December 8, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Saturday, June 15, 2013
Thirty years ago today, one of the most incredible and obviously one-sided trades of the 1980s occurred. The St. Louis Cardinals sent star first baseman and NL 1979 co-MVP Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets for ….well, basically for the right to not have Keith Hernandez on their team anymore.
Okay, officially there was a return in the trade. The Mets sent Rick Ownbey and Neil Allen to St. Louis. That hardly seemed like a fair trade. Ownbey was barely anything. A marginal mid-20s pitching prospect who’d barely pitched in the majors, he would make just 21 appearances for St. Louis before fading away completely.
Neil Allen was at least a real major leaguer. A veteran reliever in New York, the Cardinals used him as a starter for most of 1983 and then shipped him back to the ‘pen before trading him in mid-1985. He ate some innings and provided a live arm on occasion, but that was it.
No, that doesn’t seem like a fair trade.
Hernandez was one of the best defensive first baseman of his day. Oh, and he could hit a little bit, too. He led the NL with 48 doubles and a .344 average in 1979. Then he led the league with a .408 on-base percentage in 1980. The next two years he hit around .300 for St. Louis and even drew 100 walks in 1982.
Okay, so he was down a little bit in early 1983 with a .284 average. And he was 29, getting near the point when a decline should be expected. Was that the logic? Trade a guy one year too early instead of one year too late. Oh, hell no. You trade a guy a year too early in order to get a prize haul in return. Who the hell considered Rick Ownbey a prize? This trade made no sense in terms of talent. None at all.
That’s because it had nothing to do with talent. St. Louis manager and GM Whitey Herzog had another thing on his mind. Drugs. He was concerned about the early-1980s climate of drugs around the game and felt Hernandez was a user and spreader of cocaine. (And in fact, in the mid-decade baseball cocaine trials in Pittsburgh, Hernandez’s former Cardinals teammate Lonnie Smith named Hernandez as someone involved in drugs.)
Herzog wanted Hernandez gone in order to try to stop Hernandez's rumored dealing, and also to send a message to his players to stay away from this stuff. After all, if Herzog would dump the charismatic MVP, do you think he’ll take any guff from anyone else?
Well, Hernandez eventually cleaned up. And his slow start to 1983 turned out to be an aberration. He remained a star player on the Mets for several years, and then age finally got the best of him in the late 1980s.
It worked out well for Herzog, too. Yes, the trade was terrible, but after 1983 there were two tightly fought pennant races between Herzog’s Cardinals and Hernandez’s Mets: 1985 and 1987. The Redbirds won them both, topping the Mets by three games each time. So this trade didn’t make the difference. The two times New York won the division, 1986 and 1988, it was by such a huge margin that no one could point to this trade or any one move as the difference.
It was a stunning day when Herzog sent Hernandez packing for little more than packing material, and that stunning day was 30 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today.
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