April 17 is an important day for firsts in baseball history. Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and Don Drysdale all made their MLB debuts in games played on April 17, while Alexander Cartwright (the man often considered to be the creator of baseball’s modern rules) was born on April 17, 1820. It could also be said that pro baseball itself has an April 17th birthday, as the very first professional game was played on this day in 1869. The Cincinnati Red Stockings defeated the Cincinnati Amateurs by a 24-15 score, and in case you’re wondering, Bartolo Colon didn’t pitch. Here are some notable early-season transactions that have taken place on April 17th…
2013: The Brewers signed Francisco Rodriguez to a minor league deal that ended up paying him more than $2MM thanks to his time on their MLB roster. K-Rod’s stint in Milwaukee is almost worth a Transactions History post unto itself, as he was dealt to the Brewers from the Mets in July 2011, rather surprisingly accepted a one-year, $8MM arbitration offer from the club for the 2012 season, then returned on this minor league deal after posting only decent numbers in 2012. Rodriguez posted a 1.09 ERA over 24 2/3 innings for the Crew before being traded to Baltimore in a July deal for Nick Delmonico, and the veteran reliever then re-signed with the Brewers in February 2014 on a one-year, Major League contract. All told, Rodriguez signed four different contracts over his four-plus years in Milwaukee — accepting the arb offer, a one-year minors deal, a one-year Major League deal and a two-year, $13MM contract.
2012: Johnny Damon signed a minor league deal with the Indians (with a $1.25MM base salary in the majors), ending a rather unexpectedly long stint on the open market for the veteran. Though Damon was entering his age-38 season, he hit 16 homers and slashed a respectable .261/.326/.418 over 647 PA with the Rays in 2011, yet was unable to land a Major League contract. Cleveland may have only been interested in Damon as a fill-in for Grady Sizemore, who was recovering from back surgery. As it happened, 2012 ended up being Damon’s last season, as he managed just a .610 OPS over 224 PA with the Tribe and was released in August.
2000: Not a player transaction but rather a franchise transaction, as Major League owners approved the sale of the Kansas City Royals to David Glass from Ewing Kauffman’s estate for $96MM. This wasn’t the largest bid made for the team, though Glass’ bid was considered to be the most stable and he was the only one committed to keeping the Royals in Kansas City. Many Royals fans have criticized Glass for the team’s small payrolls and lack of success over much of his ownership reign, yet obviously that general opinion has begun to change in the wake of the team’s World Series win and back-to-back AL pennants. The Royals began this season with a payroll of just under $131.5MM, easily the highest in club history.
1960: It’s very rare to see a blockbuster deal take place so early in the season, yet the Tigers and Indians collaborated on a headline-grabbing trade on April 17, 1960. Detroit sent reigning batting champion Harvey Kuenn to the Tribe for Rocky Colavito, who led the league with 42 homers in 1959. Cleveland fans were upset at losing the popular Colavito, especially after Kuenn only lasted one (All-Star) year with the Tribe before being dealt again, this time to San Francisco. Colavito, meanwhile, hit .272/.364/.502 with 173 homers over the next five seasons before returning for another stint with the Indians in 1965. Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggested in a 1994 book that the so-called “Curse Of Rocky Colavito” may have been behind the Indians’ mostly-terrible play from 1960 until the mid-1990’s.