November 28, 2012
The Lineup Card
9 Off-Season Moves That Excited Us Most as Kids
1. Pirates Acquire RHP George "Doc" Medich at the 1975 Winter Meetings
Medich had an outstanding rookie season with New York in 1973 when he went 14-9 with a 2.95 ERA in 34 games, 32 of which were starts. In 1974, he won 19 games—remember, wins were the accepted measurement of a pitcher's effectiveness back in the unenlightened era—and pitched 279 2/3 innings. He slipped to 16-16 in 1975, but the Pirates were sure the 27-year-old was just coming into his prime and ready to help front their rotation. Sadly, it didn't work out; he was 8-11 with a 3.52 ERA in 1976, then dealt to the Oakland Athletics in spring training the following year as part of a 12-player trade in which the Pirates gave up an outfielder of considerable promise named Tony Armas and got back Phil Garner. The most notable moment of Medich's career with the Pirates came on Opening Day at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, when he jumped into the stands and saved the life of a man having a heart attack. That was certainly more important than anything he ever did on the field during an 11-year career that was spent with seven teams. However, from a baseball standpoint—and an 11-year-old kid standpoint—he was a big-time disappointment. —John Perrotto
2. Indians Sign "Black" Jack McDowell Prior to the 1996 Season
I remember that when it was all done, the deal was seen as a bust. McDowell went 13-9 in 2006 with a 5.11 ERA. In retrospect, his peripherals weren't horrible (4.30 FIP), but they were not Cy Young-worthy, either. In 1997, McDowell got hurt, demoted to the bullpen, and never really surfaced again. By 1999, he was out of baseball. It was a lesson in the realities of pitching. As a Cleveland fan and a teenager, I believed in the magic of "knowing how to win" because of those 20-win seasons. I didn't appreciate that a pitcher is a risky signing no matter what, because they get hurt... just because they are pitchers. I was in high school at the time, which is when you discover that life doesn't work in magical ways, no matter how much you want it to. Jack McDowell was just one of those lessons on how baseball will break your heart. —Russell A. Carleton
3. Yankees Trade Jeff Weaver to the Dodgers
However, what left the worst taste in my mouth was his World Series performance. Though Weaver hadn't pitched in 11 days, manager Joe Torre brought in the northpaw during a tied game. After emerging from one inning unscathed, Torre pressed his luck and sent Weaver out for a second inning of work. He promptly gave up a game-winning walk-off home run.
I hoped and prayed that the Yankees would trade Weaver over the offseason, regardless of the return. My wish was granted. In December 2003, the Yankees traded Weaver, Brandon Weeden, Yhency Brazoban, and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Kevin Brown. As it turns out, I owe my thanks to my colleague, Dan Evans, who was the general manager of the Dodgers at the time. Brown proved to be incredibly fragile and a hot head who broke his non-pitching hand punching a clubhouse wall during a September loss to the Orioles, but his inability to stay healthy primed me for the American Idle era. And credit where credit is due: Weaver notched 220 innings and allowed 219 hits, good for a 3.79 FIP and 3.6 WARP, for the 2004 Dodgers. But I salute you, Dan, for ending Jeff Weaver's Yankees tenure. —Stephani Bee
4. Andre Dawson's Blank Check
But the 1986-87 offseason, was the year of collusion. And that, coupled with the Tribune Company’s unwillingness to increase their payroll (read: participation in the conspiracy), Dawson remained unsigned. Despite his near-frantic pleading.
As a 10-year-old, I didn’t understand the dollars and cents; I just thought that Cubs general manager Dallas Green was a fool. Who could possibly think the slugging Dawson, a force at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the outfield was worse than presumed starter Brian Dayett? How could Green, who in three years had done what no Cubs GM had in nearly four decades—put a team in the playoffs—be so wrong?
Dawson was unsigned in March 1987. But rather than biting the bullet and returning to Montreal while sitting out until May, like teammate Tim Raines was doing, Dawson pressed the Cubs. The outfielder and his agent, Dick Moss, showed up in Cubs spring training offering a blank check to Cubs ownership. “Name you’re price, we’ll sign” was the message.
So the Cubs gave Dawson $500,000. Dawson hit 49 homers and won the MVP that year on a typical Cubs team that faded in the final two months. But here was Dawson, a star who wanted to play for my team.
I’m not really a Cubs fan anymore. I don’t have an allegiance. I love good stories and am lucky enough to talk to many current and former ballplayers as part of my job. I always get nervous when I talk to, or meet, Andre Dawson. He was my favorite player growing up. Still is, actually, because despite the fact everyone tried to stonewall him, he got what he wanted in the end. He chose my team, more than they chose him. And I loved every minute of it. —Mike Ferrin
5. Red Sox Sign Manny Ramirez Prior to the 2001 Season
Over seven-and-a-half seasons in Boston, Ramirez hit .312/.411/.588, remarkably similar to his numbers in Cleveland. In the early part of his career as a Red Sox, he became symptomatic of what was wrong with the Dan Duquette administration. Later, he was a vital cog in two Boston world championships. Ramirez’s time with Boston certainly had its turbulence, but the end result of seven All-Star appearances, seven top-10 MVP finishes, and the aforementioned two World Series wins make it difficult to argue the contract didn’t return value. Many times—more than we’d probably like to imagine—the excitement generated by big free-agent signings goes unrequited. In this instance, the Red Sox got more than they paid for, and those of us who cheered the signing didn’t do so in vain. —Matthew Kory
6. Giants Sign Moises Alou Prior to the 2005 Season
I didn't care that Alou was 38 years old. He was a marquee player coming off a year in which he smacked 39 home runs with 106 RBI. He was a heart-of-the-order bat that would join Barry Bonds in carrying the Giants to the postseason, and, hopefully, a World Series title. Obviously this isn't what transpired, but at the end of December 2004, it was very real in my imagination. —Josh Shepardson
7. Giants Sign Mark Portugal Prior to the 1994 Season
8. Dodgers Sign Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse Prior to the 1980 Season
a) Goltz had won 20 games for the Twins in 1977.
Goltz went 7-11 for the Dodgers. He had a 5.68 ERA at the All-Star break and lost his spot in the rotation. He fared a little better in the second half before getting shelled by the Astros in Game 163, when he got the start over rookie left-hander Fernando Valenzuela. After doing little of consequence the following season, Goltz was released on April 27, 1982.
Stanhouse didn't last as long. He pitched just 25 innings for the Dodgers, most of them terrible. Among other things, he walked 16 while striking out five. He'd walked 51 while striking out 34 a year earlier, so this was nothing new for Stan the Man Unusual.
My view of free-agent signings probably has been warped by the Dodgers' acquisitions of Goltz and Stanhouse. If I haven't gotten over them after 33 years, I doubt I ever will. —Geoff Young
9. Kenny Landreaux
Which leaves Kenny Landreaux. The 1980 Dodgers lost a Game 163 play-in to the Astros (a game started by the bust Goltz instead of the rookie Fernando Valenzuela), and it's not unreasonable to think that they would have gotten over the hump with a better center fielder than Rudy Law, a 23-year-old burner who stole 40 bases but hit an offense-deadening .260/.306/.302, with virtually all of his plate appearances coming in the top two spots in the lineup. A change was needed, but it wasn't until the Dodgers acquired Landreaux from the Twins for Mickey Hatcher (a futility infielder favorite) and two other players during spring training in 1981 that they got one.
I knew Landreaux because of his baseball card. I could even, in that primitive era, see that his .281 average, seven home runs, and 62 RBI were superior to Law's numbers (with one homer and 23 RBI), to say nothing of a fu manchu mustache and sideburns that would have done a Civil War general proud. When we heard the news of the trade, my dad asked me for a full report after his pre-dinner nap. I went to my room, pulled out my Who's Who in Baseball 1981, wrote out his basic stats on a notepad as well as whatever I could find via my my stack of Sports Illustrateds (including this feature): the centerpiece of a trade for Rod Carew in 1979, he had put together a 31-game hitting streak the following year en route to an All-Star appearance. I wasn't actually writing paragraphs, and the World Wide Web hadn't been invented yet, but in a way, it was my first blog entry.
For all of my excitement, Landreaux rarely lived up to his promise as a Dodger, as he developed cocaine problems and retained his job more due to organizational inertia than anything else. But even in the strike-torn 1981 season, when he slumped to .251/.297/.367, he did haul in Bob Watson's fly ball to seal the Dodgers' first world championship of my lifetime—ample reward for my excitement. —Jay Jaffe