1938: Nats swap first basemen with White Sox

Originally posted March 18, 2008

March 17, 1938

Joe Kuhel came up with the Washington Nationals in 1930. By 1931, he had taken over as the every day first baseman, a position that had been held by Joe Judge since 1916. Kuhel had some solid offensive numbers with the Nats, though it is likely that he was held down a bit in that regard by playing his home games in Griffith Stadium. Still, it was Kuhel’s defense that made him a popular player with Clark Griffith. He was widely considered the best fielding first baseman in the league. Kuhel did his talking on the field, known as a quiet man off the field.

Kuhel’s direct opposite might have been Zeke Bonura. Bonura came up with the White Sox in 1934 and immediately hit for power in Comiskey Park. He set a team record for home runs in a season in his rookie year with 27 and knocked in more than 90 RBI’s in each of his first four seasons. Bonura generated interest amongst fans with his bat, but was a headache for management, particularly due to his statuesque play at first. Bonura managed to lead the league in fielding percentage in 1936, largely due to the fact that he didn’t move his feet. As if his “effort” fielding wasn’t bad enough, Bonura further alienated himself from White Sox management by being a problem off the field. Between frequent hold outs he was rumored to have had a romantic interest in the owner’s daughter, which ultimately led to the need for the Sox to trade him before the 1938 season.

The trade went down in the spring of 1938. Both players had been popular with their cities’ respective fans, so the trade wasn’t greeted warmly in either city. Still, both players were able to win the fans over, Bonura with his hitting – 22 home runs in 1938, and Kuhel with his fielding.

Despite the fact that the trade seemed like a win-win, Washington had a young first baseman by the name of Mickey Vernon waiting in the wings, so Bonura’s tenure with the Nats lasted only a year. He was dealt to New York to play with the Giants for the 1939 season. He returned to Washington briefly for the beginning of the 1940 season, but was traded by Griffith once again, this time to the Cubs.

Kuhel showed that he could have some success hitting for power in a different ballpark. He was able to put together some very good seasons for the White Sox, though he too found his way back to Washington. Griffith purchased Kuhel back before the 1944 season. Joe had a couple of good seasons during his second stint with Washington, including what was probably his best season in 1945. The White Sox purchased him back in 1946 and Kuhel finished his playing career there after a few appearances at the age of 41 in 1947. Kuhel returned to the Washington organization as a manager the following year, though he was replaced after two losing seasons.

Also this week:

Nationals trade for Bob Johnson

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