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The Greatest Hits of the Bad Trade Band,
1910-2010, Volume VI

In Steve Goldman’s 10-part series on the worst trades in baseball history, every two series entries will cycle through the last 100 years by decade, one trade for each period of 10 years beginning in 1910, then begin again until 50 trades have been accounted for. This is part 6 in this series on lopsided swaps.

By Steven Goldman, February 5, 2018
Pete Rose chats with his former teammate Frank Robinson in 1966.

Frank Robinson wasn’t the first player of color with the Cincinnati Reds, but he was the first regular. In 10 years with the Reds, he hit .303/.389/.554 with 324 home runs. In spite of this, he was not a popular player. Some of that was an arrest on a weapons charge that distorted both ownership’s and the public’s perception of him. Except for 1961, the team was mostly mediocre. During Robinson’s tenure, the Reds won the 1961 pennant and were competitive in a few other seasons (1956, 1962, 1964). Otherwise, they disappointed.

As with Ted Williams, a player with a similarly strong personality on a team that also often failed to live up to fan expectations, Robinson got a disproportionate part of the blame for the team’s failings. He was one of the greatest hitters of all time, but somehow he wasn’t good enough. Owner/General Manager Bill DeWitt had spent years denigrating Robinson in salary negotiations, and there were also leaks to the press (not necessarily from DeWitt, but from someone in the organization) claiming that Robinson and fellow outfielder Vada Pinson had formed a “Negro clique” that was “gnawing at the morale of the club.”

In December 1965, DeWitt dealt Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, justifying the move with an infamous dismissal: Robinson, he said, was “not a young 30. If he was 26 we might not have traded him at all.” In popular memory this has been shorted to “Robinson is an old 30.” “I didn’t know what he meant,” Robinson said, “and I never spoke to the man again.”

Pappas was a very good pitcher, not an ace but consistent at the next level down (he had 46.8 career WAR), placing in his league’s top 10 in ERA eight times in 15 full seasons without ever leading. His Reds years were not his best, Baldschun was a bust in Cincinnati, and Simpson, despite slugging .506 in the minors, proved incapable of forcing his way into a crowded Reds outfield.

In Robinson’s last year with the Reds, they went 89–73. The next year, they dropped to 76–84 as the offense went from far above average to far below. Simultaneously, Robinson was winning the Triple Crown, the AL MVP, and the World Series in Baltimore.

Nolan Ryan Center, Alvin, Texas
Source: Patrick Feller on Flickr (cropped)

December 10, 1971: The New York Mets traded RHP Nolan Ryan, C Frank Estrada, RHP Don Rose, and OF Leroy Stanton to the California Angels for SS/3B Jim Fregosi.

Jim Fregosi, the Angels’ shortstop from 1963 on, had a potent bat for a middle infielder of the period. In the suppressed offensive environment of the time, a season like 1964, in which the then 22-year-old had hit .277/.369/.464 with 18 home runs and 72 walks, which translated to 141 OPS+. However, in 1971 he hit .233/.317/.326 and missed three weeks due to surgery to remove a tumor from his right foot, and the Angels were ready to move on.

Though Fregosi was only 29, 1971 proved to be a harbinger of the rest of his career. Increasingly held back by injuries, he hit .249/.329/.381 after leaving the Angels. By the standards of the pitching-heavy 1970s it was about league average, but even that was a long fall for a player who had made six All-Star teams.

Ryan had been healthy in 1971, but in some senses no more effective. Through his first 15 games of 1971, he had gone 8–5 with a 2.07 ERA. His widely noted control problems had not been conquered; he had walked 5.2 batters per nine, but since no one could actually hit him—opponents had hit .185 with five home runs in 100 innings—he was still effective. At that point, though, he fell apart so completely that it would not have been unreasonable to wonder if his career was in jeopardy. In his 15 remaining games he went 2–9 (the team itself went 2–13) with a 7.62 ERA; he walked 59 in 52 innings, and batters were hitting him to the tune of .278/.451/.373. On the season he was hooked five times before he had cleared three innings. Most emblematic was a July 29 game against the Cardinals in which he walked nine in five innings. On the other hand, he allowed only one run.

Writing up the trade in the New York Times, Joseph Durso said the Mets “finally gave up on Nolan Ryan’s wandering fastball.” Manager Gil Hodges said, “You always hate to give up on an arm like Ryan’s. He could put things together overnight, but he hasn’t done it for us and the Angels wanted him.” “Although he’s a hell of a prospect,” General Manager Bob Scheffing said, “how long can you wait?”

Fregosi spent not quite two seasons with the Mets, hitting .233/.319/.328 in 146 games and was sold to the Texas Rangers.

Source: The Trading Card Database

June 7, 1981: The Houston Astros traded RHP Joaquin Andujar to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF Tony Scott.

Joaquin Andujar was one of the first Dominican pitchers. Juan Marichal, Pedro Borbon, Elias Sosa, and a few others came before him, but as a group, players from that nation were not as established in the Majors as they are now. The Houston Astros organization found him hard to relate to. He had arrived at the tail end of a time in which the Astros had found it difficult to relate to any player who was not a white American (see Cliff Johnson, elsewhere in this series).

In fairness, Andujar was also eccentric and outspoken, and perhaps there were some acculturation issues. On the field, he could be very good, but he was also inconsistent. In his rookie year of 1976, he pitched four shutouts but had an ERA of 4.57 in all his other appearances. The league average was 3.98. Over the next five years, Manager Bill Virdon kept Andujar bouncing between the rotation and the pen. Andujar hated it—he wanted to start—but encouraged the image of himself as odd and unreliable by showering in his uniform and removing himself from a start due to jock itch.

He would say anything; he was like a paranoid Yogi Berra. “No matter who the hitter is, if you throw that sucker right down the middle, they’re going to kill you. That’s why the hitters get mad at me and want to fight me,” Andujar said in a 1985 interview with The Sporting News. “They want the room service right down the middle. They want me to cook for them, take it to their room, open their mouth, put the spoon in their mouth and eat it.”

His most famous bit of philosophizing was, “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, ‘You never know.’” More trenchant was, “You can’t worry if it’s cold, you can’t worry if it’s hot, you only worry if you get sick. Because then if you don’t get well, you die.”

Andujar’s presence on the Astros and his subsequent trade to the Cardinals had the same source, pitching coach Hub Kittle. Kittle managed Andujar in the Dominican Winter League and recommended the Astros acquire him from the Cincinnati Reds, where he had stalled at Double-A. Six years later Kittle became Whitey Herzog’s pitching coach in St. Louis and suggested the Cardinals liberate Andujar from another situation in which he was underappreciated because of surface issues.

Herzog ventured speedy outfielder Tony Scott, one of the few 71st-round draft picks to make the Majors. A good defender, Scott was a poor hitter (.249/.297/.327 career). In 1983, Bill James commented that Scott “plays hard, but not too well.” He was part of the 1981 Astros team that lost to the Dodgers in the Division Series and was a chief reason why—going 3 for 20 in five games.

As for Andujar, he adopted Herzog as a father figure and became, if not an ace, a reliable weapon at the top of the rotation, winning 20 games in both 1984 and 1985. While his 2.74-ERA season in 1982 was his only dominant year, he was nonetheless a key factor in two Cardinals pennants and the 1982 championship, going 3–0 with a 1.80 ERA in three postseason starts.

Give the final word to Andujar: “I say just two things: Work hard, keep your head up, and screw it.”

Curt Schilling only spent one year with the Astros after being swapped by the Orioles for first baseman Glenn Davis. The ace hurler became one of baseball’s top pitchers over a 20-year career. The six-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, and 2001 World Series Most Valuable Player retired in 2009.
Source: The Trading Card Database

January 10, 1991: The Baltimore Orioles traded RHP Curt Schilling, RHP Pete Harnisch, and OF Steve Finley to the Houston Astros for 1B Glenn Davis.

Given Curt Schilling’s postcareer charm offensive, we have to acknowledge the possibility that it wasn’t that the Red Sox (who dealt him to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker), Orioles, and Astros (the latter of whom moved him again 16 months after this trade) had failed to observe that they had a Hall of Fame–level talent on their hands and instead considered him dispensable because he was divisive. No anecdote corroborates this. But as a now-standard and essential piece of wisdom argues, when someone tells you who he is, believe him. Possibly someone did, and it is an equally true and essential piece of baseball wisdom that personal dislike is the one thing that will trump talent.

That’s the one possible exculpatory note for this deal, a low moment in the justly lauded career of General Manager Roland Hemond. The team’s inability to reload after the 1983 World Series victory had led to its collapse at the end of the decade and the December 1988 trade of franchise first baseman Eddie Murray to the Dodgers. Pitching was the team’s biggest problem, not first base. But, nonetheless, in order to get Davis the team gave up Schilling, Harnisch (the team’s 1987 first-round draft pick), and Finley (who had yet to hit in the Majors but had already established himself as a ballhawk in the outfield).

Davis’s career .262/.337/.483 averages as an Astro don’t tell his whole story given the disadvantages the Astrodome posed to a home run hitter. Although a better all-around hitter at home, he averaged only 28 home runs per 600 at-bats in the Astrodome versus 38 on the road. Both are serious power numbers for the 1980s, but the latter was top-of-the-scale good.

What the Orioles couldn’t have known was that Davis, though only 30, was finished. Injuries had restricted him to 93 games in his final year in Houston, would keep him out for all but 49 games in 1991, and that would never change; in three seasons in Baltimore Davis would play only 185 games. After 1993 he’d be restricted to the minors and Japan, never returning to the Majors.

December 16, 2009: The Philadelphia Phillies traded LHP Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for RHP J. C. Ramirez, RHP Phillippe Aumont, and OF Tyson Gillies.

Perhaps the most perverse act of Ruben Amaro Jr.’s general managership was sending Lee to Seattle just months after the Phillies had sent four players to Cleveland (pitcher Carlos Carrasco among them) to acquire him. The defending AL Cy Young Award winner helped pitch the Phillies into the postseason, was impeccable in the postseason (1.21 ERA in five starts), and then was immediately sent away for what was commonly first guessed as little return. It was an inexplicable move by a defending pennant winner, and the subsequent decision to re-sign Lee in December 2010 to a five-year, $120 million contract shed little light on the initial transaction.

Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies as a free agent in 2011.
Darrin on Flickr




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