This Date In Transactions History Rumors

This Date In Transactions History: Bill Buckner

Everyone makes mistakes.  However, not everyone draws the ire of an entire fan base and a city for their errors in life or on the baseball diamond.  For a long time, it seemed as though Bill Buckner would never be forgiven by the Red Sox faithful for his infamous play.  The Mets, seemingly on the verge of elimination in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, mounted a comeback in the 10th inning that should have been extinguished by Mookie Wilson's slow roller to first base.  Buckner, hampered by two bad ankles, let the ball squeak through his legs, allowing the Mets to score the winning run, tie the series at 3-3, and capture the title two days later at Shea.

Buckner remained with the club for the 1987 season until he was released in early July after hitting .273/.299/.322 with two homers in 75 games.  His final 57 games with the Angels were much stronger as he posted a slash line of .306/.337/.432 with three home runs.  Prior to the 1990 season, the Red Sox signed the 40-year-old Buckner and the veteran received a standing ovation when he was introduced at the home opener on April 9th.  Buckner's Beantown homecoming would be short-lived, however, and on this date in 1990, the veteran would retire upon being released by the Red Sox.

The first baseman made just 48 plate appearances in his second Boston go-round but would retire with a strong 22-year body of work to reflect upon.  Buckner came into his own as a member of the Dodgers before enjoying his prime with the Cubs, where he hit .300/.332/.439 across eight seasons.  While Buckner's most memorable moment on the field was his gaffe October of 1986, the first baseman was able to wrap up his impressive career on good terms with the Fenway Park crowd.


This Date In Transactions History: Rickey Henderson

In 1999, Rickey Henderson hooked on with the Mets and turned in yet another strong campaign.  The 40-year-old hit .315/.423/.466 in 121 games and racked up 37 steals to go with it.  However, production isn't always everything and, shockingly, Henderson proved to be difficult to work with.  The veteran found himself as fodder for the tabloids when he allegedly left the Mets' dugout to play cards with Bobby Bonilla during the team's season-ending loss in the NLCS to the Braves.  The friction between Henderson and the front office would carry over in to the 2000 season when the leftfielder openly complained about his $1.9MM salary and demanded a raise during Spring Training which he never received.  On May 13th, 2000, Henderson's time in Queens would come to an end.

In an afternoon game against the Marlins at Shea, Henderson belted a shot that he felt was certain to clear the fence.  Henderson opted to watch the ball in flight only to see it fall short.  The outfielder wound up with what amounted to a 355-foot single and didn't feel the need to apologize for it.  "I didn't cause them to lose. Look someplace else," said Henderson following the 7-6 loss, according to the Associated Press.  It turns out that the future Hall of Famer would be the one who was someplace else as he went unclaimed on waivers before finally being released.  Agent Jeff Borris wasn't fazed by the news.

"I don't anticipate having a problem finding him a place to play," said Borris. "A lot of people think Rickey has a lot of baseball left in him. Rickey has had a spectacular career, and it would be a blemish if it ended this way. There are a couple of major milestones that he still wants to achieve."

Borris was right as the legendary illeist wasn't without employment for long.  Henderson quickly hooked on with the Mariners and finished out the year hitting .238/.362/.327.  While that was the end of Henderson's time playing for the Mets, he would once again don orange-and-blue as a special instructor and later on as the team's first base coach in 2007.


This Date In Transactions History: Dave Winfield

On this date in 1990, the Yankees traded future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield to the California Angels for right-hander Mike Witt.  However, the deal was not truly consummated until almost a week later when the rightfielder would finally give the deal his blessing.  Winfield's situation was a complicated one: the veteran had ten-and-five rights and therefore had the right to reject trades.  However, his contract included a list of seven teams that he would agree to be traded to and the Angels were on it.

"This has nothing to do with the California Angels. I respect them, like them, the city, the weather," said Winfield on May 12th, according to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. "I played with [Angel Manager] Doug Rader [in San Diego]. Everything's cool. I have nothing bad to say about the Angels. I'm going to play a lot of years for somebody, but it isn't going to be determined today where or when.."

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association, argued that the list was given to the Yankees under protest and the club was aware that Winfield had final say over any trade.  Fehr cited another botched deal from 1988 which would have send the outfielder to the Astros until it was rejected by Winfield.  One could assume that Winfield's refusal to sign off on on the trade stemmed from his infamous rift with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, but there was a much simpler explanation for his veto.  The outfielder was in the final year of his ten-year, $20MM deal and was looking for a contract extension from the Halos.

The Angels were now in an awkward position and ultimately decided to give in to Winfield's demands.  On May 17th, the club agreed to a three-year, $9.1MM deal with Winfield that was only guaranteed for the first season.  If released before the '91 campaign, Winfield would receive a buyout of $2MM plus an additional $450K to cover the following year.  With that, the deal was finally put through. 

For his part, Witt was excited by the prospect of joining the Yankees and resuming his role as a starter.  The 6'4" hurler turned in a 4.47 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 16 starts for the Bombers that season.  As for Winfield, he bounced back in spectacular fashion after getting off to a slow start in the first 20 games of the season.  Upon joining the Angels, Winfield hit .275/.348/.466 in 112 games and won the 1990 MLB Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Winfield would call it quits after the 1995 season, capping off a spectacular 22-year major league career.  The rightfielder was inducted into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility of 2001 and became the first player to go into the Hall as a San Diego Padre. 



This Date In Transactions History: Roger Clemens

Of all the dramatic things Suzyn Waldman has ever seen, the comeback of Roger Clemens ranks pretty highly.  On this date in 2007, the Rocket appeared in George Steinbrenner's box at Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch as the Bombers faced the Mariners.  Clemens told the rabid crowd over the PA system, "Thank y'all. Well they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you its a privilege to be back. I'll be talkin' to y'all soon."

The return marked Clemens' fourth return from retirement, enough to make even the most indecisive boxer or professional wrestler roll his eyes.  Coaxing the hurler out of the Lone Star State wasn't cheap either as he inked a deal worth the pro-rated portion of $28,000,022 (the "22", of course, for his jersey number).  That worked out to $18.7MM in total, good for roughly $4.7MM per month and $1MM per start.  The contract also included a "family plan" clause that excused Clemens from traveling with the club for trips in which he was not scheduled to start.

It wasn't hard to understand why the Yankees would back up a Brink's truck for his services – the club was in desperate need of pitching and Clemens had posted a 2.40 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 across parts of the last three seasons in Houston.  The 44-year-old's final return from retirement wasn't quite as sharp.  Clemens made 17 starts and one relief appearance in the regular season and registered a 4.18 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9.  The Rocket was then shut down for the final few weeks of the season as he was bothered with a left hamstring injury.

Clemens' first start in the postseason proved to be his final of the year and his career.  In Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians, the right-hander aggravated that same hamstring in the third inning and was pulled by manager Joe Torre.  The severity of the injury led the Yankees to pull him from the playoff roster, leaving him ineligible until the World Series.  Unfortunately for Clemens & Co., the Yanks didn't make it beyond the ALDS as Cleveland wrapped up the series in four games.  Clemens' final go-round in the majors wouldn't net him a third championship ring, but it did add to his overall net worth.  According to Baseball Reference, the Rocket made nearly $151MM over the course of his 24-year big league career.


This Date In Transactions History: Herb Washington

Most of us are familiar with the story of Archibald Graham, the New York Giants outfielder who appeared in just one game in 1905 — without making a plate appearance — before moving on to other endeavors in life. For this distinction, "Moonlight," as he was nicknamed, was immortalized in W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe and later its film adaptation, Field of Dreams.

Graham's story was exhumed and canonized by those stories, for sure, but it hasn't been entirely unique. Here's an even weirder one: former Athletic Herb Washington. Notice I didn't include a position to describe Washington — because he didn't have one. Despite playing in a whopping 105 Major League games with Oakland in 1974-75, Washington never made a plate appearance, played in the field or threw a pitch. He was a so-called "designated runner," used exclusively as a pinch-runner.

Washington was a decorated sprinter as a student-athlete at Michigan State University, and despite not having played baseball since he was a high schooler in Mississippi, his blazing speed apparently made him fit for the Major Leagues in the eyes of eccentric Oakland owner Charles O. Finley. Thus, Washington would parachute into games and, often times, attempt to steal bases.

The only problem was, Washington wasn't terribly good at it. Sure, he swiped 31 bags in his 105 games, but that was in 48 attempts — good for an underwhelming 65% success rate. Stolen-base profiency is still a topic of debate, but most research shows that a 65% success rate won't add much, if anything, to your team's chance of winning — not exactly what Finely had in mind when he signed the speedster. Most notably, Washington was picked off first base late in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series, the only game of that series that Oakland lost. 

Finley and the A's had apparently seen enough of Washington on this day in 1975, because they released him from his contract. Perhaps they weren't over the pickoff, or maybe they just realized a precious roster spot wasn't best spent on a designated runner. Nevertheless, Washington didn't sign elsewhere and thus never appeared in the big leagues again, cementing his place among baseball history's many oddities.

Let us ease his pain.


This Date In Transactions History: Billy Martin

George Steinbrenner believed that April is not too soon to fire a manager, apparently. Because on this day in 1985, the late owner dismissed skipper — and Yankees legend — Yogi Berra after a sluggish 6-10 start, in favor of Billy Martin, another former Yankees great. Martin's intensity was in, and Berra's ease and charm was out.

Martin's hiring marked his fourth stint as Yankees manager — and there would later be a fifth, incredibly. But for all the on-again-off-again drama, the move worked. The notoriously fiery Martin reversed the Bombers' fortunes, guiding them to a 97-64 finish in the old AL East, although that was only good enough for a second-place finish behind the frontrunning Blue Jays, as the Wild Card(s) didn't exist back in that Stone Age. Subtract Berra's 6 wins and 10 losses from that final record, and you're left with an impressive 91 wins and 54 losses under Martin's stewardship — 37 games over .500.

Of course, we now know managers only influence their teams' records so much, excepting for absurd ineptitude, and it's worth mentioning that Martin had plenty of talent on his roster. The 1985 Bombers had a few star-caliber players in Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield, as well as a handful of strong complementary types like Willie Randolph. The big three combined for 20.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs, while the pitching staff was led by Ron Guidry (5.1 WAR) and a strong bullpen.

Despite the relative turnaround, things didn't end well for the Yanks. Martin's confrontational style got the best of him during a disappointing September stretch run, when was involved in an off-field fight with pitcher Ed Whitson that resulted in Martin suffering a broken arm.

With his Yankees having fallen short of the postseason, Martin's antics were difficult for Steinbrenner to digest, and he was once again fired in the offseason. Of course, Martin would return again, in 1988, his final year as a manager before his death on Christmas Day in 1989.


This Date In Transactions History: Dock Ellis

On this date in 1977, the the Athletics traded Mike Torrez to the Yankees for Dock Ellis, Larry Murray, and Marty Perez.  If you don't remember Ellis' stint with the A's, you're probably not alone.  The enigmatic right-hander wound up spending just two months in Oakland.

Nearly seven years after throwing his storied no-hitter, Ellis was the centerpiece of the three-player package headed cross-country.  The 32-year-old hurler wasn't able to find his groove with the Athletics, however, posting a 9.69 ERA in seven starts totalling 26 innings.  The A's, figuring that Ellis had jumped the shark, promptly sold him to the Rangers.

Ellis, however, got back on track in Texas in a big way.  In 22 starts and one relief appearance, Ellis turned in a 2.90 ERA with 4.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.  The right-hander stayed on with the Rangers until the summer of 1979, when he was dealt to the Mets.  Ellis brought everything full circle later in the year when his contract was purchased by Pittsburgh, allowing him to retire as a Pirate.

Meanwhile, Torrez became part of Yankees lore despite only spending the 1977 season in pinstripes.  The right-hander earned two complete-game victories in the club's six-game World Series over the Dodgers and even caught the final out to seal the deal.  Torrez went on to pitch for another five seasons and change, four of which were spent with the rival Red Sox.


This Date In Transactions History: Graig Nettles

There are a number of reasons why a club might trade a former All-Star.  Most of the time, it has more to do with production than a player's literary work.

On this date in 1984, the Yankees completed their trade of third baseman Graig Nettles to the Padres when they chose minor leaguer Darin Cloninger as the player to be named later to go with left-hander Dennis Rasmussen.  Reportedly, George Steinbrenner secured a sneak preview of Nettles' book, "Balls", which was highly critical of the Yankees owner.  While Steinbrenner was happy to jettison the third baseman across the country, Nettles was also quite satisfied with the deal.  The veteran pushed for a trade to the Padres in the past but had his request denied.

While Nettles' book was largely responsible for the timing of the trade, the deal also made sense from a baseball standpoint.  The 39-year-old signed a two-year, $1.8MM deal in '83 but was already being moved into a timeshare at his position.  The Yankees traded for the Indians' Toby Harrah and shifted Roy Smalley from shortstop back to third base, moves that Nettles admitted made him uneasy.

Even at his advanced age, Nettles had plenty of quality baseball left.  The veteran hit .228/.329/.413 in his first year in San Diego and earned his sixth career All-Star selection in 1985.  Nettles would wrap up things up with the Montreal Expos in 1988 after 22 major league seasons.  The San Diego native hit .248/.329/.421 with 390 homers over his career.


This Date In Transactions History: Pedro Martinez

The 2003 season ended in heartbreak for the Red Sox, whose hopes of capturing their first World Series since 1918 were dashed in Game 7 of the ALCS, when Aaron Boone channeled his inner Bucky Dent and inherited a new nickname: Bleepin'.

You certainly couldn't blame Pedro Martinez for the Red Sox's shortcomings that year, though. Boston's longstanding ace was worth nearly 7.9 wins above replacement across 186 2/3 innings, pitching like a guy who really wanted his $17.5MM contract option picked up for the next season. Thing is, his option had already been exercised — on this day in 2003.

That's right: Boston picked up Pedro's option — the highest single-season salary for a pitcher in MLB history — about seven months prior to what would have otherwise been a November deadline. In addition to the usual risks (injury, decline) of exercising an option before it's necessary, consider that Martinez would turn 32 later that year and had already taxed his slender frame for nearly 1,900 career innings.

While we could debate the process, the result must be considered a success for Boston. The Red Sox rebounded from the disappointment of 2003 to finally capture that elusive World Series title in 2004, sweeping the Cardinals. Martinez did, in fact, begin a steady decline in 2004 (at least relative to his mid-career production), but the beginning of his decline phase was still worth an excellent 5.7 wins above replacement — or $17.7MM, according to fangraphs. Talk about an even exchange.

The Red Sox allowed the legend to walk via free agency after 2004 in a surprisingly unsentimental move for a team that was all too eager to keep one of the most popular players in franchise history only a year and a half earlier. They apparently knew that it's better to burn out than it is to rust, as the Mets absorbed the brunt of Pedro's iron-oxide accumulation in the form of a four-year contract from 2005-08.

That bold decision proved prudent, as did the bold move the Red Sox made on this date in 2003.


Leap Day In Transaction History

Like the rest of you, I resent leap years. An extra day of winter, an extra day of waiting for Opening Day, an extra day before I can start wearing my "It's March!" shirts without getting strange looks… the whole idea is infuriating.

That must be why, when it comes to baseball transactions on this day, the results are so unimpressive. Sure, many of the marquee free agents have signed by this point in the offseason, but that alone cannot explain the black hole February 29 has been for adding useful talent.

Just within the past few years, teams have added valuable players like Pedro Feliciano and Chan Ho Park on February 28 and Bruce Chen and Chad Durbin on March 1. By contrast, consider: just two players signed on Leap Day since 1980 have provided positive value to their new teams that season.

Infielder Ramon Martinez signed with the Dodgers on February 29, 2008, but he didn't get into a single game before Los Angeles released him in July. He ultimately played a few games with the Mets, but the only addition last Leap Day did not prove fruitful for his team.

No one at all signed on February 29, 2004. Can you blame them?

Back on February 29, 2000, San Diego signed the left-handed reliever Alberto Castillo. Just a month later, the Padres released him. Castillo didn't reach the Major Leagues until 2008.

But back in 1996, Don Slaught broke the mold of failure, as he broke so many molds as a player. Sold by the Angels to the Reds, Slaught didn't let the curse of 29 stop him, posting a .313/.355/.428 line and catching 71 games, first for the Angels, then for the White Sox.

However, it was Alan Mills who truly holds the record for most productive player acquired on February 29, a record that stands alongside accomplishments like Cy Young's 511 wins Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and Matt Franco's single-season record for pinch-hit walks. The New York Yankees sent Mills to Baltimore for pitchers Francisco de la Rosa and Mark Carper.

What did Mills do in Baltimore? He pitched so well, you'd swear he was acquired on February 28. A 10-4 record, 2.61 ERA and a pair of saves in a swingman role makes Alan Mills the king of the February 29s.

Interestingly, Mills tried to recreate this magic by signing with Tampa Bay in February 2004- a leap year. But he did so on the 16th and, unsurprisingly, failed to make the club.

Sadly, recent reports indicate that Ivan Rodriguez will not become the latest high-profile member of this exclusive club. But pay close attention to today's MLBTR stories. Like Haley's Comet, you'll be seeing something that doesn't happen very often in our lifetimes, and works out even less of the time.