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Was the Wayne Gretzky Deal the biggest trade in history? Well, Esau dealt his birthright to Jacob for "bread and pottage of lentiles" back in Genesis 25:34. Then there was the time Richard III offered to swap his kingdom for a horse, a horse. That Major Andre for Benedict Arnold blockbuster fell through....

Oh, the biggest trade in sports history. For sheer volume it would be tough to top the one the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles made in 1954, when 17 players (including Bob Turley and Don Larsen) changed sides, unless you count the time Carroll Rosenbloom acquired the Los Angeles Rams from Robert Irsay in return for the Baltimore Colts in 1972. But the number of bodies is not really the criterion.

The biggest trade of all might have been Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio, which Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and New York Yankee owner Del Webb actually agreed upon once, only to change their minds.

Keeping in mind that baseball is more given to trading than other major sports, here are seven transactions the Gretzky deal is right up there with:

1) The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee received $100,000 and a $300,000 loan from Colonels Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L'Hommidieu Huston for the 24-year-old Ruth, who had hit a record 29 homers that previous season. Frazee compounded his sin by saying, "Ruth had become simply impossible, and the Boston club could no longer put up with his eccentricities. I think the Yankees are taking a gamble."

2) Washington Senators manager-shortstop Joe Cronin went to the Red Sox in 1934 for shortstop Lyn Lary and $250,000. Cronin was the son-in-law of Washington owner Clark Griffith, who was called "a baseball Simon Legree." But at least one columnist defended him by writing, "I wish I could sell my son-in-law for $250,000."

3) Cleveland traded outfielder Rocky Colavito to Detroit for outfielder Harvey Kuenn, even-up, in 1960. The 1959 AL home run champ (Colavito) and batting champ (Kuenn) switched teams in April. Indians general manager Frank Lane supposedly said, "I swapped a hamburger for a steak." Kuenn had a disappointing season, hitting .308, and was traded to San Francisco the next year. Colavito clouted 117 homers the next three seasons for the Tigers. Said Detroit president Bill DeWitt, "I like hamburger."

4) The Chicago Cardinals traded halfback Ollie Matson to the Los Angeles Rams for nine players in 1959. Chicago coach Pop Ivy said, "Our entire coaching staff feels that these additional topflight players will, without a doubt, make the Cardinals a strong contender this year." Though Matson had a sensational season for the Rams in '59, the trade was blamed for the Rams' later decline. The Rams' general manager, though, went on to bigger things. His name was Pete Rozelle.

5) In 1956 the Boston Celtics traded Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks for their No. 1 draft choice. The pick, No. 2 overall, turned out to be Bill Russell. Red Auerbach of the Celtics took heat in Boston because everyone said Russell couldn't shoot. "Did I know what I was getting?" Auerbach wrote years later. "Not really." What he got was 11 championships in 13 years.

6) Soccer superstar Diego Maradona was sold by Barcelona to Naples in 1984. Naples paid $7.5 million and gave Maradona, a 23-year-old Argentinean, a $3.2 million, four-year contract that included a villa, two cars, promotional fees and plane tickets to Argentina and back for him, his family and his girlfriend. In the days after his signing, more than 100 children in Naples were christened Diego Armando.

7) In November 1975 the Boston Bruins traded Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi. Before the Gretzky deal, this was the biggest hockey trade ever. Esposito was the game's top goal-scorer; Park was a defenseman second only to Bobby Orr, his new teammate in Boston. Now the Rangers' general manager, Esposito declined to bid for Gretzky. "The Oilers wanted too much," he said.



In 1960 Cleveland sent Colavito (left) to Detroit, even-up for Kuenn.


[See caption above.]