THROWBACK: 1980 WINTER MEETINGS

Photo: Tom Gannam/AP

Photo: Tom Gannam/AP

As the Winter Meetings prepare to kick off in San Diego, fans of every team (except the Giants) are looking for a big move that will make 2015 better than this past season. If “hope” Springs eternal, then dreams of grandeur are the theme of the Hot Stove season’s signature event, deep in the heart of Winter.

Whatever transpires this year, it will be hard to top the wheeling-and-dealing that went down in Dallas at the 1980 Winter Meetings.

The Philadelphia Phillies had won the previous October’s World Series, after a famously lengthy title drought, and the GMs and owners of other clubs were looking to unseat them starting the very next spring. Whitey Herzog was the new GM of the St. Louis Cardinals and he got right to work. From December 8th to December 12th, Herzog pulled the trigger on three trades involving big names amongst an army of players:

December 8, 1980

PADRES GET: C Terry Kennedy, John Littlefield, Al Olmstead, Mike Phillips, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher, John Urrea
CARDINALS GET: Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, Bob Shirley, PTBNL (Bob Geren)

December 9, 1980

CUBS GET: Leon Durham, Ken Reitz, PTBNL (Ty Waller)
CARDINALS GET: Bruce Sutter.

(Uh-oh, the Cards now have two off-the-charts elite closers. What will Whitey do now?)

December 12, 1980

BREWERS GET: Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich
CARDINALS GET: David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorenson

Ok, good. Now St. Louis has only one Hall-of-Fame-caliber closer.

If we see just one of these types of trades out of San Diego in the coming days, the baseball world will be abuzz. In 1980, if there was an internet for the masses like there is today, this would have broken it.

Did these deals have the impact that the trade partners were hoping for? You bet. World Series clubs in the near future were shaped out of these moves. But the championship team building continued beyond the big names listed above. Some of the minor names were later included in deals that brought more big names into the fold. Here are the principals on three World Series teams over the next four years:

1982 CARDINALS

  • Tenace  C – 66 G, 165 PA, .258/.436/.500
  • Jeff Lahti RHRP (Acquired for Shirley 4/1/82) – 33 G (1 GS), 5-4, 3.81 ERA, 1.306 WHIP
  • Green CF – 76 G, 178 PA, .283/.315/.373
  • LaPoint LHP – 42 G (21 GS), 9-3, 3.42 ERA, 1.454 WHIP, 107 ERA+
  • Lonnie Smith (Acquired in 3-team trade for Sorensen 11/20/81) – 156 G, 672 PA, .307/.381/.434, 120 Runs Scored
  • Ozzie Smith (Acquired for Lezcano, Olmsted 12/10/81 and 2/19/82) – 140 G, 567 PA, .248/.339/.314, did ok with the glove at shortstop
  • Sutter RHRP – 70 G, 36 Saves, 2.90 ERA, 1.192 WHIP

1982 Brewers

  • Fingers RHRP – 50 G, 29 SV, 1.042 WHIP, 147 ERA+, 2.3 BB/9, 8.0 K/9
  • Simmons C – 137 G, 581 PA, .269/.309/.451, 23 HR, 97 RBI, 73 Runs Scored
  • Vuckovich RHP – AL Cy Young Award winner, 18-6, 223 2/3 IP, 3.34 ERA

1984 Padres

  • Kennedy C – 148 G, 570 PA, .240/.284/.353, 14 HR, 57 RBI
  • Garry Templeton SS (Acquired with Lezcano for Ozzie Smith and Steve Mura 12/10/81) – 148 G, .258/.312/.320

As you can see, the 1982 Cardinals had Tenace, Green and LaPoint on the World Series championship roster, all three acquired in the two blockbuster trades from the 1980 Winter Meetings involving Fingers. But each of these players were hardly the stars of that championship club.

Herzog’s Cardinals got major contributions from Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith, both of whom came over in trades involving other players acquired in these landmark deals. Was Lonnie Smith brought over, straight up, for Lary Sorensen? Of course not. And The Wizard wasn’t a one-for-one with Sixto Lezcano either. But capital is used to obtain more capital, in this game and elsewhere, and the ’82 World Series club in St. Louis was built with the help of some moves that paid off in the extreme.

When Herzog included Lezcano in the Fingers/Simmons/Vuckovich deal, he obviously didn’t foresee that he was obtaining a piece that he would use to acquire Ozzie Smith. Garry Templeton went to San Diego along with Lezcano and that’s why it made sense at the time. Lezcano was a throw-in. Who knows what evaluation, if any, he had on Lezcano in the first trade, but Herzog certainly wasn’t thinking “bargaining chip for Hall-Of-Fame- Shortstop.” Lezcano was just a useable part in both deals.

The old saying about never being able to evaluate trades until years later is borne out in this wild elite-talent swap of the 1980 Winter Meetings. Sure, Fingers and Sutter and Vuckovich, et al, were major players for their ultimate destinations. But who could have foreseen the future acquisitions of the two Smiths, Ozzie and Lonnie, who would have such an impact on that 1982 championship club in St. Louis? Acquired for the likes of Lezcano and Sorenson.

The big deals in December don’t always play out this way, but the 1982 World Series featured the Cardinals and Brewers facing each other, and that is the stuff of Winter Meetings dreams.

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