Bad trades always have some name that become a source of ridicule. “Can you believe that team traded this guy for that guy? That guy stinks!”
Bob Sykes is a name that mainly remembered because he was on the wrong end of a terrible trade. Truthfully, his trade was one of the worst trades of the 1980’s and may have completely changed the course of a pair of franchises.
So let’s give Sykes some credit (he DID make it to the major leagues) and try to figure out how he got mixed up in a bad trade of all time.
The New Jersey native attended Miami-Dade College and was a 19th round pick be the Tigers in the 1974 draft.
Now stop right there. He was a 19th round pick, 440th overall. Those were the garbage picks, used to fill out minor league rosters. Anyone drafted in the 19th round that made it to the majors deserves praise. The 9th overall pick that year, Ron Sorey, didn’t even make it to the majors.
In his big league debut, Sykes came out of the pen on April 9, 1977 and threw 4 1/3 shutout innings. In a season where the Tigers had the return of Mark Fidrych and the emergence of Dave Rozema, Sykes pitched well as a spot starter and long reliever.
Sykes had a few complete game victories during the summer and bounced back to the bullpen.
In 1978, he had a decent 3.94 ERA, completing 3 games and saving 2. After the season, the Tigers sent him packing to St. Louis for Jerry Morales and Aurelio Lopez.
His first year in the National League was not a good one. Sykes started 11 games and made 2 more relief appearances and his ERA soared to 6.18. In 1980, Sykes was 25 years old and finding his way. His ERA lowered to 4.64 and his 3 shutouts was among the league lead. But he walked more than he struck out and found himself back in the bullpen for the 1981 season.
Used almost exclusively as a reliever in the strike interrupted 1981 season to mixed results.
So when the 1981 season ended, he was a 27 year old middle reliever who was mediocre at best.
Naturally the Cardinals flipped him for the player who would win the Rookie of the Year the very next year and eventually win an MVP and a pair of batting titles in St. Louis.
The Yankees sent prospect Willie McGee to the Cardinals for Bob Sykes. As McGee prospered in St. Louis, leading them to three pennants and a World Series title in 1982, Sykes appeared in as many games as I did for the Yankees.
The reason has to do with roster juggling. With the signing of Dave Winfield before the 1981 season, the Yankees had to remove someone from their 40 man roster.
Reggie Jackson, Jerry Mumphrey, Oscar Gamble, Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer were all on the roster. The front office took McGee, still in the minors, off the 40 man roster.
In order to put Willie McGee back on their roster, they would have to put him through waivers and chances are he would be claimed. So the Yankee front office thought “Hey! At least we could get a major leaguer for him.”
So they traded him.
The Yankees, pennant winners in 1977, 1978 and 1981 could not make it back to the World Series for 15 years. The Cardinals, who hadn’t played in October since 1968, became regular participants with McGee playing in every single playoff team from 1982 to 1996.
Yeah, that is a disaster. If the Yankees removed ANYONE else from their 40 man roster, they would have a home grown, fleet foot, Gold Glove winning, multiple batting champ on their team that would have been a fan favorite.
Instead they had Bob Sykes who played zero games in the Bronx.
Nope, impossible to justify.