15,000 days ago: Detroit trades Denny McLain

There’s an old story, retold in many forms with various names attached to it. An unpopular and underachieving vet is traded from the team. When one of his teammates hears about it, he says, “It’s a great trade! Who did we get?”

Perhaps the greatest of all “Great trade! Who’d we get?” deals occurred exactly 15,000 days ago today when the Detroit Tigers got rid of maybe their best pitcher in history—almost certainly their best peak pitcher.

Yeah, that’s right, today’s the “day-versary” of their palming Denny McLain off on the Washington Senators. McLain had terrific talent, but that’s about all you can say that’s good about him. I’ve heard people describe him as a sociopath, and while I have no ability to assess that diagnosis, he’s lived his life as if the rules don’t apply to him.

Let’s start with the legal and ethical stuff. Even in his peak days in Detroit, he was involved in gambling. Prior to leaving Detroit, reports swirled that he had ties to the mob, specifically in regards to gambling. Supposedly, mobster Anthony Giacalone injured two toes on McLain’s left foot over an unpaid gambling debt during the 1967 pennant race. McLain would spend much of his adult life involved with illegal gambling.

McLain also didn’t take care of himself, drinking Pepsi at seemingly every opportunity, as if all the sugar water in the world couldn’t affect his physique. If his arm troubled him, he’d just inject cortisone into it and move along. (Well, to be fair, that last point didn’t make him unique).

By the early 1970s, life was catching up to McLain. He spent most of 1970 suspended by baseball for a variety of infractions. Worse, his arm was starting to go on him due to his heavy workload combined with his indifferent fitness regimen.

So 15,000 days ago, Detroit was glad to be rid of him, and it helped that in this case the “Who’d we get” portion of the trade was pretty nice. The Tigers packaged him with aging no-hit third baseman Don Wert and prospects Elliott Maddox, and Norm McRae. Maddox is the only on of that trio who did anything after the trade.

In return, Washington shipped shortstop Ed Brinkman, third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan. Brinkman’s best days were behind him, but he still had a few years left as a starter. Rodriguez became the player Wert once was, a no-hit, good-glove third sacker, except Rodriguez lasted longer. He last played in 1983. Hannan was essentially through as a pitcher, but Coleman entered his prime just in time for Detroit. He won 62 games over the next three years.

For that trade to work for Washington, McLain would need to maintain his ace pitching. He did anything but, going 10-22 in his first year in Washington. That not only led the league in losses, but is more losses than any AL pitcher has had since 1956. Washington dumped him in the following offseason, and he soon was out of the big leagues altogether.

It was a great trade for Detroit regardless of whom they got, but getting Coleman made it a great trade for them.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold for those out there who’d prefer to skim this.

Day-versaries

3,000 days since the Angels hold Rallymonkey Bobblehead Night in honor of the mascot during their world champion season in 2002.

3,000 days since the Pirates have Charlie Brown Bobblehead Night for the Peanuts character.

6,000 days since Wade Boggs connects for the only pinch-hit home run of his career. It’s a three-run shot in an at-bat that lasts 11 pitches, the most ever for a Boggs homer.

7,000 days since baseball owners vote 18-9 with one abstention to call for the resignation of commissioner Fay Vincent. The ownership of the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and (of course) Brewers lead the charge.

10,000 days since Andy Van Slyke makes his big league debut.

40,000 days since John McGraw gets hit five times in one at-bat but the umpire refuses to award him first base, saying he’s not trying to avoid the ball. (It’s a little known and rarely enforced rule, but players aren’t supposed to get first if they let the ball hit them). In protest, John McGraw sits in the batter’s box, an act that will earn him a five-game suspension.

Anniversaries

1856 Jim McCormick, pitcher who won over 250 games, is born.

1881 The American Association elects H. D. McKnight as its first president.

1887 The Omaha clubs pays Frank Selee $3,000/month to bring them his Oshkosh club, which just won the Northwestern League pennant. In a few years, Selee will be managing Boston in the majors and embark on a Hall of Fame career as a skipper.

1912 Miller Huggins is named manager of the Cardinals, beginning his Hall of Fame career as a skipper.

1918 Bob Feller is born.

1926 Ty Cobb announces his resignation from the Tigers.

1928 Cleveland approves a bond issue to build the first municipally funded baseball stadium in the big leagues.

1928 Massachusetts voters approve Sunday ball, as long as it’s not within 1,000 feet of a church. Only Pennsylvania still has blue laws in effect in places with a major league team.

1934 The Reds purchase Ival Goodman for $25,000 from the Cardinals as well as his teammate Lew Riggs for $30,000.

1941 The White Sox release veteran Ben Chapman.

1945 Ken Holtzman, one of only 16 liveball pitchers to win 150 games before turning 30 years old, is born.

1951 Dwight Evans is born.

1953 The Rules Committee restores the old sacrifice fly rule of 1939, which means a SF will no longer count as an AB.

1956 Hurler Bob Welch is born.

1960 Hall of Fame infielder Bobby Wallace dies a day before his 87th birthday.

1964 Philadelphia voters approve a $25 million bond to build a new stadium, which will be Veterans Stadium. However, due to cost overruns, it’ll actually cost $50 million to build.

1965 In a Venezuelan Winter League game, Lew Krausse, who pitches for the Kansas City A’s in the warmer months, fans 21 in a game, including 10 in a row at one point.

1968 Baseball announcer Harry Caray is hit by a car in St. Louis. He suffers two broken legs, a broken shoulder, and a broken nose.

1970 The Phillies trade Curt Flood to Washington.

1972 Armando Benitez, closer, is born.

1973 Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson each fined $250 for their on-field fight on Oct. 8 during the NLCS.

1979 AL and NL All-Stars depart for a baseball tour of Japan.

1980 The A’s trade a young Mike Morgan to the Yankees.

1988 The Twins trade Bert Blyleven to the Angels, where he’ll finish out his career.

1989 The Reds hire Lou Piniella as their manager. In the next 12 months, he’ll guide the team to a highly unexpected world championship.

1993 Cleveland’s Cliff Young dies at age 29 in a truck crash.

2000 The Reds hire Bob Boone as their manager after both Willie Randolph and Ron Oester passed on what they saw as lowball contract offers.

2003 Bobby Valentine is hired to manage the Chiba Lotte Mariners in Japan. He’ll win a title with them.

2003 Houston trades star closer Billy Wagner to the Phillies.

2005 Tampa Bay hires ex-Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker as their senior vice president of baseball operations.

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