10th anniversary: Giambi-Mabry trade

Ten years ago today, one of the strangest trades of the 21st century was made. It was a marker trade, serving to define what group you belonged to. If you didn’t think it was much of a big deal at all, then you were normal and part of mainstream baseball fandom. But, if this trade was a gigantic jolt to you, then congratulations, you were part of the sabermetric community, circa 2002.

On May 22, 2012, the Oakland A’s sent Jeremy Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry, and in doing so threw an enormous loop to many who supported A’s GM Billy Beane and what he stood for.

It’s a sign how much things have changed. In 2002, the sabermetric revolution was largely still confined to Oakland. Okay, so Toronto had hired Beane’s former assistant J.P. Ricchardi as GM. To be sabermetrically inclined generally meant you had some rooting interest in the A’s because their success validated your approach to baseball.

And that’s why this trade threw people for such a loop; it completely went against all sabermetric belief. Giambi was a sabermetric darling. He was a huge sabermetric darling. He couldn’t field, and his batting average wasn’t great, but he had power and drew walks for a mighty nice OPS.

Mabry? Eh, I’m sure he looked good in a pair of jeans, but he was the opposite of a sabermetric player. He was just an end-of-the-bench backup or role player. And here was Billy Beane, the Official GM of Saber-town, casting off his kind of player for a bucket of whatever.

What happened was simple. Beane needed to shake up the clubhouse on a team badly underperforming its talent level, and this was his solution. The shakeup worked and (as portrayed in Moneyball), the team awoke from its slumber to win 103 games by the end of the year.

The trade is a time capsule in many ways. First, it defied what people expected from Beane. It’s a sign of how much times have changed that many expected Beane to always make the smart move, by which I mean always make the sabermetrically friendly one. And he did have quite a track record back in the day of turning low payrolls into high win totals. The golden boy aura has since worn off Beane as his success has lessened and other franchises like Tampa have done more with less money.

It’s also a time capsule in its stats-versus-scouts mentality. I don’t think any such trade could inflict such psychological shockwaves on that stat community as this one did. I just don’t think it’s possible. There was such a sense of certainty and confidence that the sabermetric way was the way, and it would overcome all. Now, stats vs. scouts has become more stats and scouts. There was always some “and” and there’s still some “vs.,” but the sense of certitude has really shifted.

Lastly, speaking as a sample size of one, this trade really helped cement a sense of an online sabermetric community. Many of us nerds were stunned by it while for most baseball fans the trade was a complete afterthought. The trade literally helped create a community, as the thread for it at Baseball Think Factory was a turning point for that site. Giambi-Mabry was it’s coming out party, and BTF remains the leading watering hole for baseball’s nerd herd.

And it happened exactly ten years ago today.

Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event that occurred X-thousand years ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to skim the lists.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since a Rays-Jays game sees three different umps work the plate. Jerry Crawford starts the game there but is struck by a foul tip and has to leave with an injury. Tom Hallion replaces him but is hit by a fastball and follows Crawford out of the game. Brian O’Nara completes the game, with just one other umpire working all three bases.

4,000 days since White Sox leftfielder Carlos Lee hits a walk-off grand slam against the Cubs in the crosstown classic. A record-setting crowd of 45,936 in U.S. Celluar sees the 7-3 Sox triumph.

4,000 days since Damion Easley hits for the cycle.

4,000 days since Luis Gonzalez hits three home runs in one game.

4,000 days since Toronto signs free agent Tony Fernandez for another go-around for the veteran with the Blue Jays.

5,000 days since slugger Cecil Fielder plays in his final game.

5,000 days since Mike Lowell makes his big league debut.

5,000 days since Sammy Sosa hits two homers in one game against the Brewers, No. 61 and No. 62 on the year. He joins Mark McGwire as the only men to top Roger Maris. The Cubs win the game, 11-10, part of arguably the greatest series in the history of Wrigley Field.

6,000 days since the Cardinals sign free agent Gary Gaetti.

9,000 days since St. Louis skipper Whitey Herzog helms his 2,000th big league game. He’s 1,085-914 for his career.

15,000 days since the Twins sign free agent Tom Kelly. He won’t do much as a player, but will end up a two-time world champion manager for them.

15,000 days since the longest hitting streak of Joe Torre’s career peaks at 24 games. He’s 41-for-96 in this span.

30,000 days since Gabby Hartnett catches a ball dropped 550 feet from the Goodyear blimp. That sets a new record, breaking the old one of 504 feet held by Gabby Street, who caught a ball dropped from the Washington Monument back in the day.

Anniversaries

1875 Pud Galvin, baseball’s first 300-game winner, makes his big league debut—if you consider the National Association a big league.

1883 Billy Sunday, outfielder who will find tremendous success as a preacher after his playing days are over, makes his big league debut.

1888 Ed Delahanty, one of the best hitters of his generation, debuts in the big leagues.

1891 Well, that was unexpected. Hall of Fame pitcher Mickey Welch hits into a walk-off triple play.

1897 There aren’t too many times when a Hall of Fame player is released by a team in the middle of his career, but one of those times happens here, when the Giants do just that to first baseman Jake Beckley. He’s 29 years old when New York overreacts to a slow start. Cincinnati will pick Beckley up, and he’ll play for them effectively for years.

1901 Reds pitcher Noodles Hahn fans 16 Braves batters in one game. That will be the club record for Cincinnati until Jim Maloney tops it in 1963. Hahn is a pitcher with tremendous talent whose arm just isn’t strong enough to hold up long enough.

1902 Al Simmons, Hall of Famer with five straight 200-hit seasons, is born.

1902 Veteran centerfielder George Van Haltren snaps a small bone near his right ankle while stealing second base. This effectively ends his career, and he’ll play in just 80 more games.

1907 Umpire Billy Evans needs a police escort after Tiger manager Hughie Jennings incites a riot over an Evans call in Detroit. The AL will suspend Jennings for this.

1911 Boston hurler Cliff Curtis loses his 23rd consecutive game, a streak dating back to Jun 13, 1910.

1913 The Giants make one of the worst trades in franchise history. To gain Art Fromme from the Reds, New York gives $20,000 and three players: Red Ames, Josh Devore, and the real prize, Heinie Groh. With the Reds, Groh will develop into a star and a man who arguably deserves a place in Cooperstown. With the Giants, Fromme will win 20 games over two-plus seasons.

1914 For the first time all season, the Braves win back-to-back games. Despise this bad start, they’ll win the World Series this year.

1922 Age be damned, 35-year-old Eddie Collins smacks two triples in one game.

1922 Frank “Home Run” Baker hits his last career home run. He had fewer than 100 career dingers, but that was a lot for his era.

1923 Negro League outfielder Cristobal Torriente hits for the cycle at the plate but late in the game is called on as an emergency reliever. He throws two pitches, both of which are wild, and his team loses.

1923 It’s a great 15-inning pitchers duel. Hall of Fame starting pitcher Herb Pennock posts a Game Score of 105 with this line: 15 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 6 K. Going the distance in defeat is Mike Cvengros, whose Game Score is only 75 due to 21 baserunners and three earned runs. Despite the triple-digit night, this is not Pennock’s best career Game Score.

1926 Yankee phenom Waite Hoyt wins his 100th game, making him 100-74. He’s one of fewer than 20 liveball pitchers to win 150 games before turning 30.

1926 Before today’s game at Wrigley Field, star Cubs pitcher Pete Alexander receives a Lincoln automobile as a gift from Cub fans. Later in this same homestand, he’ll be waived by rookie manager Joe McCarthy.

1926 The Cardinals have Rogers Hornsby Day in St. Louis, giving their star $1,000 in gold and a medal. He’ll last this season and next with the team, unlike Chicago’s Alexander.

1927 Late-bloomer Dazzy Vance wins his 100th game. He’s 100-58 in his career so far.

1928 Carl Mays, one of the best pitchers not in Cooperstown, wins his 200th game. He’s 200-124 in his career at this point.

1928 White Sox centerfielder Johnny Mostil ties a record by fielding 12 balls in a game.

1930 It’s a big day for teammates Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, albeit in different games. Ruth, who smacked three homers in the first game of a doubleheader today, hits two in the first game of today’s twin billing. Gehrig belts three homers in the second game. One of those is the seventh of his record 23 grand slams. Gehrig ends the second game with eight RBIs, tying his personal best. The Yankees win the games, 10-1 and 20-13. Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri gets five hits and scores five runs, both personal bests, in the second game.

1934 Arne Harris, longtime producer of baseball games on WGN, is born.

1936 Phillies pitcher Bucky Walters has quite the day, throwing a complete-game shutout and smashing a home run. Philadelphia decimates the Giants, 15-0. New York pitcher Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons surrenders the only grand slam of his 200-win career in this game.

1936 St. Louis Cardinals star Pepper Martin scores a run in his 13th straight game.

1937 The Dodgers announce that pitcher Van Mungo has been fined, suspended for three games, and billed $1,500 in damages for a rampage he went on in a St. Louis hotel room.

1937 Hank Greenberg does the nearly impossible, hitting a ball so far at Fenway Park that it leaves the entire park via centerfield! It’s called the longest shot in park history.

1938 Hall of Fame Lloyd Waner gets his 2,000th hit, and it takes him just 1,453 games to do so. That said, he has a very empty batting average and really doesn’t belong in Cooperstown.

1938 Hall of Fame pitcher and all-time White Sox win leader Ted Lyons wins his 200th game, for a career record of 200-185.

1938 The Dodgers announce contracts to install lights in Ebbets Field.

1939 Hall of Fame outfielder Heinie Manush plays in his last game.

1943 Tommy John is born.

1946 Negro League star Josh Gibson hits one of the longest bombs ever hit in Forbes Field: 450 feet over the left-center wall. The estimate possibly understates the distance.

1949 Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe becomes the first NL hurler in 11 years to toss a complete-game shutout in his first start. In that same doubleheader, Ken Raffensberger tosses an 83-pitch one-hitting, allowing just an eighth-inning single to Gil Hodges.

1952 Pirate farmhand Bill Bell tosses the first of his three no-hitters on the year.

1953 Irv Noren of the Yankees hits into a walk-off triple play. Washington wins, 12-4.

1954 Hall of Fame A’s pitcher Chief Bender dies. All his life he preferred to be called Albert Bender.

1954 In the 28th game of his career, Hank Aaron does something he’ll never do again, fan with the bases loaded to end the game.

1956 Roberto Clemente plays two innings at third base, the only time he’ll ever appear there.

1957 Robin Roberts surrenders a walk-off home run to future Pirates manager Chuck Tanner. It happens in the 13th inning—and, yes, this is a complete game for Roberts. It’s one of four walk-offs he allows (and the only one Tanner ever hits).

1959 Don Drysdale has the best game of his career. He tosses 13 innings for a complete-game win and a personal-best Game Score (100) and WPA (0.969). His line: 13 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 11 K. LA tops the Giants, 2-1.

1961 Indians pitcher Frank Funk has what WPA considers to be the best relief performance of the decade. He enters in the eighth inning and tosses eight full innings of two-hit relief. He gets the win as Cleveland tops Minnesota.

1962 In one game, Roger Maris receives four intentional walks. That’s four more than he had all last season when he swatted 61 homers.

1963 Mickey Mantle hits one of his signature moonshot homers in Kansas City. It strikes a foot below the roof in the 11th inning of a game.

1966 Jose Mesa, closer, is born.

1966 Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda enjoys his best game ever according to WPA: 0.788. He goes 3-for-5 with a homer, run, and two RBIs as he leads the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Reds.

1968 Don Drysdale tosses the third of his six consecutive shutouts during his 58-scoreless-innings streak.

1968 Willie Stargell knocks out three homers in one game for the second time. He just misses No. 4, a ball that lands at the top of the wall and goes for a double. He’s 5-for-5 on the day, his best in professional baseball.

1971 Hank Aaron receives three intentional walks in one game for the only time in his career. The Mets do it and win the game, 8-7.

1974 In a Chicago-Texas game, Pat Kelly gets things off to a rousing start with a leadoff inside-the-park homer off Fergie Jenkins.

1975 Lefty Grove, arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, dies at age 75.

1976 Reggie Smith hits three homers in one game. He leads St. Louis to a 7-6 win over Philadelphia and has his all-time best WPA performance of 0.957. It’s also one of just 15 times he plays third base.

1977 Oakland trades Stan Bahnsen to the Expos for Mike Jorgensen.

1978 A bunt single by Rod Carew off Jon Matlack raises his all-time career average to its highest mark: .336482 (1,959 for 5,822).

1979 Seattle pitcher John Montague ties a franchise record with a 7.2-inning relief outing.

1979 The ill-fated shortstop Dickie Thon debuts. He’ll develop into a star until a fastball hits him in the face, derailing his career.

1980 Ozzie Smith fans three times in one game for the only time in his career.

1982 Longtime reliever Charlie Hough has recently been converted to a starter, and today he shows why that was a good idea. He posts his all-time best Game Score of 89 with this line: 12 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, and 5 K in a complete-game win. That same game is also the last one in which long-time weak-hitting infielder Mario Mendoza (of “Mendoza Line” fame) appears.

1983 Boston’s Bob Stanley tosses 10 innings in relief. It’s the last time any reliever has gone over nine innings in one outing.

1983 The Cubs trade reliever Willie Hernandez to the Phillies for Dick Ruthven. Next year, Hernandez will win the Cy Young Award and MVP for the Tigers.

1984 Al Oliver bops his 500th career double.

1988 Chuck Tanner manages his last game.

1988 Pedro Guerrero isn’t happy about getting hit by a pitch by David Cone. He’s so unhappy that he tosses his bat at Cone, earning an ejection and a four-game suspension.

1990 In a marathon game, Cub star Andre Dawson receives five intentional walks. In that same game, Chicago starting pitcher Mike Bielecki lasts 10 innings. They haven’t had a guy go over nine innings since then.

1990 Barry Bonds knocks out the first of his 11 career grand slams.

1992 Felipe Alou makes his dugout debut as Expos skipper.

1993 John Smoltz surrenders his only home run to an opposing pitcher. Dwight Gooden belts it.

1993 Cardinals minor league Diego Ruiz dies in a car accident.

1995 A Carolina League brawl between Durham and Winston-Salem lasts over a half hour and results in 10 ejections. As it happens, it’s “Strike Out Domestic Violence” night at the ballpark.

1996 Chipper Jones enjoys the first of many multi-home run games.

1997 The Red Sox strand 16 baserunners in an epically frustrating 8-2 loss to the Yankees.

1997 Revenge! Last week, Hideo Nomo sued the wife of Padres star Tony Gwynn for an unlicensed use of the pitcher’s image in a jigsaw puzzle. (No, I don’t know any more than that.) Today, Gwynn goes 3-for-4 against Nomo.

1997 Jason Giambi hits his first of 14 (and counting) grand slams.

1998 Hopefully he knew better than to try ri buy a house there. Newest Florida Marlin Mike Piazza is now former Florida Marlin Mike Piazza. Not long after the team traded for him while dumping half of its roster on LA, Florida sends the star backstop to the Mets for Preston Wilson and two other players.

1998 Cincinnati belatedly retires Frank Robinson’s number.

1998 For the second time in three days, Vladimir Guerrero fans with the bases loaded to end a game.

1999 Oops. Knuckleballer Steve Sparks clearly has some control problems, as he hits three batters in a row.

2000 Only 3,913 are on hand in County Stadium to see it, but Milwaukee stages the greatest comeback in franchise history, scoring seven times in the ninth to top Houston, 10-9.

2001 Bruce Bochy manages his 1,000th game. His record: 510-490.

2001 Barry Bonds homers in his sixth consecutive game. Incredibly, even for his standards, it’s the second time this year he’s done that.

2001 The Twins take an early 8-0 lead on the Mariners but have to struggle to hold on to win, 12-11. Despite their loss, Seattle will go on to win its next 15 contests, a franchise record.

2002 Minnesota’s Governor Jesse Ventura approves $330 million in financing for an open-air Twins stadium. This plan requires the team to make a down payment of $120 million.

2002 It sure seems like a big deal at the time, as uber-pitching prospect Mark Prior makes his big league debut with the Cubs.

2002 Ricky Henderson becomes one of the few, the proud, the men who’ve played in 3,000 games.

2003 56-year-old advertising tycoon Arturo Moreno buys the Angels from Disney for $184 million.

2003 The Marlins all-time cumulative franchise record bottoms out at 151 games under .500 (725-876).

2004 Oakland retires Reggie Jackson’s number.

2004 Zack Greinke makes his big league debut.

2006 Frank Thomas returns to the South Side of Chicago for the first time as a visitor. He hits two home runs and one very long single.

2008 Ken Griffey Jr. belts his 200th home run for the Reds, becoming the fourth person ever to hit that many homers for two separate franchises. Jimmie Foxx, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro are also in that club.

2009 Michael Cuddyer hits for the cycle.

2010 Matt Stairs ties Todd Zeile’s record by homering with his 11th different club.

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Comments

  1. g-mo said...

    Thought-provoking take on the reception of the Giambi-Mabry trade.  I remember being shocked at the time, myself—interesting to think of this as a marker of “membership” in a virtual community.  It’s worth noting that some speculated on its being about “character issues” and that Giambi had been nailed for possession not long before.  Chris Kahrl wrote something like “this wasn’t a baseball trade”—itself a suggestive turn of phrase in the context of what you’ve said here.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    Great idea to commemorate this transaction, Chris.  It was, as you say, a touchpoint in so many ways.

    And, my god, has it really been 10 years?  Good thing none of us have gotten any older.

  3. Ray said...

    It was this day in 1972 that Charlie O. Finley traded for submarime style reliever Horacio Pina. I’m kiding. I’m kidding.

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