This article was written by Donald Frank
This article was published in the
Introduction and Context
In 1973, when 24 teams existed in major-league baseball, the sport conducted its annual Winter Meetings in Houston, Texas, from December 3 to December 7.
Several issues or topics dominated these meetings. A relatively complex managerial situation, featuring Ralph Houk, who had been the manager of the New York Yankees, and Dick Williams, who had been the manager of the Oakland A’s, created significant confusion. And surprisingly, Charles O. Finley, the controversial owner of the World Series champion A’s, played an important role in the eventual negotiations. Another important issue focused on Ron Santo, the All-Star third baseman of the Chicago Cubs. After playing for the Cubs for 14 seasons, Santo was informed that he was being traded to another team and he refused to go. This was just one of numerous trades and deals that took place at these meetings.
Quite significantly, the possibility of the sale of the San Diego Padres was discussed, which led to controversy before it was ultimately resolved.
The Business Side
As for the managerial brouhaha: Houk had resigned as manager of the Yankees on October 1 with two years remaining on his contract, and then was hired as the manager of the Tigers. Needless to say, the Yankees accused the Tigers of tampering.1
After Houk’s resignation, the Yankees expressed a degree of interest in Dick Williams, who had resigned as the manager of the A’s with one year remaining on his contract. But Finley, the cantankerous owner of the A’s, indicated that Williams would not be allowed to go to New York unless the A’s received adequate compensation from the Yankees. The Yankees then indicated that Houk would not be allowed to manage the Tigers without receiving adequate compensation from Detroit. Since both Houk and Williams had resigned while under contract, Joe Cronin, the president of the American League, asked representatives of the A’s, Tigers, and Yankees to get together at the Winter Meetings to try to come to some agreement.2
“As far as I’m concerned, the matter is closed,” Finley said after discussing the issues with Cronin, the Yankees, and several attorneys. “Dick Williams will be my manager in 1974 and 1975. If Williams insists on resigning, does not want to manage, should want to go into business with the XYZ Corporation, we would not stand in his way. But, when it comes to managing with another club, we will not permit him to do it unless we get compensation.”3
Finley named four Yankees minor leaguers and said he’d accept any two as compensation. But the Yankees refused, because the list included outfielder Otto Velez and left-handed pitcher Scott McGregor, whom they viewed as potential stars. The Yankees offered some compensation to Finley for Williams, who was in Florida insisting he was the ex-manager of the A’s. But Finley refused the offer, reported to be infielder Horace Clarke and $50,000. Williams indicated he was disappointed, adding, “Nothing (Finley) does would surprise me.” The meetings concluded without resolution of the dispute.4
Further negotiations eventually resolved the confusion. Houk did manage the Tigers in 1974, staying with them through 1978, then spent four years directing the Red Sox. Williams never did manage the Yankees, but instead managed the California Angels in 1974, and also led the Expos, Padres, and Mariners in his Hall of Fame career. And Bill Virdon wound up being hired to manage the Yankees in 1974.
- Arnholt Smith, the owner of the Padres, owed the Internal Revenue Service $22.5 million and was being investigated for alleged illegal campaign contributions. As a result, the National League ordered Smith to sell the Padres. Joseph Danzansky intended to purchase and relocate the Padres to Washington, but after the City of San Diego sued the Padres for $84 million, Danzansky withdrew from the negotiations. Buzzie Bavasi, president of the Padres, recommended selling the team to Marjorie Everett, who intended to keep the team in San Diego, but who also had ties with the Hollywood Park racetrack near Los Angeles. The other National League owners, in discussions at the meetings, opposed the sale of the Padres to someone with potential ties to gambling.5
Eventually, the Padres were sold to Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonald’s, who asserted that the team would remain in San Diego.
In an interesting sidebar, six managers and general managers at the meetings were randomly selected and asked: “If you could pick one ballplayer right now to add to your roster, who would it be?” They selected César Cedeño, who at the age of 22, had already completed his fourth year in the majors and was viewed as the “player most likely to reach the Willie Mays/Henry Aaron/Mickey Mantle superstar level over the next decade.” Cedeño at that point had played in 529 games, was batting .301 and had collected 618 hits, scored 320 runs, driven in 275 runs, hit 64 home runs, and stolen 148 bases. Although Cedeño would win five Gold Gloves and go to four All-Star Games, his career totals fell short of Cooperstown.6
The American League’s designated hitter rule, used for the first time in 1973, was discussed and it was agreed that this practice would be continued, but only in the American League.
Player eligibility for the World Series was clarified. To be eligible to participate in the World Series, a player would need to be on the team roster on August 31 and must have remained with the team until the end of the season. The American League backed a proposal to extend interleague trading to include the 30 days from May 15 to June 15, in addition to the current period (from five days after the World Series ends to the conclusion of the Winter Meetings), but the National League declined to support it.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that he would appoint someone from his staff to work with all of the clubs on an energy-conservation program. He also announced the appointment of a committee “to consider changes in the Major League Agreement.”7
Several rumors circulated in the weeks prior to the meetings, focusing primarily on the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves, seeking relief pitching, were said to be willing to trade All-Star outfielder Ralph Garr in order to strengthen their bullpen. In particular, the Braves and Phillies were reportedly considering a deal that would send Garr and right-handed pitchers Ron Reed and Ron Schueler to the Phillies for infielder Larry Bowa, outfielder Bill Robinson, and left-handed relief pitcher Mac Scarce. Another rumor focused on the Mets, who were seeking a center fielder. Yogi Berra, the Mets manager, was reportedly interested in Baltimore’s Paul Blair or Houston’s Jimmy Wynn.8
The Braves did complete a trade with the Phillies, although not quite the blockbuster that had been rumored. Pitcher Schueler (later a major-league general manager) was traded to the Phillies for Barry Lersch, another right-hander, and Craig Robinson, a top prospect at shortstop. The Braves indicated that second baseman Davey Johnson (43 home runs in 1973) would be used as trade bait to obtain additional pitching but, as it turned out, Johnson played for the Braves for two more years.9
The Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s completed a trade involving two right-handed relief pitchers, the A’s Horacio Piña and Cubs veteran Bob Locker. The trigger for the trade was a promise made by the Cubs to Locker in 1972 to try to trade him to a team on the West Coast to help him with a personal situation. In 1973 Pina had fashioned a 6-3 mark, with eight saves and a 2.76 ERA, while Locker’s record was 10-6, with a 2.55 ERA and a team-leading 18 saves.10
The Detroit Tigers traded left-handed reliever Fred Sherman to the Houston Astros for another bullpen inhabitant, hard-throwing right-hander Jim Ray, plus second baseman Gary Sutherland. Sherman’s record in 1973 had been 2-2, with two saves and a 4.23 ERA, while Ray was 6-4 with six saves and a 4.43 ERA. In 54 at-bats in 1973, Sutherland batted .259; he would become the Tigers’ regular second baseman for the next two seasons.11
The Houston Astros continued to deal, trading side-arming righty Cecil Upshaw to the Cleveland Indians for right-hander Jerry Johnson. Formerly the feared closer of the Atlanta Braves, Upshaw had joined the Astros in a trade early in the 1973 season. Having compiled a combined record of 2-4 with just one save and a 4.93 ERA, the 31-year-old Upshaw was hoping to return to his former status as an elite closer. The same could be said for Johnson. Sixth in the Cy Young Award voting in 1971, when helped lead the San Francisco Giants to the playoffs, Johnson had been 5-6 for the Indians in 1973 with five saves and a 6.18 ERA.
In a trade involving two standout players, the Astros continued their makeover by sending All-Star center fielder Jimmy Wynn to the Dodgers for right-hander David Culpepper, who pitched in Double A in 1973, and All-Star left-hander Claude Osteen. Wynn, nicknamed the Toy Cannon, had had several great years in Houston, but after he batted .220 in 1973 with 20 home runs and 55 runs batted in, the Astros decided that at 31 he was unlikely to ascend to the next level. Wynn helped the Dodgers get to the World Series in 1974, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 108 runs, but he did decline after that. In 1973, the 34-year-old Osteen was still one of the National League’s premier pitchers —only Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal had more National League victories. In 1973, his record was 16-11 with a 3.31 ERA. He was selected to the All-Star team for the third time in his career, and reached double figures in victories for the 10th straight season. But Osteen’s best days proved to be behind him; he won just nine games for Houston in 1974 before being traded to St. Louis late in the season, and then pitched for the Chicago White Sox in 1975 before retiring with a 196-195 career record. As for Culpepper, the third player in the deal, he never ascended beyond Triple A and retired in 1976.12
Three other blockbuster deals were made. The Dodgers, seeking bullpen help, got one of the best in the game, picking up durable right-hander Mike Marshall from the Montreal Expos in exchange for their longtime center fielder, Gold Glover Willie Davis. Marshall, the Cy Young Award runner-up, had just appeared in 92 games for Montreal, winning 14 and saving 31; he would pitch in a record 106 games and throw 208 relief innings for the Dodgers in 1974, saving 21 games and winning 15 as well as the Cy Young Award. Davis had a good year in Montreal but was traded after just one season, then bounced around to several clubs before he retired.13
The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox completed a six-player deal that featured five pitchers. The Cardinals traded right-hander Reggie Cleveland, an innings-eater who had won 40 games for them over the past three seasons, righty reliever Diego Segui, and third baseman Terry Hughes to the Red Sox for left-hander John Curtis and righties Mike Garman and Lynn McGlothen. Cleveland, Curtis, and McGlothen all proved to be middle-of-the-rotation starters, Garman and Segui were serviceable arms out of the bullpen (Segui was winding down a long career), and Hughes never had any major-league impact.14
The Cubs surprised many by trading their longtime All-Star third baseman Ron Santo to the White Sox for southpaws Ken Frailing and Jim Kremmel, right-hander Steve Stone, and catcher Steve Swisher. Santo, however, refused to be traded and thus became the first player to invoke the new rule that allowed a 10-year man with five consecutive years for his team to veto a trade. Santo, 34, had played for the Cubs for 14 years. His salary in 1973 was $110,000. Santo said that when Cubs GM John Holland called him to discuss a possible trade, “I replied that I elected not to leave Chicago, for personal reasons.” Santo eventually agreed to play with the White Sox and the trade stood, but after the 1974 season, he retired as a player and later became a popular radio voice for the Cubs and, a year after his death, was elected to the Hall of Fame. Steve Stone had a middling career except for 1980, when he won 25 games and the Cy Young Award for the Baltimore Orioles, and later, like Santo, became a popular broadcaster. Steve Swisher, considered to be one of the top catching prospects in the game, had a solid career, but neither Frailing nor Kremmel had any major-league impact.15
Other trades were made at the meetings and also in the week following. The Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles traded former top prospects as the Reds sent left-hander Ross Grimsley and minor-league catcher Wally Williams, to the Orioles for outfielder Merv Rettenmund, minor-league catcher Bill Wood, and utility infielder Junior Kennedy. The Pittsburgh Pirates traded right-hander Nelson Briles, who had won 28 games over the previous two seasons, and utilityman Fernando Gonzalez, to the Kansas City Royals for infielder and pinch-hitter deluxe Kurt Bevacqua, utilityman Ed Kirkpatrick, and minor-league first baseman Winston Cole. The Cardinals traded utility player John Wockenfuss to the Detroit Tigers for shortstop Larry Elliott. Elliott would never ascend beyond Double A, but Wockenfuss would go onto a long career, primarily with the Tigers, as a catcher, outfielder, and first baseman.16
In other deals that featured notable names, the Yankees traded right-handed pitcher Lindy McDaniel to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Lou Piniella and righty Ken Wright. An underrated 19-year veteran, McDaniel had yielded his role as closer to Sparky Lyle and was thus deemed expendable. Wright would pitch in only three more major-league games, but Piniella, the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year, spent the next 11 seasons as a key outfielder for the Yankees, helping them win four pennants and two World Series, before becoming a major-league manager, winning the 1990 World Series with the Cincinnati Reds.17
The Philadelphia Phillies traded second baseman Denny Doyle to the California Angels for onetime Dodgers prospect Billy Grabarkewitz, whom they expected to replace Doyle, plus outfielder Chris Coletta and right-hander Aurelio Monteagudo. Doyle proved to be the only player in this deal who put up credible numbers in a career that also took him to the Red Sox.18
The Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers exchanged former right-handed pitching prospects. The Indians traded Steve Hargan to the Rangers for Bill Gogolewski. The Dodgers traded lefty Pete Richert to the Cardinals for center fielder Tommy Agee. Richert, a two-time All-Star, had been a key man in the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen during their 1969-1971 championship years, but 1974 would prove to be his final season in the majors. Agee, the 1966 AL Rookie of the Year, had experienced his best years with the New York Mets, anchoring the outfield during their World Series triumph in 1969. He was, however, released by the Dodgers just before Opening Day.
The Montreal Expos traded right-hander Pat Jarvis to the Texas Rangers for outfielder-first baseman Larry Biittner. Jarvis had been a mainstay in the Braves’ rotation for several years, five times winning in double figures. His one season in Montreal was disappointing, however, and he was released before Opening Day. Biittner proved to be a serviceable player with a solid bat, especially after he went to the Cubs in 1976. The Cubs and Minnesota Twins traded catchers, with former All-Star and Gold Glover Randy Hundley moving to the American League and George Mitterwald coming to Wrigley. Hundley was at the tail-end of his fine career and would, in fact, play his last few games as a Cub in 1977. Mitterwald fared better, sharing backstopping duties in Chicago for the next four years.19
Several players changed teams in straight cash deals. The Texas Rangers purchased Terry Crowley, an outfielder and first baseman, from the Baltimore Orioles. Crowley barely suited up for the Rangers, who traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in the spring, but he eventually returned to Baltimore, his first baseball home, and experienced success as an extraordinary pinch-hitter. The Yankees purchased infielder Jim Mason from the Rangers, and for the next three years he and Gene Michael gave the Yankees excellent defense at shortstop. The Milwaukee Brewers purchased Felipe Alou, an outfielder and first baseman, from the Expos. A .286 lifetime hitter with more than 2,100 hits to his credit, Alou made only three appearances before the Brewers released him; he later won over 1,000 games as the manager of the Expos and Giants. Another member of the Orioles bullpen, Eddie Watt, was sold to Philadelphia. Watt pitched for the Phillies in 1974 and the Cubs in 1975 before becoming a minor-league manager. Supersub César Tovar was purchased by the Texas Rangers from the Phillies, and had two good seasons in Arlington before he began to fade.20
Perhaps the most noteworthy straight cash transaction came when the Red Sox purchased All-Star right-hander Juan Marichal from San Francisco. Marichal had won 238 games for the Giants since 1960, but his record in 1973 was only 11-15 with a 3.83 ERA, his second consecutive subpar season, and he had turned 36 after the season. The Red Sox took a chance on him, but he won only five games for them and was released after the season.21
In the Rule 5 Draft, a number of players were selected, but only three went on to have decent careers. The Houston Astros drafted infielder Larry Milbourne from the St. Louis Cardinals, and he played nearly 1,000 games for six teams over the next 11 seasons. The Kansas City Royals drafted first baseman Tony Solaita from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the one-time Yankees prospect, a native of Samoa, had good seasons for the Royals and the Angels. The Detroit Tigers drafted catcher Gene Lamont from the Atlanta Braves. Lamont played only briefly in the majors, but later resurfaced as a major-league coach, and also managed the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.22
Baseball’s 1973 Winter Meetings were active. Managerial confusion involving the Oakland A’s, Detroit Tigers, and New York Yankees resulted in significant formal and informal discussions. Ron Santo refused to be traded, although he eventually relented. Officials discussed the possible sale and/or relocation of the San Diego Padres. The skills of CésarCedeño were recognized by managers and general managers. Player movement was represented by numerous trades as well as purchases and selections in the Rule 5 Draft.
1 Joseph Durso, “A’s Refuse to Relax Hold on Williams,” New York Times, December 6, 1973: 65.
5 Phil Collier, “Only a Prayer Ties Padres to San Diego,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1973: 29; Collier, “Padres Sweat It Out at Altar of Confusion,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1973: 45; Joseph Durso, “Padres’ Shift to Washington Approved,” New York Times, December 7, 1973: 51.
6 “Astro Star Accorded Top Rating,” New York Times, December 12, 1973: 5.
7 Stan Isle, “Avalanche of Trades Tops a Hectic Week at Houston,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1973: 29; Russell Schneider, “A.L. Will Request One-Year Okay on Designated Runner,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1973: 32.
8 “Baseball Winter Meetings Open in Houston Monday,” Hartford Courant, December 2, 1973: 7C.
9 Joseph Durso, “4 Trades Made at Meetings,” New York Times, December 4, 1973: 57; Stan Isle, “Santo Balks, Halts Cub Bid for Deal,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1973: 34. (Includes list of transactions.)
12 Stan Isle, “Santo Balks, Halts Cub Bid for Deal,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1973: 34. (Includes list of transactions.)
15 Joseph Durso, “Santo First to Veto Trade by His Club,” New York Times, December 5, 1973: 57.
16 “Santo Balks, Halts Cub Bid for Deal.”
22 Stan Isle, “Majors Spend $300,000 for a Dozen AAA Players,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1973: 33.