15,000 days since two big Dodger tradesby Chris Jaffe
December 26, 2012
15,000 days ago, the Dodgers made two notable trades involving prominent players. One involved a Hall of Famer, while the other featured two men that some people believe belong in Cooperstown.
It was Dec. 2, 1971. LA had just completed a fine but ultimately disappointing season. They went 89-73 season, which was just enough to not make the playoffs as the archrival Giants won the NL West with a 90-72 record.
One problem was the back of their rotation. The Dodgers had two strong anchors at the top in Hall of Famer Don Sutton, and Al Downing, who won 20 games that year. Beyond those two, they had the solid-if-unspectacular veteran innings eater, Claude Osteen. After that, things got shaky. Bill Singer had a lousy season, going 10-17, quite a bit worse than the rest of the team. Both Singer and young 20-year-old rotation mate Doyle Alexander were just replacement-level pitchers.
So the Dodgers needed pitching, but they also had another concern. They also wanted to dump the best hitter on their team, third baseman Dick Allen. Though he’d been a controversial player in his previous stops, he hadn’t given LA much trouble since they acquired him from St. Louis a year earlier.
But there was one concern. Team owner Walter O’Malley liked his Dodgers to be active in some off-the-field events, publicity appearances, and the like. Allen, upon arrival, had said he wasn’t going to do it. Okay, they weren’t going to make him. Instead, they made a mental note that he wasn’t a Dodgers guy and that they’d flip him when the year ended. Besides, they had two young third basemen in the minors who fit better into the whole Dodger mentality: Ron Cey and Steve Garvey.
So they needed pitching and had a great hitter they wanted to offer as a trading chit. Nice combo. So sure enough, on Dec. 2, 1971, the Dodgers sent him to the White Sox for veteran southpaw Tommy John and a failing infield prospect named Steve Huntz.
Of course, when you trade Allen for pitching, that just opens up a hole in your offense. Without Allen, the Dodgers needed another bat. No problem, as LA had that covered.
That same day, they purchased one of the most well-known sluggers in baseball: Frank Robinson. Baltimore had sent the 1966 MVP to LA along with reliever Pete Richert in exchange for a package of four prospects. Three of the four would never pan out at all, and the fourth was Alexander, the young pitcher without a slot in the rotation now that John was a Dodger. Alexander had a long career in front of him, but only part of it with Baltimore. Ultimately, he was just a durable innings eater.
Alas, the trades failed to put the Dodgers over the top. Their pitching did improve. Actually, it was spectacular, with a team ERA+ of 121. That was partially due to guys already on the team doing great (Sutton had an ERA barely over two, while Osteen won 20 games). In part it was because of the trades, as Richert was a star in the bullpen and John went 11-5.
However, offense was a problem for Los Angeles. Though one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, Robinson was a 36-year-old entering his sunset years. He played just 103 games, batting .251 with 26 extra-base hits. Meanwhile, Allen won the AL MVP for the 1972 White Sox. The Dodgers went 85-70, giving them roughly the same winning percentage as the year before.
The Dodgers would soon improve, but that had more to do with the development of kids like Garvey (who they moved to first), Cey, and others. They also packaged Robinson and others to the Angels for starting pitcher Andy Messersmith. In 1973, they’d win 95 games, and in 1974 claim the pennant with a 102-win squad.
But if the trades from 15,000 days ago didn’t hurt the Dodgers, then in the short term they didn’t substantially improve the club, either. Either way, those were the trades the Dodgers made on Dec. 2, 1971, 15,000 days ago.
Aside from those trades, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
2,000 days since Braves pitcher Buddy Carlyle needs just nine pitches to strike out the side versus San Diego in the fourth inning.
2,000 days since young Twins slugger Justin Morneau hits three home runs in one game.
2,000 days since Kevin McClatchy steps down as CEO of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
3,000 days since the Yankees finish off the Twins in the 2004 ALDS with a 6-5 win in 11 innings in Game Four.
3,000 days since Jose Lima throws a complete-game, five-hit shutout for the Dodgers over the Cardinals in Game Three of the NLDS.
40,000 days since the birth of Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell.
1837 Hall of Fame baseball executive Morgan Buckeley is born.
1904 The Browns trade Jesse Burkett to the Red Sox for George Stone and cash. Burkett is a Hall of Fame outfielder, and Stone was a great player for a brief while.
1906 NL umpire and recent Hall of Fame selection Hank O’Day suggest the batter’s box be outlined with white rubber stripes instead of chalk to prevent the erasing of them. This never takes.
1917 The Cubs trade Cy Williams to the Phillies for Dode Paskert.
1919 The Red Sox make an agreement to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The details will be worked out and the public informed later.
1927 Diminutive reliever Stu Miller is born.
1934 Japan’s first professional baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, is formed in Tokyo.
1940 Ray Sadecki, pitcher, is born.
1947 Carlton Fisk, Hall of Fame catcher, is born.
1948 Chris Chambliss, first baseman, is born.
1950 Mario Mendoza, famous for not being able to hit, is born.
1950 Baseball commissioner Happy Chandler announces that Gillette Safety Razor Company will be $6 million over six years for the TV rights to the All-Star Game.
1954 Ozzie Smith, maybe the best defensive shortstop of all-time, is born.
1961 Storm Davis, one-time Orioles ace pitcher, is born.
1974 Little League opens up to girls as Pres. Gerald Ford signs legislation to amend the organization’s charter.
1990 The Senior Professional Baseball Association in Florida goes out of business as its second season concludes.
1994 Former Yankees ace pitcher Allie Reynolds dies at age 79.
1995 The Reds trade David Wells to the Orioles. His career is still a few years away from taking off.
2007 The Padres sign what’s left of one-time super-prospect Mark Prior.
2008 The Giants sign Randy Johnson as a free agent.
2009 Arizona signs what’s left of middle reliever Bob Howry.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.