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.
3,000 days since Andres Galarraga announces his retirement.
4,000 days since Jim Thome homers in his seventh straight game.
4,000 days since Ivan Rodriguez hits his 200th career homer—and then ends the game with No. 201, which is also his first career walk-off blast.
9,000 days since 14 members of the 1986 free agent class are awarded new free agency by arbitrator George Nicolau, who ruled that the owners colluded.
9,000 days since the Yankees trade Jack Clark to the Padres.
10,000 days since Texas signs free agent catcher Darrell Porter.
15,000 days since Montreal signs Larry Parrish as a free agent.
25,000 days since George Stone, who was briefly a great hitter, dies.
30,000 days since Lou Gehrig steals three bases in one game. It’s the only time he ever does that.
50,000 days since turn-of-the-century player Ginger Beaumont is born.
1888 Jim McTamany gets six hits in a game.
1894 Boston signs amateur free agent Fred Tenney, who will have a nice big league career as a first baseman.
1902 In the Texas League, Corsicana annihilates Texarkana, 51-3. Jay Clarke belts eight homers for the victorious squad in this game.
1907 Hall of Fame first baseman Jake Beckley appears in his final game.
1907 Washington releases longtime defensive standout third baseman Lave Cross.
1912 Babe Dahlgren is born. He’s famous as the guy who replaces Lou Gehrig at first base when Gehrig’s streak ends.
1921 Wilbur Cooper, the winningest pitcher in Pirates history, suffers his 100th career loss. He’s 129-100 for his career.
1923 Lou Gehrig makes his big league debut.
1925 The Indians blow a 12-run lead as the A’s score 13 runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 17-15 win.
1926 The A’s make two trades in one day. In the first one, they swap an outfielder with the Browns, sending Bing Miller there for Baby Doll Jacobson. The second trade is a five-player deal. In it, Boston sends Howard Ehmke to the A’s and Boston lands Slim Harriss and Baby Doll Jacobson—yes, the same guy the A’s just landed from Washington.
1927 Lefty Grove commits the only balk of his career. In that same game, his teammate Al Simmons nails the first of 10 career grand slams. However, White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons, who allows the slam, gets the win anyway, for a career-best ninth straight win. His line in this streak: 9 G, 9 GS, 9 CG, 81 IP, 61 H, 24 R, 17 ER, 21 BB, and 16 K for an ERA of 1.89.
1928 Ty Cobb steals home for the 35th and final time.
1929 Three years after his big brother did so, Lloyd Waner gets six hits in a game.
1930 For the second straight game—and the third time in a week—Lou Gehrig hits two home runs in one game.
1934 The Phillies purchase Bucky Walters from the Red Sox. He plays third base at the moment, but Philadelphia moves him to the mound, where he’ll become a star.
1937 The Braves trade star center fielder Wally Berger to the Giants for $35,000 and a player.
1938 Johnny Vander Meer makes history by throwing his second consecutive no-hitter. He fans seven and walks eight. It’s a notable game for another reason as it’s the first night game at Brooklyn’s Ebbetts Field. Vander Meer’s Reds win, 6-0.
1938 Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams is born.
1940 Ernie Lombardi becomes the first person to hit 100 homers for the Cincinnati Reds. Now all of the pre-expansion franchises have a 100-homer guy except the White Sox.
1942 Big league baseball has its first twilight game. Claude Passeau and the Cubs top Brooklyn, 6-0, in Ebbets Field. 15,159 show up for the game.
1941 The Braves sell Babe Dahlgren to the Cubs.
1945 The A’s release an aging and well-past-his-prime Al Simmons.
1945 The Red Sox sign free agent slugger Dolph Camilli.
1946 Red Ruffing, normally one of the best-hitting pitchers in baseball, has his worst day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
1948 Briggs Field in Detroit has its first night game. Now only Wrigley Field lacks lights—and it won’t have them for another 40 years.
1949 Dusty Baker is born.
1950 Joe McCarthy, who wins my vote as the greatest manager in history, manages his last game.
1952 The Cardinals blow an 11-0 lead, losing 14-12 to the Giants.
1953 Well, that wasn’t expected. The Browns top the Yankees, which is rather impressive given that the Browns begin the day with a 14-game losing streak and the Yankees had won their last 18 games. Big league baseball won’t see another winning streak this long until the 2002 Moneyball A’s win 20 in a row.
1955 What have you done with the real Nellie Fox? Fox, a singles hitter who will end his career with just 35 homers, goes deep in both ends of a doubleheader. He’s 6-for-8 on the day.
1956 What might have been … Baltimore offers the A’s a memorable deal: a complete swap of 25-man rosters. The KC GM is willing to do it, but he can’t find the owner to approve it before the day’s trading deadline ends.
1956 All-Star catcher Lance Parrish is born.
1956 Norm Siebern makes his big league debut.
1957 Brett Butler, speedy outfielder, is born.
1958 The Dodgers trade former ace Don Newcombe to the Reds for Johnny Klippstein.
1958 The Indians trade outfielder Roger Maris and a pair of other players to the A’s for first baseman Vic Power and Woodie Held.
1958 Kansas City trades aging pitcher Virgil Trucks to the Yankees.
1958 Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs is born.
1961 Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette reaches base via error three times in one game. Boston wins easily, 10-1 over Detroit.
1961 Jim Bunning surrenders his 10th and last grand slam. He’ll last a decade more and throw over 2,500 innings but never give up another one.
1961 Milwaukee trades veteran infielder Johnny Logan to the Pirates.
1961 Tony Cloninger makes his big league debut. He’s most famous as a pitcher who once hit two grand slams in one game.
1962 The Phillies sign amateur free agent Fergie Jenkins.
1963 The Braves trade starting pitcher Lew Burdette to the Cardinals.
1964 The Cubs and Cardinals engage in a four-player trade, but there are only two names involved anyone remembers: Brock and Broglio. The Cubs get starting pitcher Ernie Broglio, and the Cardinals land future Hall of Famer Lou Brock. Yeah, this works well for the Cardinals.
The trade happens early, allowing Brock to play for St. Louis today, and he strikes out in a pinch-hit appearance. But the next day he’ll go 2-for-3 with a triple, stolen base, and two walks—and it’s off to the races for him from there.
1965 Eddie Mathews gets his 2,000th career hit.
1965 Denny McLain sets a record by fanning 15 batters in relief, all in just 6.2 innings. The record stands until Randy Johnson tops it in 2001. (And that’s a weird one, as a Curt Schilling start is cut short when a night game had a power outage after one inning. Johnson pitches eight innings on a different day to finish it off.) In 1965, McLain fans the first seven batters he faces and helps the Tigers top Boston, 6-5.
1965 St. Louis trades pitcher Mike Cuellar to the Astros. Neither team will get his best seasons.
1966 Bob Gibson pitches a three-hit shutout for a 1-0 win and career victory No. 100. His record is 100-75.
1966 Al Kaline gets his 2,000th career hit. It took him just 1,769 games to get here.
1967 Jimmy Wynn becomes the first Houston Astro to belt three home runs in one game.
1968 Juan Marichal allows a career-worst 16 hits in one game. He gets the complete-game win in a 9-5 triumph over the Mets. It was a different time.
1968 Hall of Famer and all-time triples king Sam Crawford dies at the ripe old age of 88.
1968 Pitching just 5.2 innings, Tommy John hits four batters in one game.
1970 The Royals trade veteran reliever Moe Drabowsky to the Orioles.
1972 Andy Pettitte is born.
1973 Tommie Aaron becomes the first black minor league manager in the Deep South, when he takes over in Savannah in Double-A.
1974 The Yankees purchase Rudy May from the California.
1975 Don Baylor is caught stealing twice in one inning. The second is an attempted steal of home.
1975 Montreal purchases Nate Colbert from the Tigers. Just a few years earlier, Colbert had been a star slugger with the Padres. He is still their all-time home run king.
1976 The Yankees and Orioles make a 10-player trade that sends five players to each club. New York gets starting pitchers Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman, as well as catcher Ellie Hendricks while Baltimore lands pitchers Rudy May and Scott McGregor and also catcher Rick Dempsey. Baltimore gets the better of this deal.
1976 Wow! Even though they play in a dome, the Astros have to call today a rainout. The stadium itself is okay, but the seven inches of rain prevent the umpires, stadium personnel, and virtually every fan from showing up. Twenty fans make it via canoe to get their rain checks.
1976 Jimmie Dykes, baseball lifer, dies at age 79.
1977 Bill Lee, 1930s Cubs pitcher, dies at age 67.
1977 The Mets make a pair of trades, one of which is one of the most infamous in franchise history. That’s sending longtime superstar Tom Seaver to the Reds for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Pat Zachary, and Dan Norman. Cincinnati gets quality while the Mets get quantity. In a separate deal, the Mets send slugger Dave Kingman to the Padres for Bobby Valentine and another player.
1978 Boston sells Bernie Carbo to the Indians for $15,000.
1979 Willie McCovey enjoys the last of his 44 multi-home run games.
1980 Cleveland’s Jorge Orta becomes the first American Leaguer in seven years to get six hits in one game.
1982 Dave Dravecky, pitcher, makes his big league debut.
1983 Atlanta purchases Mike Jorgensen from the Mets.
1983 San Francisco’s Darrell Evans rips three home runs in one game.
1984 Fastballer ace Mark Langston fans seven straight and ends the day with 12 Ks in all.
1984 Tim Lincecum, Giants pitcher, is born.
1985 Veteran infielder Tim Foli plays in his last game.
1989 Bruce Hurst goes 10 innings for the Padres. It’s the last time anyone in that franchise has lasted that long in a start.
1991 Andy Ashby becomes the first Phillies pitcher to use the minimum nine pitches to strike out the side when he does it to the Reds today.
1991 Former big league commissioner Happy Chandler dies.
1991 Mike Remlinger makes his big league debut.
1992 Former Yankee pitcher Eddie Lopat dies at age 73.
1992 Rollie Fingers’ career save record of 341 is broken by Jeff Reardon. You can win yourself a lot of bar bets by asking if anyone knows who broke Fingers’ record.
1993 Ken Griffey Jr. belts home run No. 100.
1993 Mike Piazza enjoys the first of 37 multi-homer games.
1994 Jim Thome belts the first of 13 walk-off home runs. He’s the all-time leader in walk-off home runs.
1994 Ken Griffey Jr. passes Alvin Davis as the all-time Mariners home run leader when he conks No. 161 for Seattle.
1994 Ismael Valdez makes his big league debt.
1994 Paul Molitor has what WPA believes to be his worst ever game. He’s 1-for-5 with a pair of GIDP for a –0.385 WPA. Cleveland tops Molitor’s Blue Jays, 4-3.
1995 Oops. An official at Busch Stadium jumps the gun and lets off celebratory fireworks for a Ray Lankford home run, but it’s only a double.
1996 According to WPA, it’s the best relief performance of the decade: Kansas City’s Mike Magnate tosses 5.1 innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit and no walks for a WPA of 0.930 WPA. That’s from the 11th to 16th innings. It’s also the best relief stint in Royals history.
1996 Cleveland signs free agent pitcher Greg Swindell.
1997 Joe Carter gets his 2,000th hit.
1999 Will Clark gets career hit No. 2,000.
1999 Florida trades Craig Counsell to the Dodgers.
1999 The longest hitting streak of Frank Thomas’ career peaks at 21 games. His AVG/OBP/SLG line is .402/.463/.610.
1999 The Mets win, pushing Bobby Valentine’s career managerial record over .500 (803-802). It’s been over .500 ever since.
2002 Rafael Palmeiro bashes his 1,000th career extra-base hit. He’s the 24th member of this somewhat obscure club.
2002 Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens have their rematch from the World Series, but Mets pitcher Sean Estes steals the show. Estes doesn’t plunk Clemens but instead hits a home run against him.
2004 Barry Larkin gets the last of his 10 career walk-off hits. It’s a single in the bottom of the 11th for a 5-4 Reds triumph over the Rangers.
2006 Chad Billingsley makes his major league debut.
2007 When Julio Franco steps to the plate to face Roger Clemens, it’s the oldest pitcher-batter showdown in decades. They are a combined 93 years and 246 days old. It’s the oldest matchup since Oct. 1, 1933, when long-retired coach Nick Altrock made a token appearance versus Rube Walberg. The Franco-Clemens matchup is the oldest between two actual players.
2007 Sammy Sosa’s 599th home run is his ninth and final career grand slam.
2010 The Mets release center fielder Gary Matthews Jr.
2011 Ted Gray, Tigers pitcher who represented the team on the 1950 All-Star squad, dies at age 86.
2012 It’s one of the biggest blowouts you’ll see in an extra-inning game as the Rockies explode for eight runs in the top of the 10th against Detroit for a 12-4 win. Jason Giambi grounds into three double playsfor the victorious Rockies, all by the fifth inning.
2012 Toronto starting pitcher Drew Hutchison has to leave the game after retiring just two batters, but the team gets the shutout anyway behind an inspired bullpen performance. Carlos Villanueva anchored the effort with four scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over the Phillies.
2012 Oakland releases what’s left of Manny Ramirez.