May 26, 2013
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Wednesday, 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.
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