We’ve started a side by side series on the Best and Worst Trades in Atlanta Braves History…this is neither. With John Coppolella at the helm, there were some monster trades (I’m sure a few will make this list), and one in-particular that was larger, in terms of players, than the topic at hand, but a 4 team, 10 player trade? Yes, it was one of the biggest trades in Atlanta Braves History.
Dec 8, 1977, the Trade
Braves give: Willie Montanez
Mets get: Ken Henderson
Pirates get: Bert Blyleven, John Milner
Rangers get: Al Oliver, John Matlack, Nelson Norman
Rangers give: Bert Blyleven, Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine, Ken Henderson, Eddie Miller
The Background on the Deal
The Braves had been the worst team in baseball in 1977, including one game managed by Ted Turner (they lost!) New General Manager Bill Lucas had been brought in midway through the 1976 season after Ted had purchased the team with a mandate to make the team younger, more athletic, and fun. His first order of business after the ‘77 debacle was to hire Bobby Cox and then he started on the job of clearing the deadwood from the roster.
During the ‘78 season Lucas would also rid the team of veterans Buzz Capra, Tom Paciorek, Jim Bouton, Dick Ruthvin and Dave Campbell.
Meanwhile Texas had soured on Blyleven because, as Bill James once noted, bad teams tend to fixate on the failings of their best players. Burt was blunt and anti-social at the best of times and was thoroughly unimpressed with the Rangers organization. He also wasn’t afraid to tell the media about his viewpoint. They set out to find a taker.
Enter the Pirates. The Buccos had already traded for a young Phil Garner to man the hot corner and were playing Al Oliver out of position to accommodate him. Trading the sometime All-Star for the Ace they were missing from their rotation seemed like a good solution but unfortunately the Rangers wanted more: they insisted on a “good pitcher” in the deal as well. This put Hardy Peterson, the Pittsburgh GM in a bind as Texas didn’t like anyone on the Pittsburgh farm and he thought he needed all his major leaguers. His solution was both creative and brilliant: by involving the Braves and the Mets in a now 4-way deal he could have many more balls in the air at once to confuse everyone. He got his trade with John Matlack of the Mets being the extra pitcher to Texas — but the Bucs still only gave up the same 2 players from the original deal.
So Who Got Hosed?
Pittsburgh got by far the best player in the deal and he was indeed critical in winning the 1979 World Series for the team. They did great.
The Rangers got a couple All-Star years from Oliver and Matlack should have won a Cy Young in 1978 with 270 innings of 2.21 ERA ball. They missed Blyleven, but got good short term value for him.
The Braves really gave up nothing. Montanez was a flashy fielder who actually had no range and had a flashy batting average without all the walks and power that would make him valuable. Plus Bobby had already decided to try some kid named Dale Murphy at first in 1978 anyway. Of the 3 players received, only Matula made a difference. He was OK in 78 and 79 before having a terrific season in 1980 where he threw more innings than ever before, and … we have seen this movie before. Eddie Miller was a fun pinch runner who really couldn’t hit. I loved it when he was inserted late in the game and EVERYBODY in the park knew he was running. Bad team but fun times! Adrian Devine was a sore-armed pitcher who, truth be told, never got healthy again. Momma always told me not to trade for sore-arm pitchers! Still we got about 8 WAR more than we gave up and saved salary. Good job!
Which leaves us with… the Mets. They gave up 2 Hall-of-Pretty-Decent-to-Pretty-Good guys mid-career and got Ken Henderson. Yeah, I just looked him up again too! Decent guy at the end of his career.
Thanks for reading on one of the biggest trades in Atlanta Braves history.