Over the course of the 100+ years of Cleveland Indians history a lot of players have come and gone. Some have been notable, hall of fame worthy even, but many have faded away into relative obscurity. Such is life for a Major League Baseball player. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to have their name and on jerseys, posters, and bobble heads. One such player who came and went without much fanfare was shortstop Frank Duffy.
Many of you are probably wondering why I chose to use a player that probably no one has ever hear of before as the focal point of a historical piece. Well, probably no one born after 1970. Surely, you’re probably thinking I could have chosen someone a bit more illustrious and worth your time. That’s probably true. But then again, what other player can say they were involved in two of the most controversial and lopsided trades in baseball history? Frank Duffy is all alone in that regard. I also hold the distinction of probably being the only person on the planet with a Frank Duffy Indians jersey. So there’s that.
Duffy began his career as the sixth overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1967 MLB draft. He made his big league debut a mere three years later and played in six games for the Reds. The following year Duffy would be traded by the Reds to the Giants. Cincinnati was looking to solidify their lineup as potential championship contender and felt Duffy was expendable. He was packaged with Vern Geishert for George Foster. Duffy played in all of 21 games for the Giants and Geishert never pitched a single big league inning. Meanwhile, Foster went on to become a serious power threat and key member of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”
Lopsided trade number one? Check.
That following offseason, Duffy would once again be traded, this time to the Cleveland Indians and on the other end of the lopsidedness. However, that didn’t mean the trade was a popular one in the city of Cleveland at the time.
In the infamous trade, the Indians received Duffy and a young right-handed dynamo by the name of Gaylord Perry. In exchange, the Giants received one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and one of the most popular Indians of all-time, Sam McDowell.
At the time McDowell was a former 20 game winner and strike out king engaged in a heated contract dispute with Indian management. Rather than give in to his demands, they opted to ship their prized righty to the Giants. It ended up being an ingenious move. McDowell was never the same and lasted only one and a half miserable seasons with the Giants while Perry won a CY Young award on his path to the Hall of Fame. As for Duffy, he went on to play six full seasons for the Indians as their everyday starting shortstop.
Lopsided trade number two? Double check.
However, while he held down the fort at shortstop, Duffy never did it with any sort of flair or numbers that would jump off the stat sheet. He was the prototypical shortstop from back in the day. At just over six feet tall and 180 lbs., he favored agility and a Punch and Judy approach at the plate over power. He was there for his glove and his glove alone was what kept him on the team year in and year out. As you can see from his stats below, Duffy was never much of a force at the plate.
Another factor that worked against Duffy and his legacy with the Tribe was the teammates that surrounded him. It between the lackluster number he put up and the all-star caliber players around him, Duffy was often nothing more than an after thought. During his time with the Tribe, he was able to list Buddy Bell, Gaylord Perry, Craig Nettles, Oscar Gamble, Rick Manning, Frank Robinson, Dennis Eckersley, and Andre Thornton teammates, among others. It would be easy for anyone to get lost in that shuffle, let alone a slap hitting shortstop.
Lastly, the 1970’s were some lean years for the Tribe. Unless you were a Cleveland Indians die-hard back then, odds are you don’t remember many players outside of those who either starred for the team or went on to have hall of fame careers elsewhere. There were no championships or deep playoff runs. There was no real reason to really remember anything about those teams besides the red, Captain Caveman uniform ensemble.
Following the 1977 season, Duffy would be traded to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Rick Kreuger. Kreuger would appear in six games for the Indians during the 1978 season and then never again. Duffy, meanwhile, played in 70 games for the Red Sox over the next two seasons before quietly retiring from the game.
While Frank Duffy may never have made a lasting mark with the Indians or in Major League baseball as a whole, he still is an interesting footnote in two of the most lopsided trades ever conceived. Not many players get have that distinction beside their name in history books. Duffy was also able to find a way to last the better part of a decade on a major league roster and spent six of those years as an everyday player. Obviously, he did something right along the way.