The aesthetically pleasing evenness and soothing inconsequentiality of the Toby Harrah for Buddy Bell trade seemed at first to also grace the 1981 swap of two talented young shortstops by teams that had, like the Indians and Rangers, passed through the 1970s in various stages of obscure ineptitude. The more well known of the two budding stars was Garry Templeton, shown here in 1978 just after a spectacular first season as a major league regular in which he hit .322 with 200 hits, 18 triples, and 28 stolen bases. He was only 22 years old when this photo was snapped, and he seemed among the most promising young players in all of baseball. In 1978 he slid back a little, hitting .280, which was still better than most shortstops in the league, then in 1979 and 1980 racked up two more .300-plus seasons while lashing doubles and triples all over the Busch Stadium carpet. Though he averaged over 30 errors a season, he had good range and was considered among the better defensive shortstops in the game. By the end of the 1981 season he owned a .305 lifetime batting average. You’d need only one hand to count the number of Hall of Fame shortstops with a better mark.
In December 1981 Templeton was traded for a light-hitting San Diego Padre shortstop who had just won his second consecutive Gold Glove. Though several other players were thrown into the deal, perhaps foreshadowing that the transaction would not work out as cleanly as the perfect Harrah-Bell trade, the trade boiled down to what seemed to be a classic exchange of young talent for young talent, on one hand the National League’s best-hitting shortstop, on the other the National League’s best-fielding shortstop. I wasn’t monitoring reaction to the trade at the time or anything, but I suspect that the apparently abundant gifts of both players removed the possibility of a great outcry from either team’s followers. I would also guess that if there had been a poll taken asking which of the players involved in the trade would someday end up in the Hall of Fame, the majority would have gone with Garry Templeton, whose lifetime batting average was at that moment over 70 points higher than his counterpart’s.
This is not a Bostockian or Richardian tragedy, for Garry Templeton went on to play for 16 major league seasons in all, and he was a member of the Padres first-ever pennant winner in 1984. But after being traded to the Padres, he never batted .300 again, never gathered more than 154 hits in a season again, never reached double figures in triples again, and only once hit as many as 30 doubles. Meanwhile, the player he was traded for not only continued playing the best defense ever played at baseball’s most important defensive position, racking up 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards in all, he also eventually became a more useful offensive player than Garry Templeton. His Cardinals won the World Series in his first year on the team (or, to put it another way, in Garry Templeton’s first year off the team) and would soon win two more National League pennants. Throughout a 19-year career of consistently astonishing glovework, Templeton’s beloved and unassumingly charismatic counterpart became famous even to non-baseball fans for the joyous cartwheel-into-a-back-flip he performed on the way to his position in the first inning of Cardinals home games. I don’t know exactly how Garry Templeton took the field in the first inning of games at his home stadium, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t do a cartwheel-into-a-back-flip. I like to imagine that at some point during the twilight years of his career Garry Templeton began games by loping onto the field and then dropping arthritically to the ground near the pitcher’s rosin bag to do a slow, lopsided somersault. But he probably just jogged out there like everybody else. Anyway, whatever he did, after a while nobody really paid attention, except for the occasional prick who pointed at him, as I am doing now, and said, “Hey, there’s Garry Templeton. He was once traded for the Wizard of Oz.”