Worst Trades In Cleveland Sports History

Want to fire up a sports fan? Ask them about the biggest mistakes made by their favorite team. Then just sit back and try to dodge the spit.

Here’s a list of the worst, most head-scratching decisions by the front offices of the Cleveland pro sports teams.

5. We’re Not Worthy

Ted Stepien is still one of the most cringe names you can utter in Cleveland. For a time, the knucklehead owned the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he liked to think of himself as a basketball savant. He was not.

Stepien was certain that a few players at the top of the 1980 NBA Draft class were franchise-changers. So he traded his 1982 first-round pick to the Lakers for LA’s 1980 first-round selection. He selected Chad Kinch, a guard from North Carolina in the 1980 NBA Draft, but there was one problem: Kinch wasn’t very good, and he played 41 games in the NBA.

Two years later, the draft pick Stepien dealt to LA turned into another North Carolina player, James Worthy, who went on to a Hall of Fame career. The gaffe was just one of many boneheaded moves by the Cavs owner, who sold his interest in the team in 1983.

Stepien made other types of mistakes, too. Speaking of the racial makeup of his team and others in the NBA, Stepien once said, “You’ve got a situation here where blacks represent little more than 5% of the market, yet most teams are at least 75% black and the New York Knicks are 100% black. Teams with that kind of makeup can’t possibly draw from a suitable cross-section of fans.”

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4. Shoeless Joe Jackson

Technically, Cleveland baseball club owner Charles Somers had a few good reasons to trade Jackson, but it still stung.

In 1915, Somers was basically bankrupt and he had to choose which of his two superstars to keep paying: Jackson or shortstop Ray Chapman. Also, there was a real threat from the rival Federal League, which was poaching players with the promise of big contracts. Somers feared Jackson would be enticed to jump to the Feds, so he dealt him to the White Sox for not much. In return, Cleveland received Ed Klepfer, Braggo Roth, and $31,500 in cash.

At the time, Shoeless Joe had a .371 career average, and he went on to more fame but also infamy. He became the most celebrated player to be banned from baseball (at least until Pete Rose).

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3. CC Sabathia to the Brewers

After falling short in 2007, Cleveland dealt reigning Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia in mid-season for a batch of youngsters. In return, the Indians received Michael Brantley, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, and Matt LaPorta.

Sabathia proved pivotal for Milwaukee. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA down the stretch to lead his new team to the playoffs. But, it was just a rental, and Sabathia inked a free agent deal with the Yankees as big as his behind that offseason. He went on to win 145 games after Cleveland traded him.

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2. Don’t Knock The Rock

Rocco Domenico Colavito had a working-class name, was incredibly charismatic and handsome, and he belted 42 homers in 1959 for Cleveland. But on the eve of the 1960 season, Cleveland stunned its fans when it traded the reigning home run champ for Harvey Kuenn, the reigning batting champ.

“I’ve just traded hamburger for steak,” Cleveland general manager Frank Lane told reporters following his headline-grabbing deal.

He was wrong. Colavito swatted 35, 45, and 37 homers in his first three seasons for Detroit. Lane didn’t last long in Cleveland, and in 1965 the Indians had to swing another big deal to re-acquire “The Rock.” Colavito slugged 56 homers in his two seasons back in Cleveland and remains one of the most popular athletes in the history of the city.

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1. Willie Davis to the Packers

Browns trade Willie Davis to Packers for A.D. Williams (July 12, 1960)

Want a tangible reason the Packers became a dynasty rather than the oversimplified “Vince Lombardi was a genius” take? Look no further than this deal, which occurred in the summer of 1960 a few months before Lombardi coached his first game for Green Bay. The Packers traded A.D. Williams to the Cleveland Browns for Willie Davis.

For a decade, the dominant Davis was the leader of Green Bay’s famous defensive unit, helping that franchise to become a dynasty. He was a six-time All-Pro and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

A.D. Williams played one season as a backup for Cleveland. That’s a Lake Erie-sized mistake.

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.