15,000 days ago, a pretty big off-season trade occurred: one that featured two arguably Hall of Fame-caliber players (though neither is in Cooperstown), a Cy Young winner, and a few other notables:
Going guy-by-guy . .. Luis Tiant was a tremendous young pitcher who, alas, looked like a has-been. After going 21-9 with a minuscule 1.60 ERA in 1968 (enough to lead the league in that Year of the Pitcher), Tiant regressed badly in 1969. He went 9-20, leading the league in losses. For good measure, he also topped the league in walks and homers.
He went to Minnesota, where he still looked like a has-been, pitching fewer than 100 innings. They dumped him to Boston, where he had an unlikely career resurrection. Has been? He posted three 20-win seasons and helped the Red Sox claim a pennant in 1975 before bowing out with well over 200 career victories.
Stan Williams was a veteran pitcher on the downside of his career. He was most well known as a fireballer for the Dodgers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was also the pitcher who helped the Dodgers blow the pennant in the ninth inning of Game 165 in 1962. He’d gone 6-14 for the Indians in 1969, and the Twins put him in the bullpen full time in 1970. He did great, posting a 1.99 ERA. He floundered in 1971, however, so the Twins sent him packing.
As for the package the Indians got, the big name was Dean Chance. Like Tiant, he’d led the league with a staggeringly low ERA: a 1.65 mark in 1964. That, along with a 20-9 record, earned him a Cy Young Award.
But by the time of the trade, Chance was a shell of himself. He went 5-4 in 15 starts and five relief appearances in 1969, which is why the Twins sent him to Cleveland for Tiant. He spent almost of 1970 with Cleveland, about half of it in the bullpen. He never recovered and after one more year was out of baseball.
Though Chance was the big name the Indians received, the man with the best future ahead of him by far was Graig Nettles. He was a prospect the Twins didn’t know what to do with. They tried him in left, at third, a little in right—he had no real slot. But while Nettles had promise, he hadn’t delivered, hitting in the .220s in 1968 and 1969. He turned 25 late in the 1969 season, a little old to be a prospect.
So he went to Cleveland, where he found his power, bashing 71 homers in three years. His batting average was dismal, but he had power and drew some walks. Plus, Cleveland settled on third base as his position. After three seasons, Nettles went to the Bronx where he had his prime years. He turned out to be one of those rare players who peaked in his early 30s.
The Indians also received Bob Miller. It’s a sign how many notable players were in this trade that Miller was perhaps only the fifth-most interesting. He was one of the first long-time relievers in baseball. He pitched for 17 years and appeared in 694 games – 595 of them in relief, which was ninth most in history when he retired after 1974.
Miller only pitched two years with Minnesota, though, and lasted a mere 15 appearances with Cleveland, in which he stunk.
That leaves Ted Uhlaender. He played eight seasons – including five with the Twins and two with the Indians. He played over 100 games six times (four in Minnesota, two in Cleveland). While he might be the least notable player in the trade, it’s impressive that an outfielder that started for a half-dozen seasons could be the least notable player in a six-man trade.
In essence, this was a challenge trade with throw-ins, as the teams swapped supremely talented starting pitchers with arm problems. It looks like Minnesota was more interested in Tiant than Cleveland was in Chance; after all – Cleveland had to send their starting centerfielder, a reliever and a prospect without a position while Cleveland just had to send an aging swingman.
Despite being something of a blockbuster, neither team got too much out of it. Tiant, Chance, Miller, and Williams all soon moved on. Cleveland got the better of it with Nettles and Uhlaender staying as key cogs in their lineup for two or three years, but Nettles’ glory came after he left and Uhlaender never had much glory.
Nettles: in the uniform people remember him wearing.