40th anniversary: Graig Nettles tradeby Chris Jaffe
November 27, 2012
40 years ago today, one of the most one-sided trades of the 1970s occurred. It was among the best deals the Yankees have made – and among the worst the Cleveland Indians agreed to.
On Nov. 27, 1972, the Yankees sent Cleveland Rusty Torres, Charlie Spikes, Jerry Kenney, and John Ellis in exchange for Jerry Moses . . . and Graig Nettles.
Five of those six names you’ve probably never heard of, with Nettles of course being the exception. Nettles would play 22 years in major league baseball, hit 390 homers (including a league leading 32 in 1976), and have a stellar defensive reputation.
Most of that was in the future, though. 40 years ago today, Nettles was a 28-year-old third baseman who’d just completed his third year as a starting third baseman. He was a respected talent—he’d even received a token 10th-place vote for AL MVP in 1971—but he wasn’t seen as anything too special. Cleveland was actually Nettle’s second team. The Twins had sent him there.
He was a good offensive player, but was ultimately a ‘tweener. He had some power, but nothing great. He drew some walks, but he was well under the league leaders. Sure he had a great glove, but in 1972 defensively there was Brooks Robinson and then there was everyone else. Nettles was one of the everyone elsers. Worst of all, Nettles’ weakest point was batting average, which was the best regarded offensive stat back then. In three years as Cleveland’s third sacker, he’d hit just .250. That’s nice, but nothing outstanding. Combine that with his 71 homers, and Cleveland felt he had enough value to be worth trading but not enough value to be worth keeping.
Also keep in mind that Cleveland had just finished in last place in 1972—and that was despite a Cy Young Award performance from ace pitcher Gaylord Perry. The team was 10th in runs scored with a .234 average. Nettles, they felt, was part of the problem, not the solution. So they peddled him off and see how many holes they can fill in the process.
So what did they get? All four guys coming to Cleveland were position players. If things worked out perfectly, they might get half of a starting lineup. Yeah, if only some things broke their way, they could have two good starters.
The least of the four was infielder Jerry Kenney. 10 months older than Nettles, Kenney was already a bust. He was supposed to be the Yankees third baseman of the future, but hit .193 in 140 games in 1970. He improved in 1971, but flopped back in 1972. The Yankees wanted Nettles to replace Kenney. So they gave Kenney to Cleveland, who hoped he could rekindle his game. It didn’t take. He played five games in Cleveland before calling it a career.
Well, he was supposed to suck. How about Rusty Torres, the young rightfielder? He’d hit .211 in a partial season with the Yankees in 1972, but he was only 23-year-old and maybe he’d improve as he aged? Nope. In two years and 230 games, he hit .199 and 10 homers.
Next is John Ellis. He was a first baseman/catcher who’d actually had success in the bigs before coming to Cleveland, hitting .294 in 52 games at age 23 with the 1972 Yankees.
Sure enough, that wasn’t a fluke, as Ellis was a solid hitter for Cleveland in 1973 and 1974, hitting .278 with 24 homers. It’s nothing world class, but it made him an above average hitting catcher. Yeah, but in 1975 he strangely flopped. Cleveland palmed him off on Texas, where he became a longtime backup.
That just leaves Charlie Spikes, a corner outfielder just shy of his 22nd birthday at the time of the trade. Spikes had the best career of the bunch, earning a starting slot in the Indians outfield for four years. But he didn’t quite pan out. He started out showing promise, hitting 23 homers at age 22 in 1973, albeit with a low .237 average. Next year, he kept the power and improved his average to .271. But he was still merely serviceable. With fewer walks or steals, you need better power or a superior average from a corner outfielder.
Instead, Spikes fell apart. He hit .229 with 11 homers in 197 and .232 with three homers in 101 games in 1976. As he entered what should’ve been his prime, he was worthless.
Cleveland got four flavors of blah. Meanwhile, Nettles made a half-dozen All-Star teams, and was solid and steady enough to keep his job in the starting lineup through 1987, at age 42. By that time he was no longer a Yankee, but Nettles helped New York claim three pennants and three division titles from 1976-81. Meanwhile, Cleveland had become an annual cellar dweller in the AL East. The only nice thing for Cleveland is that Jerry Moses, the other guy they gave up, didn’t do anything.
Still, it was a terrible trade for Cleveland – a trade that is now 40 years old.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold to make things easier to skim.
1,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent Garrett Anderson.
2,000 days since Joe Torre notches his 2,000th managerial victory. He’s 2,000-1,733 for his career at this point.
2,000 days since draft day, 2007. Among those taken are: Matt Wieters by Baltimore and Jayson Heyward by Atlanta.
3,000 days since Curt Schilling becomes the fourth pitcher to beat all 30 franchises, joining Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, and Terry Mulholland as members of the club.
4,000 days since the Cardinals trade Dustin Hermanson to the Red Sox.
6,000 days since Chili Davis joins the 2,000 hit club.
6,000 days since Jason Giambi plays a full game at third base for the final time.
7,000 days since Dennis Martinez becomes the seventh pitcher to post 100 wins in the AL and NL. Cy Young, Jim Bunning, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins pre-date him, but I’m not sure who the other two are.
7,000 days since Shawn Green makes his big league debut.
9,000 days since Gary Carter enjoys the last of his 28 career multi-home run games.
10,000 days since Oakland signs Tommy John as a free agent.
40,000 days since the Tigers play in Grand Rapids to avoid Detroit’s city-wide ban on Sunday ball. They beat the Washington Senators, 5-4.
1892 Bullet Joe Bush, 200 game winner, is born.
1910 The Tigers play their first exhibition game in Cuba on an off-season tour. 15,000 see this contest.
1915 The Indians pick up future Hall of Fame pitcher Stan Coveleski from the Portland squad in the Pacific Coast League.
1922 Austin McHenry dies at age 27. He was a very good player, who died far too young from natural causes.
1926 The A’s trade infielder Bill Wambsganss to KC in the minor leagues. Wambsganss is famous for pulling of an unassisted triple play in the 1920 World Series.
1931 Jack Burdock, 19th century infielder, dies at age 79.
1939 Relief pitcher Dave Giusti is born.
1950 The Red Sox sign free agent infielder Lou Boudreau, who the Indians had cut a few days earlier.
1955 In the Rule 5 draft, the Cubs claim Monte Irvin from the Giants.
1956 Charlie Peete, who is in the running to become the first black starter for the St. Louis Cardinals, dies in a plane crash while returning from winter ball in Venezuela.
1958 Mike Scioscia, catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Springfield Isotopes, is born.
1961 Bob Harmon, NL deadball pitcher who led the league in walks allowed in consecutive seasons, dies at age 74.
1961 The White Sox trade Minnie Minoso to the Cardinals.
1962 Cincinnati trades Cookie Rojas to the Phillies.
1962 Milwaukee trades veteran first baseman Joe Adcock to the Indians.
1963 Baltimore trades slugger Jim Gentile along with $25,000 to the A’s for Norm Siebern.
1967 The Braves release backup catcher Charlie Lau.
1967 In one of the rare trades involving a manager, Washington trades skipper Gil Hodges to the Mets for $100,000 and a player who’ve never heard of named Bill Denehy.
1971 Ivan Rodriguez is born.
1974 Bowie Kuhn suspends George Steinbrenner for two years due to his illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon.
1978 Baltimore selects John Lowenstein off waivers from Texas. Lowenstein will become one of Earl Weaver’s platoon specialists.
1978 Jimmy Rollins, shortstop, is born.
1987 Babe Herman, outfielder, dies at age 84.
1991 The Reds trade Eric Davis and another player to the Dodgers for Tim Belcher and John Wetteland.
1991 The Phillies name Lee Elia as their new manager.
1991 The Mets sign free agent Eddie Murray.
1997 Hall of Fame Negro League first baseman Buck Leonard dies at age 90.
2001 Baseball owners unanimously vote to extend Bud Selig’s contract as commissioner through to 2006.
2004 The Pirates send cash and Jason Kendall to the A’s for Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes, and cash.
2006 Eddie Mayo, runner up in the 1945 AL MVP vote, dies at age 96.
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.