History: 2 Trades in 1 Day Nets Dodgers Tommy John and Frank Robinson, Costs Dick Allen
We're not going to get into a long discussion about Al Campanis. Yes, this is a piece devoted to Dodgers history, but I'd rather not. If you don't know about the team's longtime general manager, you can read about him here. And here. And here, here and here.
I'll just add this: unless we're going to eliminate the years 1968 through 1987 from the discussion of L.A. baseball history, we're going to have to include Campanis' name every so often. And I'm not going to dredge up the controversy every time. So please understand that I have my feelings about the man, they're likely similar to yours and I've written about him plenty elsewhere.
Now, let's set the Wayback Machine to December 2, 1971, shall we. On that day, the Dodgers' personnel chief made two trades involving eight players, including one Hall of Famer and two other men who may one day make it to Cooperstown.
Since I can't tell you which trade occurred first that day, what do you say we go alphabetically using the last name of the exiting Dodgers.
Trade 1: Doyle Alexander, Bob O'Brien, Sergio Robles and Royle Stillman to the Baltimore Orioles for Pete Richert and Frank Robinson.
Alexander had started 12 games as a 20-year-old Dodger pitcher in 1971 and eventually became a mostly reliable guy, whose lifetime numbers are these: 194-174, 3.76 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.293 WHIP, 464 starts and 3367 innings, plus an 0-5 record with a 8.38 in the postseason.
Beside the deal for Robinson, Alexander is famous for another rather significant trade. It's an easy trivia question, so give don't give yourself too much credit if you know it, but do if you can name any of the other interesting players Alexander was traded with and for over the years. Answer below.
Robinson had hit 503 of his 586 lifetime homers before landing in L.A. at age 36 and managed 19 more, along with 59 RBIs and a .251/.353/.442 line in his one year as a Dodger. I remember being very excited to have Robby, an actual member of the then-exclusive 500 home run club in town at the time, but he was clearly on the decline by 1972.
He faired better the following season in Anaheim, hitting .266/.372/.489 with 30 and 97 primarily as a DH. The blockbuster trade in November, 1972 that sent Robinson, Billy Grabarkewitz, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler and Bobby Valentine to the Angels for Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith was a clear win for the Dodgers.
Trade 2: Dick Allen to the White Sox for Steve Huntz and Tommy John.
The proverbial good trade for both teams. Really good. And little did the participants know what lay ahead for them.
As with Robinson, I was excited to have Allen at the time of his acquisition (from St. Louis for Ted Sizemore and Bob Stinson, October 5, 1970). And he did not disappoint, hitting .295/.395/.468, with 23 homers and 93 RBIs in 155 games, while playing third base, first base and left field.
Allen, of course, went on to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award his first year on the South Side, with a .308/.420/.603 line while leading baseball in OBP, slugging and OPS, with 37 homers and 113 RBIs, both of which led the AL. Campanis probably thought that Robinson's bat would make up for the loss of Allen's. He thought wrong.
But Tommy John was a key get, and he is and was much more than the man who gave his name to a breakthrough surgical procedure. So much more. He'd been a productive White Sox pitcher for years before coming to L.A. in the winter of 1971-1972, and won consistently, primarily with the Yankees, for 11 more upon his departure.
John became a big-picture Dodger in 1973, posting a 16-7 record and 3.10 ERA as the club fought for the division late into the season with the Big Red Machine. T.J. began the 1974 season on fire, going 13-3, with a 2.59 ERA, before succumbing to what was at the time a forearm injury from which no player had ever recovered, or ever really attempted to.
That the team managed to win the pennant anyway is a testament to Walter Alston's leadership, plus, quite obviously, Messersmith, Don Sutton, Steve Garvey, Mike Marshall, Jimmy Wynn and company.
Out all of 1975, John came back to win 10 games with a 3.09 in 31 starts for L.A. in 1976, 20 and 2.78 in 31 the next year, and 17 and 3.30 in 30 the year after that, helping his club to back-to-back pennants in 1977 and '78, while notching three W's in October.
Trivia Answer: Yep, Alexander from Detroit to Atlanta for minor league John Smoltz. That's the easy part. Here is the complete list of players that traded with and for Alexander between 1968 and 1989, in chronological order:
O'Brein, Robles, Stillman, Richert, Robinson, Jimmy Freeman Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman, Grant Jackon, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor, Dave Pagan, Larvell Blanks, Adrian Devine, Pepe Frias, Craig Landis, John Montefusco, Andy McGaffigan, Ted Wilborn, Duane Ward and Smoltz.
And remember, glove conquers all.
Howard Cole has been writing about baseball on the internet since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.