40th anniversary: Montreal trades Le Gran Orange

40 years ago, baseball witnessed one of more memorable trades. It’s a trade that involved several notable players and arguably wasn’t a very good move for either team.

On April 5, 1972, the Mets went all-out to land the man they wanted, Montreal’s Rusty Staub. He was clearly the best player in Montreal. He was its All-Star in each of the Expos’ three years of existence. He hit about .300 with power while playing every day. There’s a reason why the Mets wanted him.

But boy, did the Mets pay to get him. They sent Montreal three young’uns with promising futures in front of them: Shortstop Tim Foli, first baseman Mike Jorgensen, and corner outfielder Ken Singleton.

This is one of those rare cases in which all three young players lived up to their promise. That trio played in 41 seasons after the trade in nearly 5,000 games. Yeah, that’s a lot. Though Staub had a lengthy career in front of him, he couldn’t match that single-handed.

How often are all four players involved in one trade still playing major league ball a dozen years later? Ken Singleton became the first person from this deal to retire when he hung them up in 1984.

So Montreal gained more on-field talent than they gave up. That said, many fans were unhappy with the trade.

There are occasions when off-the-field stuff matters. It doesn’t happen too often, but when t does it can be especially important. Rusty Staub time in Montreal was one of those when the off-the-field issues should be taken into account.

Staub wasn’t merely a fine player for Montreal, he was as effective a goodwill ambassador and public face for the franchise as management could dare dream. Upon arriving in Montreal, he embraced the city completely.

He learned to speak French. He bought a place near the hockey arena, and became a regular at the Montreal Canadians’ NHL contests. Staub didn’t just say the right things and engage in pleasant photo-ups, he lived it. The fans took Staub to heart, nicknaming the red-head “Le Gran Orange.”

It’s always nice for a team to have such a positive, fan-friendly face for its best player. But it might be especially important for an expansion team. The fans there have no history of following the team. They hadn’t grown up living and dying with each win and loss. You have to get them in the habit of doing that. Lord knows the quality of play wasn’t going to bring fans to the games. The Expos lost 289 games in Staub’s three years, including 110 losses in the first season.

The team did improve in 1972 and onward, but fan support fell a tad. Don’t get me wrong. Trading Rusty Staub didn’t spell doom for the Expos. Their problems didn’t really kick in for another two decades. The 1972 attendance drop really was minor, and probably would’ve happened anyway—even if Staub were still there. After all, fans usually do fall away after several years of substandard play, Staub or no Staub. But the Expos would never again have a player as beloved as Staub.

Also, while Montreal got a lot of talent in return, they didn’t keep the best part very long. Ken Singleton was by far the best player coming to Montreal in return, but he lasted only three years there. Then the team packaged him and Mike Torrez to Baltimore for two nobodies and starting pitcher Dave McNally. In his day McNally had been a 20-game winner, but his arm was about to fall off. Instead, Torrez became a 20-game winner and Singleton became a key contributor to Earl Weaver’s squads.

Jorgensen hung around a bit longer, and Foli the longest. They were both decent players, but nothing that special.

For the Mets, the trade was a clear mess up. Not only did all three guys they sent away go on to have long, productive careers, but they got Staub at the worst time possible. Instead of 25-30 homers with a .300 average, Staub suffered through an injury-plagued year, appearing in just 66 games.

He remained healthy from 1973-75, but was only capable of hitting around .280 with not quite 20 homers in a season. The Mets let him go (though Staub later returned as a free agent in the 1980s).

It was a high price the Mets paid, and looking back they would’ve been better off not making this deal.

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

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Atlanta trades outfielder Jeff Francoeur to the Mets for Ryan Church.

1,000 days since Jonathan Sanchez tosses a no-hitter. Had it not been for an eighth inning error, it would be a perfect game.

2,000 days since the Tigers clinch the pennant when Magglio Ordonez hits a walk-off home run to complete a sweep over the A’s. Oakland wins Game Four of the ALCS, 6-3.

2,000 days since the Cardinals top the Mets 5-0 in Game Three of the 2006 NLCS. The match up is Steve Trachsel versus Jeff Suppan. St. Louis’ Suppan tosses a three-hitter for the win while Trachsel records only three outs.

8,000 days since the Yankees trade Dave Winfield to the Angels for Mike Witt. Initially Winfield, a 10/5 guy, rejects the trade, but five days later he’ll approve it.

8,000 days since young third baseman Robin Ventura ends a nightmarish 0-for-41 streak when he beats out an infield single on a ball hit back to the pitcher.

9,000 days since Mike Schmidt enjoys the last of his 44 multi-home run games.

15,000 days since Raul Mondesi is born.

20,000 days since Dolf Luque, probably the best pitcher in the NL in 1923, dies.

20,000 days since Yogi Berra drives in eight runs in one game, his all-time personal best.

25,000 days since the Dodgers resign Leo Durocher to be their manager for 1944. He gets a special clause in his contract stating that for every 100,000 fans over 600,000 the team draws, he’ll get an additional $5,000.

Also, at some point today it will be 1,000,000,000 seconds since speedy Ron LeFlore steals a base and is then immediately picked off because he was too busy reading the Diamondvision scoreboard, which had a historical item up about how that day was the anniversary of the first stolen base.

Anniversaries

1913 It’s the first game ever at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn when the Dodgers top the Yankees 3-2 in an exhibition match. Casey Stengel beats out an inside the park home run. There is no American flag on hand, though, and at first fans couldn’t get into the bleachers because the team forgot to bring the key that opens the gate to that part of the park.

1925 Babe Ruth collapses at a railroad station in North Carolina. He’ll wind up in a New York City hospital and have to undergo an ulcer operation. He’ll be sidelined in bed until May 26.

1934 The Reds hire a new broadcaster to call their games: Red Barber.

1934 Quaker Oates hires Babe Ruth to do three 15-minute broadcast over a week on NBC. This easy gig will pay him more money on the year than the Yankees will.

1946 The St. Louis Browns release former great Cardinal outfielder Joe Medwick.

1953 Pacific Coast League outfielder Herb Gorman suffers a heart attack during a game and dies on the way to the hospital.

1965 Washington acquires slugger Roy Sievers as a free agent.

1971 Houston debuts new, largely orange, uniforms.

1971 St. Louis returns Cecil Cooper to Boston.

1972 Today is supposed to be Opening Day, but it isn’t due to the first players’ strike of the 20th century.

1974 Fred Snodgrass, outfielder who made a famous error in the 1912 World Series and later became one of the men interviewed for The Glory of Their Times, dies.

1974 Robin Yount, only 18 years old, makes his big league debut.

1974 On Opening Day, Nolan Ryan ties a personal high by walking 10 batters in one game. He has only one other 10 BB game in his career, and that came over 13 IP.

1974 Opening Day at Comiskey Park is marred by numerous streakers, who shed their clothing despite 37 degree weather in Chicago.

1975 The Cardinals release Claude Osteen.

1976 The White Sox release Claude Osteen.

1977 The White Sox make a big trade, sending Bucky Dent to the Yankees in exchange for Oscar Gamble, La Marr Hoyt, $200,000 and a prospect not worth mentioning. Dent will hit one of the most famous homers in Yankee history, while Hoyt will win a Cy Young Award for the White Sox in 1983, and Gamble will lead the Sox to a surprising run at the division title in 1977.

1979 Boston wins their season opener, giving team skipper Don Zimmer a career record of 353-352. He’ll be over .500 for the rest of his managerial career.

1979 Then-young pitcher Jesse Orosco makes his big league debut.

1981 The Pirates trade Dave Dravecky to the Padres.

1983 The Padres top the Giants 16-13 in the highest scoring Opening Day game in decades.

1984 Jose Rijo makes his big league debut.

1985 Lastings Milledge is born.

1988 Baltimore signs free agent Mickey Tettleton.

1989 The longest hitting streak of Barry Larkin’s career peaks at 23 games.

1990 Former minor league umpire Pam Postema files a sex discrimination suit against the AL and NL in federal court.

1993 Bob Welch wins his 200th game. His career record at this moment is 200-129.

1993 The Marlins win their first ever game, topping the Dodgers 6-3. The Rockies also play their inaugural games, but are less fortunate, losing 3-0 to the Mets in Shea Stadium. The Rockies game also marks Don Baylor’s managerial debut. The Marlins retire No. 5 for Carl Barger, the team president who died last December. (They pick five because it was the number for his favorite player, Joe DiMaggio).

1993 Dennis Martinez pitches his 11th consecutive career Quality Start, his all-time high. In that span, he’s 6-2 with a 1.58 ERA over 85.2 IP.

1995 Cleveland signs free agent Dave Winfield.

1995 Montreal trades John Wetteland to the Yankees.

1995 The Royals trade Brian McRae to the Cubs.

1997 Larry Walker belts three homers in one game for Colorado.

1997 Former Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez appears in his final game.

1998 Curt Schilling has one the best strikeout performances of his career, fanning 15 in a five-hit complete game.

1998 Eric Milton makes his big league debut with the Twins.

1999 It’s the best known one-game WPA score by a Dodger batter, as Raul Mondesi gets a 1.055 WPA. He’s 4-for-6 with a walk, two homers, and six RBIs as the Dodgers top the Diamondbacks, 8-6.

1999 The Yankees sign free agent Wily Mo Pena.

2000 Atlanta releases veteran shortstop Ozzie Guillen.

2000 Kazuhiro Sasaki makes his North American major leagues debut.

2001 High profiles prospect Ben Sheets makes his big league debut as a pitcher for the Brewers.

2002 Barry Bonds belts the sixth of his 10 career walk-off home runs.

2003 The Mets win, giving new manager Art Howe a career record 42 games over .500 (995-953), which is his highest water mark.

2003 Greg Maddux has arguably the worst start of his career. His line: 2 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K. His Game Score of eight ties his lowest ever during his Atlanta tenure.

2004 Joe Mauer makes his big league debut as Twins catcher.

2004 Ozzie Guillen manages his first game.

2005 Derek Jeter hits is his first (and still only) regular season walk-off home run. (He also has a walk-off homer in the 2001 World Series.

2006 Ivan Rodriguez has possibly the best game of his career. He enjoys the only 5-for-5 games of his career with three doubles and a homer.

2007 Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his North American debut with the Red Sox.

2008 Walt Masterson, 1940s/50s pitcher, dies at age 87.

2009 The Mets sign free agent Gary Sheffield.

2010 Atlanta’s Jason Heyward hits a three-run homer in his first big league at bat. It comes of Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano in a 16-5 Braves thrashing of the Cubs.

2010 Mark Buehrle makes the most amazing defensive play by a pitcher you’ll ever see. It’s at the end of this video.

2010 Matt Stairs sets a major league record for a position player by appearing in a game with his 12th team when he makes his Padres debut. He previously played with the Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Rangers, Tigers, Blue Jays, and Phillies.

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