Forty years ago today must have been during the height of the game’s annual winter meetings. That is the only way to explain the three impressive trades that sent big name players in both directions. It’s rare for one day to feature such a collection of All-Stars and Hall of Famers swapping teams, but that’s what happened. All six teams involved in the trades received a past or future star in the deals.
It’s arguably the most impressive day for trades in baseball history. Probably not. At in-season trade deadlines there are many that can probably top it. That said, it’s mighty dang hard to think of any day of offseason trades that tops Nov. 29, 1971.
Let’s go through them one by one, starting with the least impressive of them.
Both teams got a valuable player out of it. Monday was famous for being the first player selected in the first round of the first ever amateur draft when the A’s selected him in 1965. He was a good player and had already made an All-Star team, but he was expendable for the A’s. Monday was a center fielder and the club also had Joe Rudi. The A’s decided they needed pitching more, and Ken Holtzman filled that need.
Holtzman had been a rotation mainstay for the Cubs, but they were unimpressed with his 80-81 record. The A’s saw his potential and he won 18 or more games for Oakland every year from 1972-75. The Cubs didn’t think Holtzman could win the big one, but he helped Oakland’s Mustache Gang win three straight titles.
Monday was a valuable player for the Cubs. They kept him for five years before he went to the Dodgers, where he played until 1984. Holtzman had the more impressive post-trade prime, but Monday lasted longer. Holtzman blew his arm out in the mid-1970s and never recovered.
Now for the second big trade.
This is a classic challenge trade—our dependable starting pitcher for your dependable starting pitcher. Actually, clearly McDowell was the prize pony in this deal, since San Francisco had to send Duffy to even it out.
This turned out to be an epically bad trade for the Giants. Essentially they traded for past performance while the Indians traded for future performance.
It’s easy to see why San Francisco wanted McDowell. He’d been a star pitcher for years, earning All-Star Game selections in each of the previous four years, and in six of the last seven. He’d led the league in ERA once and, more impressively, in strikeouts five of the past six years. In 1970, McDowell fanned 304 guys in 305 innings. He looked unstoppable.
Yeah, but he’d put a lot of mileage on that arm. He threw a bunch of innings, fanned a bunch of guys, and walked a ton. Equally, those five K titles were five times McDowell led the league in walks allowed.
And 1971 showed McDowell slowing up. He went on the DL late in the summer, and ended the year with an ERA of a half-run higher, and a rotten 13-17 win-loss record. There’s a reason Cleveland was willing to unload him.
Gaylord Perry? Well, he was dependable for sure, but less exciting that McDowell. Technically, Perry had the better record—134-109 vs. 122-109—but he had a better team.
Perry had a strange problem with the Giants: The team forgot to hit when he started. I looked it up years ago. From the time Perry joined the rotation in 1964 until he left the Giants, the team provided him with park-adjusted run support that was a bit below average. That was strange, because the same hitters in the same time provided teammate Juan Marichal with terrific run support. From 1964-72, Marichal’s run support was 20 percent better than league average.
So Perry looked fungible. Just to make sure they got McDowell, the Giants tossed in Duffy.
Terrible trade. McDowell immediately fell apart. He went 11-10 in a season and a half for San Francisco. That’s it.
Perry, meanwhile, won the Cy Young Award in 1972 by going 24-16 for a last place Indians club. Turns out he had 180 wins left in his arm after this trade.
Fun fact: Cleveland didn’t need Perry to make this trade a win. Duffy was a solid starting third baseman for the Indians for six years, far more than McDowell gave the Giants.
But that wasn’t the biggest trade of the day, or even the most one-sided one.
Baseball research Mark Armour has studied this trade, and much of what I say cribs from a presentation he gave on it at this year’s SABR Conference.
This trade was a complete disaster for Houston, and one it easily could have prevented.
Houston’s regular first baseman in 1971, Menke, hit exactly one home run, and the team wanted more power. Houston already had alternatives in its system: Bob Watson and John Mayberry. But the Astros didn’t realize their own options. Instead, they grabbed Lee May.
Cincinnati had its own agenda. The Reds wanted more speed, and recognized that Morgan was a terrifically undervalued player. And he surely did blossom with the Reds. A two-time All-Star with Houston became a two-time MVP with the Reds with a historically great peak. He hit for power, and average, stole bases, drew walks, and played stellar defense.
And the trade was so one-sided that the Reds didn’t even need Morgan to come out ahead. Geronimo became a Gold Glove center fielder, serving as a regular in the starting lineup for Cincinnati through 1980. Billingham became a workhorse starter, winning 87 games for the Reds (albeit with an ERA+ of 91 with the team). He was often the pitcher of record when the hitters won the game. Menke had two serviceable seasons and Armbrister was a good bench player for the Reds.
May did deliver some good power in his three years with Houston, and Helms was a prototypical good-field, no-hit second baseman. Stewart struggled around the Mendoza Line for two years as a backup with the Astros
Sure Houston got some value out of it, but it sure got smoked on this trade.
In all, Nov. 29, 1971 was a historic day for trades.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold for those who’d just like to skim.
2,000 days since Scott Erickson appears in his last big league game.
4,000 days since Miami city officials and the Marlins announce plans for a new retractable roof stadium in downtown Miami for the club.
8,000 days since retired pitcher Dave Dravecky finds out he’ll need another operation on his pitching arm to remove a tumor.
9,000 days since Dodger executive Al Campanis resigns for statements made on “Nightline” indicating that he didn’t think blacks had the mental capacities to manage a big league club.
9,000 days since B.J. Surhoff makes his big league debut.
1925 Minnie Minoso is born. Traditionally, people thought Minoso was born in 1922, but in his autobiography Minoso states that he was actually born in 1925 and for various reasons lied about his age when scouts first discovered him. (I know—it’s weird that a player lies to claim he is older, but that’s what Minoso says he did.)
1926 The Indians announce that star player and team manager Tris Speaker has resigned.
1927 Vin Scully, wonder of the world, is born.
1939 Dick McAuliffe is born.
1941 Bill Freehan, great Tigers catcher who arguably belongs in Cooperstown, is born.
1957 Now that the Giants and Dodgers are headed to the West Coast, New York City’s Mayor Robert Wagner sets up a committee to attract an existing major league team to the town. One of the men on the committee is Bill Shea—a name that will have a lasting legacy in New York City baseball.
1958 The Boston Red Sox sign amateur free agent Carl Yastrzemski.
1960 Howard Johnson, slugging infielder, is born.
1962 After 61 years as a minor league, the American Association folds. Some of its clubs join the International League.
1962 The Cubs draft second baseman Glenn Beckert from the Red Sox.
1962 Baseball owners vote to return to just one All-Star Game per season. They’d had two per year for the last several seasons.
1965 In the Rule 5 draft, St. Louis loses three good players and snags a future manager. The Angels take Willie Montanez, Houston lands Nate Colbert, and Baltimore claims Moe Drabowsky, all of whom had been in the St. Louis system. Drabowsky’s best days are well behind him, but the others have promising careers in the future. St. Louis, for its part, claims Jimy Williams from Boston.
1965 The Angels sign veteran hurler Lew Burdette.
1966 The Mets draft Amos Otis from Boston in the minor league draft.
1966 The Yankees trade Clete Boyer to the Braves.
1967 Luis Aparicio returns to the South Side of Chicago. In a six-player trade with Baltimore, the Orioles get Don Buford, Bruce Howard and Roger Nelson while the Sox reclaim Aparicio and also get John Matias and Russ Snyder.
1967 The Angels make a pair of trades. In one, they send two prospects to Cincinnati for pitcher Sammy Ellis. In the other, they send Jose Cardenal to Cleveland for Chuck Hinton. The former trade is a big nothing and the latter a big mistake. Neither prospect pans out for Cincinnati while Ellis, a 22-game winner in 1965, is done. Cardenal, however, has a decade left as an effective player, far more than Hinton.
1969 Uber-closer Mariano Rivera is born.
1976 The Yankees make one of their most famous free agent signings, landing Reggie Jackson.
1977 The Padres sign free agent Oscar Gamble, who just had a terrific season with the White Sox.
1978 Baltimore signs free agent pitcher Steve Stone. While there, Stone will win the 1980 Cy Young Award, as he decides to just keep throwing screwballs until his arm falls off (and it falls off in 1981).
1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn officially weighs in on Billy Martin’s latest transgression. In response to Martin’s barroom fight with a marshmallow salesman a month ago, Kuhn lets Martin off with a warning.
1990 A consortium led by Claude Brochu buys the Expos for $85 million to keep them in Montreal.
1992 The New York Times quotes Marge Schott as saying she doesn’t know why people think saying “Jap” is offensive, that saying “niggers” is just a joke, and that she believes Hitler was good for Germany in the early years.
1995 The Baltimore Orioles hire Pat Gillick as their GM.
2003 Arizona signs free agent Jesse Orosco.
2005 The Cubs sign relief pitcher free agent Scott Eyre.
2005 The Mets sign relief ace free agent Billy Wagner.
2005 The A’s sign starting pitcher free agent Esteban Loaiza.
2005 Toronto signs free agent closer B.J. Ryan.
2005 Vic Power, terrific fielding first baseman, dies.
2006 Milwaukee signs free agent Craig Counsell.
2007 The Tampa Bay Rays signs free agent Troy Percival.