Ah, the sweet summer of 1983. Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Vanessa Williams was named Miss America. And a little something called the Nintendo Entertainment System went on sale in Japan.
Meanwhile, our national pastime saw the gears turn as spring turned into summer, then fall (as is the custom). A number of fascinating trades dotted the baseball landscape, and in some cases, helped turn pennant races.
The first major deal did not, however. On June 15, the Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. The trade is, in many ways, the original sin of overpaying for a closer. Allen had been solid in relief for the Mets, with Ownbey a live arm, but neither one provided much value. Allen posted an ERA well over 4.00 in the remainder of his career, while Ownbey pitched in parts of two seasons with St. Louis.
And Hernandez? After the trade he won six Gold Gloves, a World Series, hit .297/.387/.429 as a Met, and kissed Elaine Benes (no relation to Andy or Alan). In other words: trading two middling arms for the 29-year-old star first baseman? Always a good move. Neither team figured in the postseason races, however.
Though the Astros fell six games short in the NL West, one of my favorite deals came from Houston on August 10: a swap of offensively-challenged speedster Omar Moreno to the Yankees for Jerry Mumphrey, who did everything Moreno did, except much better.
At the time of the deal, both were struggling. Moreno was hitting .242, Mumphrey .262. But batting averages are where the similarities ended between the two players. Moreno had no power, hardly ever walked, and had a career OPS+ of 79 to show for it. Mumphrey had some power and plate discipline, and his career OPS+ of 108 reflected that as well.
But after the trade, while Moreno continued as the player he was, Mumphrey had two months of Ty Cobb-style production, hitting .336/.425/.455 for the Astros. What can I say? I like seeing teams rewarded for making smart moves.
On August 19, two pitchers who went on to become teammates for the elite Oakland teams of the late 80s were traded for each other without the Athletics involved. The Dodgers dealt Dave Stewart, Ricky Wright and $200K to the Rangers for Rick Honeycutt.
If you are my age (30), you think of Honeycutt as a reliever, but he had quite a bit of success as a starter. His 2.42 ERA led the American League in 1983 (though he switched leagues, only his AL starts counted toward the AL ERA title), and his 2.84 ERA ranked sixth in the National League in 1984.
Stewart, meanwhile, appeared to be making the leap to elite pitcher in 1983. He pitched to a 2.96 ERA with the Dodgers before the trade, and a 2.14 ERA with the Rangers after the trade. Entering his age-27 season in 1984, the future seemed bright. But a 4.73 ERA in 1984, followed by 5.46 ERA in 1985 led the Rangers to trade Stewart for Rich Surhoff (of the B.J. Surhoff Surhoffs) and the Phillies to then release him. Needless to say, that turned out to be a mistake when Oakland picked him up in May 1986.
Honeycutt's path to Oakland was more direct- the Dodgers traded him to Oakland in August 1987 for Tim Belcher.
But we digress- back to 1983! On August 29, the Atlanta Braves dramatically overpaid for strikeout pitcher Len Barker. He'd led the American League in strikeouts in 1980 and 1981, but by 1983 the 27-year-old Barker's ERA was rising while his strikeout rate was dropping- a bad time to deal for a pitcher. But Atlanta, chasing the Dodgers, gave up Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, Rick Behenna and $150K to get Barker.
While Barker pitched reasonably well – a 3.82 ERA in six starts for the Braves – Butler went on to record another 2,137 hits after leaving the Braves, with an OPS+ of 113. Jacoby's success was not as long-lasting, but he had his moments, many of them occurring in 1987 during his .300/.387/.541 campaign. Amazingly, during that season, Jacoby had 32 home runs, but just 69 RBI to show for it, thanks to a .221/.362/.295 line with runners in scoring position.
And yet? It was still too much to give up for Barker, who by 1987, was in his final season.