Remembering the Time Luis Tiant Was Traded for 500 Teddy Bears

Years after his MLB career ended, Luis Tiant was traded for an unforgettable return.
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Baseball’s trade deadline has brought about a flurry of rumors surrounding some of the game’s biggest stars. Pitchers Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner are among the top arms rumored to be on the market. However, those deals will seem relatively normal compared to a transaction 30 years ago involving three-time All-Star and 200-game winner Luis Tiant. He laughs when thinking about the terms of the agreement. 

The Cuban pitcher, known as much for his moustache, cigar-chomping habit and twirling windup as his success on the mound, retired from MLB in 1982. Yet in 1989, he was a part of one of the most obscure trades in baseball history.

That year, Tiant joined the Senior Professional Baseball Association, a short-lived winter league designed to showcase some of the best ballplayers of yesteryear. The Cuban pitcher entered the SPBA thinking he’d pitch for the Winter Haven Super Sox. But at the beginning of the season, Tiant learned he was headed to the Miami-based Gold Coast exchange for 500 teddy bears and the rights to outfielder Ralph Garr.

“It was a great deal for Winter Haven,” Ray Negron, GM of the St. Lucie Legends, said at the time. “They weren’t just teddy bears, you know. They were Ruxpin bears.” (For reference, Ruxpin bears retailed for $69.99 when they debuted in 1985.)

Suns owner Russell Berrie was in the novelty-toy business. The New York Times notes that at one time, Berrie ran one of the world’s largest gift companies, selling items like a stuffed dog named Muffin and a stuffed bear known as Honeyfritz. Yet Tiant recently recalls thinking he was confused about how they negotiated the agreement. “I don’t know how they came up with that,” he says. “But I no want to go to a bad team.”

Like many of his teammates, the former MLB player dealt with a number of injuries in the SPBA. But taking part in the league served as a re-birth of sorts. Before returning to the diamond, Tiant found himself working for the Massachusetts State Treasury, signing autographs and doing other promotional events for the lottery. So he relished his opportunity with the Suns.

Who cares about being dealt for teddy bears? Tiant was merely content moving to one of the Florida’s most popular cities — one with a major Cuban population.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” he says of being traded for stuffed animals. “I just wanted to go closer to Miami.”