At some point later on today the Hall of Fame elections will be announced. The Baseball Twitter-verse will explode and everyone will have a thousand opinions about it, including your pal Sully.
Randy Johnson and my personal favorite player of all time, Pedro Martinez, are all but certain to be elected. The odds are in favor that John Smoltz will get in. And while he is a long shot right now, Jeff Bagwell is on the ballot and has many many supporters.
If any of those players get elected, writers will talk about their great accomplishments on the field, the love of their fanbase and also the trades that backfired on their original organizations.
Each one of those candidates were dealt as young players. Two were minor leaguers playing in the organization of their home town teams.
All four were shipped off and each of the deals were maligned as teams surrendered future Hall of Fame candidates in their prime.
But while it is clear that the Mariners, Braves, Expos and Astros all made great moves, four other names will inevitably be dragged into the mud.
“Bet the Expos regretted trading Randy Johnson for Mark Langston!”
“The Dodgers could have had Pedro Martinez in his prime but they sent him away for Delino DeShields!”
“Think the Tigers want a do over in the John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander swap?”
“What were the Red Sox thinking trading Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen?”
All fair questions. But as those four deals will be trashed, we here at Sully Baseball do not want the names of four quality major leaguers to be dragged through the mud. There was a rationale for each of those deals when they were made and all four of the players had careers to admire and not belittle.
So let’s salute all four and make a case for each deal.
1987 – Detroit Tigers trade minor league pitcher John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander
This deal is talked about as one of the all time bad deals. And yet when it happened, it looked like the Tigers were brilliant for dealing John Smoltz.
Doyle Alexander was a steady if not spectacular starting pitcher. A product of the Dodgers system, he was dealt to the Orioles in a trade involving Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. In fact the names of the players involved in Doyle Alexander trades over the years are eye catching. Besides Smoltz and Robinson, he was included in trades involving Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, John Montefusco and Duane Ward.
He had appeared in the playoffs with Baltimore and in the 1976 World Series with the Yankees. By age 34, Alexander finished 6th in the Cy Young vote for a 1985 Blue Jays squad that came within a swing of the World Series.
A 200 inning a year work horse, he was sent packing to the Tigers on August 12, 1987 as minor leaguer Smoltz, a Michigan native, went to Atlanta. The Tigers were 1 1/2 games behind Toronto at the time of the deal. Alexander made 11 starts for Detroit, going 9-0 with an ERA of 1.53. He threw three complete game shutouts down the stretch.
On September 27th in Toronto, the Tigers trailed the Blue Jays by 3 1/2 games with 7 to play. A loss would all but seal the Tigers’ fate. Alexander let up a run in the first. The Tigers would tie the game on a Kirk Gibson homer in the top of the 9th and Alexander pitched the bottom of the 9th, 10th and recorded two outs in the 11th before finally yielding to the bullpen. While he did not get a decision, Detroit won in 13.
A week later the Tigers faced the Blue Jays again. A Toronto win would have clinched a tie for the Division Title. Alexander won with 7 strong innings. Two days later, the Tigers clinched the Division. Alexander’s good fortune would end in the playoffs as he lost both of his starts to the Twins in the 1987 ALCS.
In 1988, Alexander was named to his first All Star Team but the Tigers failed to repeat as Division Champs, falling a game shy to Boston. In 1989, he recorded 223 innings in his final season. Smoltz was named to his first All Star Game in 1989 and before long he became the workhorse of the Braves great run.
But the Tigers would not have made the post season without Doyle Alexander in 1987. Smoltz was a steep price, I grant you. But criticizing it is all in hindsight. Alexander was a fine pitcher with a good career.
1989 – Montreal Expos deal a package including Randy Johnson for Mark Langston
People forget how good Mark Langston was. When Roger Clemens won the 1986 Cy Young Award and MVP, he did NOT lead the league in strikeouts. That honor belonged to Langston. He lead the league in strikeouts in 3 of his first four seasons, including 1984, his rookie year.
He looked like a 250 inning ace with an inconsistent Mariners team. He had some down seasons, especially 1985, but his stuff was electric and expensive. The Mariners knew, despite fielding some young talent like a rookie outfielder named Griffey, that keeping Langston in the Pacific Northwest after the 1989 season was a long shot. The free agent to be was the single most coveted trade chip on the market.
The Mets looked like the clear front runner, with players like Howard Johnson and Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani available for the right deal. But outgoing Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman wanted to make a splash with his luckless team. The rotation featured talented arms like Dennis Martinez, Bryn Smith and Pascual Perez. But on May 25th, the team was at an even .500.
He went for broke and sent a package involving Gene Harris, Brian Holman and the talented but wild Randy Johnson to Seattle. The Mets would ultimately acquire Frank Viola instead of Langston.
The arrival of Mark Langston to Montreal signaled to their fans that they were pushing their chips to the center of the table. And at first, it looked like a brilliant move.
He made his Expos debut on May 28th and beat the Padres with an 8 innings, 1 earned run and 12 strikeout performance. He pitched well in June and July, tossing a complete game shutout against the Cardinals on June 13 and posting a 5-1 record in July. Montreal would surge into first place, taking a 3 1/2 game lead on July 25th on the strength of another Langston shutout.
They remained in first place by themselves as late as August 4th. But a 7 game losing streak in August derailed the team. Their record after August 2nd was 18-37, the worst in baseball after that date. The Cubs would win the Division and the Expos would finish the season at .500, the same percentage as before Langston’s arrival. He left Montreal and signed with the Angels where he continued his fine career.
Meanwhile Gene Harris had a few decent years as a journeyman reliever and Brian Holman was an inconsistent starter for Seattle over 2 and a half seasons. And Johnson harnessed his stuff to become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
When the Mariners finally won the AL West title in 1995, they did so in a one game playoff against the Angels. The winning pitcher was Johnson. Langston was the loser.
The Expos took a chance with Langston. It didn’t work out. But it looked smart at the time.
1990 – Boston Red Sox deal Jeff Bagwell for reliever Larry Andersen
OK, this one is rough. And as your pal Sully is a Red Sox fan, it is going to be a little bit of a challenge to defend it. But here I go.
Larry Andersen had a long and solid career as a reliever. After bouncing around the Cleveland and Pittsburgh systems throughout 1970s, he finally broke through with the 1981 Seattle Mariners. He was a part of the Phillies bullpen when they won the 1983 pennant and pitched in the thrilling 1986 NLCS for Houston.
In 1990, the Red Sox were aiming for a Division Title and possible ALCS rematch with the A’s. They looked like they were finally getting some breathing room against Toronto with an 8 game winning streak that padded their Division lead to 6 1/2 games. Roger Clemens was having one of his best seasons ever and Mike Boddicker was a reliable number 2 starter.
But the rest of the rotation consisted of overachievers like Dana Kiecker and Tom Bolton. And the bullpen was hardly deep. Closer Jeff Reardon was the only reliever to finish the season with an ERA under 4.00. If Boston would have any hope to hold off Toronto for the Division and beat Oakland for the pennant, they would need pitching depth.
Andersen came over from Houston on the last day of August and pitched well in September. In his 15 games and 22 innings pitched, would strikeout 25 while walking only 3. He posted a 1.23 ERA, earning a save against the Yankees on September 21st. Andersen would not allow a run in his first 11 appearancesfor the Red Sox. As it turned out, they needed every bit of help in the pen. Boston finished the season 13-17, but winning the Division on the final day of the season.
They got clobbered in the ALCS. Andersen lost a game in relief as Oakland swept the Red Sox in 4. He would leave Boston and sign with San Diego.
Acquiring the bullpen depth for the stretch run did not cost Boston a single player on the major league roster. And native New Englander Jeff Bagwell looked expendable. He was a fine hitting prospect, but farm hands Tim Naehring, Mo Vaughn, Scott Cooper and Phil Plantier all looked more promising. Besides, Bagwell was a skinny kid without a lot of home run power.
Transformed in Houston he became the Rookie of the Year in 1991 and NL MVP in 1994. The idea of giving up a native New England 1-2 punch of Bagwell and 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn tortured Red Sox fans.
Anderson pitched for four more seasons and earned a save in the 1993 NLCS for the Phillies. He finished his career during the 1994 strike, logging 14 plus seasons in the majors.
Andersen is now an announcer with a great set of pipes. It is safe to say he is not one of the most beloved former Red Sox of all time. Hopefully 3 recent World Series titles will heal that wound.
1993 – Dodgers deal Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields
Man, you thought defending Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen was tough? How about dealing away a pitcher about enter one of the all time primes in baseball history?
The great Dodger tradition of dominant aces wearing blue from Don Newcombe to Sandy Koufax to Don Drysdale to Don Sutton to Fernando Valenzuela to Orel Hershiser all the way to Clayton Kershaw could have included Pedro Martinez as well. They already had Ramon Martinez, who looked like an ace and pitched for the 1988 World Championship team (although did not play in the post season.)
In 1993, the Dodgers were smarting from the failed Darryl Strawberry signing. But manager Tommy Lasorda turned his Godson Mike Piazza into the Rookie of the Year. Eric Karros was another young star slugger and young players like Raul Mondesi and Todd Holandsworth were on their way. With Ramon Martinez and Pedro Astacio in the rotation with the veteran Hershiser, the Dodgers looked ready to contend again. But they needed a table setter more reliable than Jose Offerman.
Ramon’s 21 year old brother Pedro Martinez pitched well for the Dodgers out of the bullpen, striking out 119 batters in 107 innings posting a 10-5 record and 2.61 ERA. But his slender build made the Dodgers nervous. What were his long term prospects? He was an arm injury waiting to happen.
Montreal had a 24 year old speedster named Delino DeShields. He was the Rookie of the Year runner up to David Justice in 1990 and got some MVP points in 1992. He was a consistent .290 hitter who was good for 40 or 50 stolen bases a year. So they flipped the inevitable injury plagued years of Pedro Martinez’s career for the young DeShields who would be driven home by Piazza and Karros for years to come.
Or maybe not.
The stolen bases kept coming but the average plummeted when DeShields arrived in Los Angeles. He was part of back to back trips to the post season but by 1996, he was riding the bench in the Division Series.
He left LA for St. Louis where he led the league in triples and regained his stroke in 1997. But by then Pedro was putting up historic numbers. Martinez won the Cy Young Award for Montreal in 1997. Then he moved to Boston, won another pair and could have won even more.
DeShields played his final games as a part time player for the 2002 Cubs. Pedro would be the Cy Young runner up that season. Two years later the Red Sox would break the curse.
Delino DeShields was clearly no Pedro Martinez. But he did play in the major leagues for 13 seasons and some of those years he was a very good player.Only 47 players in history stole more bases than he did. His son, Delino Jr. was drafted 8th over all by the Astros in the 2010 draft.
Junior was picked off the Astros roster by the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft this winter. Who knows? Maybe he will have a great career and the Astros will regret losing Junior.
His dad was quite a player. He was no Pedro, but who is?
Salute Delino DeShields along with Doyle Alexander, Mark Langston and Larry Andersen. They all played long and admirable careers. No shame in that.