnett and Allen turned the Celtics around. Thanks to them, Boston finally gained another NBA title in 2008 with hopes of a new dynasty. It didn’t happen, as they would falter in playoffs, but each man still remained a top player. But in 2013, the Celtics (who had agreed just the previous year to a big extension for Garnett) traded him to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that rocked many. By this point, Allen had left for the Miami Heat, helping them win a championship.
6. Alex Rodriguez – New York Yankees
From the start, A-Rod was clearly a star in the making, a fantastic hitter who could back it up with fantastic fielding as well. At just 18, he was signed by the Seattle Mariners and soon proved himself, coming close to MVP honors and arguably the best star Seattle had ever seen. Despite that, they let him go to free agency to be signed by the Texas Rangers in a record 10-year/$252 million contract, the highest ever seen. While his hitting improved, Rodriguez would later state he wished he hadn’t signed with Texas as the Rangers weren’t a very good team overall, despite his help. By 2003, the Rangers had decided they couldn’t afford such a massive contract, so they traded Rodriguez to the New York Yankees.
The deal was made – Rodriguez sent for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later, as well as the Rangers paying off the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract. He quickly showed himself as a fantastic player with huge numbers, an easy All-Star although many note a controversial play in the 2004 ALCS caused the Yankees’ infamous collapse to the Red Sox. Despite that, Rodriguez continued to lead the American League in home runs and became one of the few men to win MVP honors with different teams. Despite controversy over steroid use, Rodriguez still helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009.
5. Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers & Miami Heat
Befitting such a big guy, Shaq gets on this list for not one, but two stunning moves. After his breakout with the Orlando Magic, Shaq was seen as the next superstar of the NBA, a guy of great skill and size who turned the Magic into a must-watch team. However, the Magic just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, losing in 1994 and 1995 and word came out of Shaq having conflicts with management. Becoming a free agent, Shaq signed with the Lakers and became a key to their later dynasty to finally earn his title three times over. However, in 2005, with Phil Jackson leaving as coach, Shaq got himself into bigger conflict with the Lakers’ bosses over the direction of the team and his salary while alluding the team wanted to please Kobe Bryant above all else.
Deciding they were better off without him, the Lakers traded Shaq to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round choice. The Lakers probably thought they were getting ahead but instead, Shaq brought his experience and a new drive to help Miami big time. He and Dwayne Wade clicked together nicely as teammates and Shaq had some of the best numbers of his career. Thanks in no small part to O’Neal, the Heat finally captured the NBA Championship in 2006, allowing Shaq to be part of that elite club to win championships for two teams. Injuries would hamper him afterward and he would be traded to Phoenix and later the Cavs before finishing his career with the Celtics.
4. Frank Robinson – Baltimore Orioles
Frank Robinson figured he’d be a Cincinnati Red for life. He’d joined the team in 1956 and his sharp play won him the Rookie of the Year award. Over the next decade, Robinson became a dependable player, a good right fielder and hit over 300 home runs, earning National League MVP honors. So, he was as shocked as anyone when, in 1965, the Reds announced he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitcher Milt Pappas. Worse was the explanation, as apparently, Reds management had come to the conclusion Robinson was “an old 30.” Moving to Baltimore, Robinson spent the off-season nursing this hurt and by the time the 1966 season began, he was determined to show the Reds they’d made a huge mistake.
In his very first season with his new team, Robinson won the Triple Crown, was named the American League MVP (still the only man to earn that honor in both leagues) and powered Baltimore to their first World Championship. Robinson would go on to lead the Orioles to three more American League titles, another World Series victory (over, ironically, the Reds) and become the first African-American manager in the majors.
3. Joe Montana – Kansas City Chiefs
Before he stepped foot in the NFL, Joe Montana was already a legend, leading Notre Dame to a stunning upset victory for the National Championship and then another Bowl win while fighting a severe flu. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Montana transformed the team into a powerhouse, putting up record numbers while winning four Super Bowls, while being a two-time NFL MVP, 8-time Pro Bowler and the face of the franchise. Most thought Montana would stay with them all his career and he seemed open to it. However, Steve Young was showing his stuff and many in the 49ers management thought it seemed better to give a hot young talent a shot over the veteran. The conflict grew larger as Montana and Young stayed friendly but the rift of the locker room made Montana decide that leaving would be better for the team and requested a trade.
The Kansas City Chiefs leapt at the chance to get such a star and traded fast for Montana. It was a major shock to the 49ers base, many of whom considered Montana far better to stay as QB rather than Young. While Young would end up winning another Super Bowl for San Francisco, he was always in Montana’s shadow. Montana would have some good stuff in Kansas City (his duel with John Elway remains one of the greatest Monday Night Football games ever), but hampered by injury and a poor supporting team. He retired in 1995 and many feel it’s not right the greatest 49er of them all didn’t get to finish his career in his beloved city rather than with a lower-ranked team.
2. Herschel Walker – Minnesota Vikings
In 1989, The Dallas Cowboys were in the midst of the first season of new owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson, a horrific year where the Cowboys would win only a single game. Something had to be done and Johnson thought he had the answer: trade Herschel Walker. To many, this looked to be an act of sheer madness as Walker was one of the few great players on the Dallas roster. However, Johnson felt Walker was just too stiff and not right for the offense he had planned. He found the right buyer in the Minnesota Vikings as general manager Mike Lynn agreed to the trade (five players and 1st and 2nd round draft picks over the next three years) without bothering to check with any coaches or players who could have warned him Walker’s best years were behind him. The trade was a huge deal, with fans in Dallas outraged and those in Minnesota gleeful. Most considered it one of the most lopsided trades ever. As it turns out, they were somewhat right.
Walker never truly worked for the Vikings and all the players they sent in the deal were cut fast. Meanwhile, Johnson would smartly use the draft picks to get his hands on Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and others who would form the Cowboys team that would win three Super Bowls in four years. Without the Walker trade, the Dallas Dynasty of the ‘90s would never have come to be. Walker would fade fast in Minnesota and today stands as the poster boy of “one guy is never worth so much.”
1. Wayne Gretzky – Los Angeles Kings
In Canada, “the Great One” is not just a sports star, he’s a national icon. Arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky transformed the Edmonton Oilers into the powerhouse of the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups and establishing himself as a hero for the city and the country. He still had plenty of great years left in him, so staying with the Oilers seemed a no-brainer. However, just hours after the Oilers won the cup in 1988, Wayne was informed that owner Peter Pocklington needed money to save for some other failing ventures and giving away Gretzky (and his major salary) was needed. Gretzky wasn’t happy but still agreed to get the best deal as the Los Angeles Kings were the final pick.
On August 9, 1988, the NHL was rocked when it was announced Gretzky was gone to L.A. along with long-time teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash and three first round draft picks. Edmonton was rocked with a serious push for Parliament to step in and stop the deal. It didn’t work, with Gretzky leading the Kings to good seasons without winning the big one. The Oilers would win another trophy without him, but then hit a slump they’ve never really recovered from. The trade truly shifted the entire NHL, opening the door for “warm weather” cities like Tampa Bay, Phoenix and others to get franchises and the massive media attention proving hockey was still a huge deal.