I was off over the weekend, so today’s transaction post refers to April 18. On that day in 1946, the Reds traded pitcher Jim Konstanty to the Boston Braves in exchange for 1B/OF Max West. Both players interrupted their baseball careers to serve in the military during World War II.
West put together some strong seasons for the Braves from 1938-42, posting an average adjusted OPS of 118 (average is 100). Konstanty, who debuted in 1944 at the age of 27, was trying to get his career off the ground when he went to serve. He only pitched 15 1/3 innings for the Braves before being acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League (not the NHL). The Phillies then acquired Konstanty from Toronto before the 1948 season.
The Konstanty acquisition really paid off for the Phillies in 1950. As a full-time reliever, Konstanty went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA and 22 saves in 152 innings. He led the league not only in saves but in appearances (74) and in total games finished (62). Deservingly, he was named to the NL All-Star roster. The 1950 Phillies, nicknamed the “Whiz Kids,” won the National League pennant but were swept in the World Series by the Yankees.
Konstanty was shockingly tabbed to start Game 1 of the World Series. He spun eight terrific innings, yielding just one run on four hits and four walks, but the Phillies lost 1-0 as Vic Raschi tossed a two-hit shutout for the Yankees. Konstanty appeared two more times in the World Series, allowing a run on an error by shortstop Granny Hamner before getting Johnny Mize to pop out to end the eighth inning in Game 3; and allowing three runs over 6 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4, taking over for starter Bob Miller.
For Konstanty’s regular season performance, he earned the National League Most Valuable Player Award, receiving 18 of 24 first-place votes. He bested San Musial and Eddie Stanky for the honor. To date, he is the only National League relief pitcher to win an MVP Award. Only three other pitchers — Rollie Fingers (1981), Willie Hernández (1984), and Dennis Eckersley (1992) — have won the award as a reliever. The Cy Young Award was not created until 1956, in case you were wondering. Fingers, Hernández, and Eckersley each won both the MVP and Cy Young Award those years. Konstanty likely would have done the same were it possible.
Sadly, Konstanty’s star shone for only a brief period of time. From 1951 through his final career in ’56, he posted an adjusted ERA of 102 (average is 100). 1950 remained his only appearance in the postseason.
(Photos of Konstanty are limited, which is why I used a team photo of the Yankees from 1955. The Phillies traded Konstanty to the Yankees in ’54. He is in the middle of the second row, with the glasses.)