Tommy BoggsJune 17, 2009
(Note: Posts are going to continue to come at a trickle for a little while longer here at Cardboard Gods as I work some more on a book. I should be working on said book right now, actually, but I couldn’t help myself from wasting the morning with the following tangent…)
I don’t get the paper much anymore, so gone for the most part is my perusal of the transactions section of the sports page. That always came last, after I’d read the columns and the game recaps and the personal interest features and scanned all the box scores and studied the league leader list. On a good day, a sports page could take me through most of an otherwise blank afternoon: through a big heavy lunch, through the last sweet moments of carb-induced anesthesia before a post-lunch nap, through the nap itself (the newspaper face down on my chest like some sort of child-sized security blanket), through the first horrible leaden anxious moments of post-nap awareness, and through the inevitable product of poor diet and lassitude, an extended grunting sporadically unpleasant seat on the throne, my transitory afternoon kingdom dwindling to small AP reports on sports I didn’t even like that much. By the time the light started to fade, all I had left was the transactions. Sometimes, even given the gnawing ache of dusk on a day when nothing has happened, the transactions were enough. Little bullet points, sentence fragments, no adjectives whatsoever, just proper nouns and verbs, people in motion, teams transforming. One career could be ending, another could be beginning. Who was waived? Who was claimed? Who got the better of whom?
I started noticing the transaction section when I was a kid, but I don’t know if I saw the mind-bending multidirectional transfer of lives, including that of Tommy Boggs, on December 8, 1977 (info courtesy of baseball-reference.com):
[Tommy Boggs was] traded as part of a 4-team trade by the Texas Rangers with Adrian Devine and Eddie Miller to the Atlanta Braves. The Atlanta Braves sent Willie Montanez to the New York Mets. The Texas Rangers sent a player to be named later and Tom Grieve to the New York Mets. The Texas Rangers sent Bert Blyleven to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Nelson Norman and Al Oliver to the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets sent Jon Matlack to the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets sent John Milner to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Texas Rangers sent Ken Henderson (March 15, 1978) to the New York Mets to complete the trade.
If I had noticed such a transaction, it would have fascinated and confused me. I have spent an inordinate amount of time throughout my life, if not my life altogether, trying to untangle the fascinating and confusing mysteries of youth, and I’ve never really discovered any definitive answers to anything, but maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place all the time. Maybe I should have been trying to understand the transactions of the gods.
With that in mind, the first and only or perhaps first in an open-ended series of inquiries into transactions that occurred in baseball so long ago that all consequences have long ago ceased to matter in the slightest to anyone on the face of this earth:
(I’m going to approach this haphazardly, relying on whatever impressions I have in my mind of all the players involved instead of on hard data or even written record. But I am going to do this in three stages, adding a thin veneer of methodical analysis on top of my impressionistic flailing.)
1. First, let’s untangle the dense narrative of the transaction and take inventory:
Rangers gave up: Bert Blyleven, Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine, Eddie Miller, Ken Henderson, Tom Grieve
Rangers got: Nelson Norman, Al Oliver, Jon Matlack
Braves gave up: Willie Montanez
Braves got: Adrian Devine, Eddie Miller, Tommy Boggs
Mets gave up: Jon Matlack, John Milner
Mets got: Willie Montanez, Ken Henderson, Tom Grieve
Pirates gave up: Nelson Norman, Al Oliver
Pirates got: John Milner, Bert Blyleven
2. Next, let’s hazard guesses at pre-trade intentions:
Rangers intentions: They probably coveted Al Oliver’s proven left-handed bat and figured Jon Matlack was roughly the equal of Bert Blyleven. Matlack had been an all-star game co-MVP (sharing the award—in one of the greatest name-related events this side of Jose Cardenal joining the St. Louis Cardinals—with Bill Madlock), and a prominent member of a pennant-winning staff, while Blyleven was probably considered something more of an unknown at the time, his lifetime winning percentage, which people valued very highly in those days, near .500.
Braves intentions: Intentions unclear. I have only the vaguest memories of Eddie Miller, and I only know Adrian Devine for the mesh vestments and aviator glasses he wore on his 1980 baseball card. I guess maybe they were trying to get younger and a little stronger in their pitching staff. Willie Montanez was a pretty good veteran first baseman, very slick in the field, albeit at times perhaps a little unnecessarily flashy. Teams often seem to tire of players who like to add colorful flourishes to their game.
Mets intentions: Continue to clean house and perhaps add another kick in the ribs to their already disillusioned fans. This trade came later in the same year that the franchise jettisoned The Franchise, Tom Seaver. They had also let go of Dave Kingman. Matlack and Milner were like a poor man’s version of Seaver and Kingman, respectively. It’s unclear if they were hoping to get much back from Matlack and Milner, or if they simply wanted to be rid of all of their recognizable veterans. Maybe they liked Montanez’ glove, youngster Tom Grieve’s potential, and the always alluring mystery of “the player to be named later” (who became Ken Henderson).
Pirates intentions: Strengthen a pitching staff that had long struggled to keep pace with the explosive Pittsburgh bats, and do so without losing too much offensive firepower.
3. Third, let’s judge the winners and losers of the great Tommy Boggs trade of 12/8/77:
Rangers: Without looking, I know that Al Oliver had some good years for the Rangers, and Jon Matlack probably gave them some innings for a couple of years. With that in mind, it’s hard to rank this as a loss for the Rangers, considering that of all the many players they gave up in the trade, only one went on to continue to have much of an impact on major league baseball. But that one, Bert Blyleven, continued for many, many years to pad the statistics of a career worthy of being enshrined in Cooperstown. When you give up a Hall of Fame-caliber player in a trade, it’s hard to “win” the trade. They would remain an afterthought in the AL West for years to come. Loss
Braves: No one ever threw themselves off a bridge because their team traded Willie Montanez. On the other hand, no one ever held a tickertape parade for the trio of Eddie Miller, Adrian Devine, and Tommy Boggs. The Braves would flail around for a few more years at the bottom of the AL West before winning a division in ’82 without any significant contributions of anyone involved in the trade, though I think Tommy Boggs was still lurking at or near the end of the bench. Draw
Mets: I don’t think aging Ken Henderson did much, if anything, as a Met beyond being “the other Henderson” next to promising young Steve Henderson (who went on to be traded to the American League West, where he would be “the other Henderson” next to promising young division rival Rickey Henderson). Tom Grieve didn’t set the world on fire either. Willie Montanez held the fort at first base for a couple years, but is that enough to offset the loss of two prominent veterans of the ’73 pennant winners, Matlack and Milner? I say no. The Mets went deeper into a years-long wilderness of losing. Loss
Pirates: Lost a high-batting average slugger in Oliver, got a lower-batting average slugger with more power in Milner. Lost an anonymous fellow named Nelson Norman, got a Hall of Fame level starting pitcher named Bert Blyleven. Blyleven and Milner would be drinking champagne in a World Series winning clubhouse within two years. Why do the rich always seem to get richer? Win