Tommy Boggs

June 17, 2009

Tommy Boggs 78

(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


(Love versus Hate update: Tommy Boggs’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)  


  1. You’re pretty much dead-on in this analysis. Matlack was right behind Seaver in having become disillusioned with the Mets’ front office and their hopeless distaste for newly won player rights and the whole free agent era, and Milner had a reputation for an ornery personality.

    The Mets had no use for such guys, but it’s funny how strenuously the Mets pursued this deal. Ken Henderson would run into a wall in his third or fourth game as a Met and never play for them again. Montanez was the very definition of style-above-substance kind of player. Grieve I can barely remember.

  2. Thank you Josh. That particular transaction has befuddled me since I was twelve years old. The Mets yearbook didn’t even begin to go into its labyrinthine twistings and wanderings, simply declaring that Montanez was “acquired from Atlanta…,” but Who’s Who in Baseball re-summarized the entire convoluted transaction under each affected player’s statistics (in tiny print.)

    And I think you nailed The Mets’ organization’s “intentions” perfectly.
    Both Matlack and “The Hammer” (Milner) were popular with fans at Shea.

    Of the trade itself, Matlack states “You need(ed) an atlas to follow (it)…”


    (Note the comment by obscure ’69 Met hero Rod Gaspar. I’ve no reason to doubt its authenticity.)

  3. But there’s more! 364 days EARLIER, the Rangers traded Jeff Burroughs to the Braves for: Adrian Devine, Ken Henderson, Roger Moret, Carl Morton and $250,000. So for a former MVP that rebounded to smash 41 taters in 1977 and had an OPS+ of 156 in 1978, the Rangers rented Devine and Henderson for a year, received a pitcher that was already a head case and became even more of one, and then the burned out shell of the 1970 ROY (who didn’t pitch an inning for the Rangers and was released at the end of spring). I hope they enjoted the $250,000.

    That previous trade puts even a bigger spin on this four team gang trade since two of the teams already blockbustered one in 1976.

  4. Also, the Rangers went 94-68 in 1977 with Dave May hitting just .241 with 7 dingers and Henderson hitting .258 with 5 homers. Devine did go 11-6 with 15 saves as their fireman but even then relievers were fungible. They obviously needed more offense to contend with KC, but they would have had that offense had they not traded Burroughs for the pu pu platter. Realizing this they wanted to get Al Oliver.

    Henderson was traded to the Reds for Dale Murray (the same Dale Murray that the Yanks traded for and threw in Fred McGriff). He later went to the Cubs and finished washing out there as the Cubs were bound and determined to ruin a great nucleus with “veteran leadership”.

    Montanez had 96 RBI in 1978 but slugged UNDER .400. And he drove in those runs batting behind Randle and Foli a lot of the time. (Randle had a decent OBP for 1978. Foli was Foli).

  5. mbtn01, ramblinpete : Thanks for the Mets-eye view.

    smedindy: Very interesting point about that earlier Braves-Rangers trade; it casts the Rangers role in the 4-team deal as that of the gambler on a losing streak, trying to turn things around. Thanks also for reminding me of the Rangers good year in ’77. I vaguely recall them contending for a while once or twice before wilting in the inevitable crushing August Texas heat.

    Montanez’ 96 RBI with a sub .400 slugging percentage is a pretty amazing feat, especially considering that Randle and Foli weren’t exactly Molitor and Yount.

  6. I know this is a Tommy Boggs card, but Boggs is pretty non-descript except for his role on the TBS Braves that I used to watch in the late 70’s.

    Yes, Montanez’ feat was incredible. He had a pretty incredible career, transaction wise. His first trade was the ‘make-up’ deal to the Phillies in the Curt Flood trade. After being runner-up ROY in 1971 for the Phils (as a CF!) then playing regularly (but moving down from 30 HR to 7 HR by 1974, even has he moved from CF to 1B (Willie, you’re doing it wrong)), Montanez was involved in trades (besides this one) involving:

    Gary Maddox
    Darrell Evans
    Ed Lynch
    Mike Jorgensen
    Gaylord Perry
    Tony Phillips
    John Milner (again)

    Anyway, this is a good way to pass a blah day. Thanks for posting today.

  7. Growing up, I mainly collected cards between 87-92..but occasionally I’d get a card from years before then. Tommy Boggs was one of those cards. I always assumed he was related to Wade Boggs. Kind of like I assumed Michael Bolton and Tom Bolton were brothers. Jerry Reed & Jody Reed, etc. =)

  8. The Braves got rid of Montanez because they’d decided to put Dale Murphy at 1B in 1978, after his struggles at catcher. I guess you could say it worked, as the guy who replaced Murphy at catcher, Biff Pocoroba, made the All-Star team that year. Then again, Pocoroba hit just .242/.312/.332 and tallied only six more runs scored (21) than GIDP (15).

  9. Jon Matlack is a great example of what a crappy and basically useless stat W-L record is for judging pitchers.

    Matlack had a 2.41 ERA and had a LOSING record of 13-15

    According to WAR his (8.6) was the best in the National league and he should have won the Cy YOung

    He had 24 win shares which in that system put him third behind Phil Niekro and Andy Messersmith.

    and Warp 3 has him as the second best pitcher in the N.L. behind Niekro.

    He had one very good year in Texas, 1978

    Win Shares-25

    It seems like the Mets were just making a trade for trade sakes.

  10. I always wondered if Tommy Boggs was angry at Wade Boggs for obliterating the memory of Tommy Boggs in association with the Boggs name. There was a time when people heard the name Boggs, they thought of Tommy. After Wade came along, that would never happen again. There are several other examples of this in baseball, ie Juan Bonilla
    followed by Bobby Bonilla, Dennys Reyes followed by Jose Reyes. Now when you hear the names Bonilla or Reyes, you only think of one player associated with each name.

    Also, the trade of 12/8/77 fascinated me. I kept the newspaper with the details of the trade(pre internet) and kept track of which players did well or sucked.

    Final comment: The departure of Matlack and Milner really accelerated the mets freefall of ’77-’83. Grote was traded before the end of ’77, and Koosman was gone after ’78 leaving only Kranepool to pinch hit several times a week.

  11. Josh, since I mentioned Koosman, he was of course traded for Jesse Orosco(and Greg Field). Maybe you mentioned this already, but is this the only time that players who were traded for each other ended a world series championship on the mound for the same team. To add to the coincidence these are the mets only two championships!

  12. I still wonder how Al Oliver gets no love from Cooperstown. Matlack could rifle it, too.

    Students of Topps esoterica have long pondered this swap.

    Of note, Topps did update Al Oliver and Jon Matlack in 1978 Rangers garb in the 1978 Burger King set.

    Montanez gets the sweet Met Get-up in the 1978 Zest set.

    Blyleven, Montanez, Matlack, Oliver also get traded lines in the ’78 O PEE CHEE set

  13. In 1977, I purchased two 500-count boxes of cards from a dealer who guaranteed a complete set. After putting the cards together, found out I was missing two cards — Bruce Sutter and Tommy Boggs. Dealer made good on his promise and sent me the two cards.

    I wrote an article awhile back on this trade. Here are some snippets:

    Expectations: Salary dump. Montanez made a whopping $350,000 dollars. The Braves also sold Andy Messersmith to the Yankees during the ‘77 Winter Meetings.

    Production: Boggs went 12-9 in 1980 but it was the only season in his nine-year career that he finished with a winning record. Devine, who was a second-round pick of the Braves prior to being shipped to the Rangers following the 1976 season for Jeff Burroughs, had a nice year for Texas in 1977 but was mediocre in two seasons with Atlanta. Ironically, he was traded back to the Rangers following the 1979 season in the trade that netted the Braves Doyle Alexander. Miller was a speedster who never hit in the majors.

    Net Result: Positive. The Braves lost 101 games with Montanez in 1977 so getting rid of his salary, however puny it looks in hindsight, was a good idea. That it set in motion the ingredients to acquire John Smoltz (Alexander) made it all the better.


    Expectations: Power. The Mets finished last in the majors in home runs in 1977 with just 88 home runs.

    Production: Montanez was an entertaining player but hit just 17 homers and had a .392 slugging percentage in his only full season with the club. Grieve batted .208 with a .297 slugging mark in his only season with the club. Henderson battled injury problems then put up a .455 slugging mark but was traded after seven games for reliever Dale Murray.

    Net Results: Negative. In return for Matlack, a pitcher who averaged 15 wins over a five-year stretch, the Mets got a decrease in production from first base in Montanez than they received from Milner the year before. And they didn’t get much else.


  14. bjoura:
    Thanks for passing along the expert excerpts from your article. That’s interesting that the trade included the distant ancestry of the John Smoltz acquisition. That certainly qualifies it to be upgraded from a draw to a win for the Braves.

  15. I guess you could say that, but Alexander had two stints with the Braves — first in 1980 for one season, then reacquired in 1986 from Toronto. The Smoltz trade ended his second Braves tenure.

    On the other hand, Bobby Cox managed Alexander in 1980, and was the Braves GM when the ’86 trade was made. So in the sense that Cox must have liked Alexander well enough from the initial experience, the idea works well enough for me.

  16. Josh, this has very little to do with your post, but I feel it’s just barely related enough to justify linking to it.

    Every time I see the name Matlack I think of this. This may be the greatest blog post ever written. OK, maybe that’s overstating it, but it’s pretty funny.


  17. motherscratcher23:
    Oh man, that’s hilarious. Thanks for passing that link along.

  18. Josh, greetings from London. Came to your site looking for a picture of Jose Cardenal. Glad I found it. I lived in the States for six years – 1971 to 1977, and fell in love with baseball. My parents dragged us over the country. A great year in Chicago in 1974, when I was 10. At the time we lived on West Waveland Ave, two blocks from Wrigley Field, so I went to a lot of Cubs games. The area was a little rougher than it is now, I believe, and one afternoon there was a gang fight between a few Latin Eagles and a couple of Royals: chains and bats were brandished. Chests were puffed. We local kids gathered to watch the action. During the general mellee a big car pulled up, the doors opened and out stepped Jose Cardenal and Jerry Morales. The fighting stopped instantly, the group of teens and pre-teens gathered as Jose and Jerry signed autographs, told us to be cool, then slipped back into the motor and drove away. I spent a lot of that summer at the ballpark, then we moved to the west coast and Candlestick Park was too far out of the city for me and my brother to travel to. Your site brings it all back: I missed the whole 1975 World Series as we had moved to an old log cabin in northern California with no TV and no radio, but I had my cards. Happy days. Thanks.

  19. benraw:
    Thanks for checking in and for that gang fight story. Awesome. I didn’t get to watch the ’75 series either. Probably most of it happened after my bedtime anyway, but even if it hadn’t we didn’t get NBC where we lived (not quite a log cabin, but close).

  20. I’ve always wondered what’s involved when a trade includes a “player to be named later”. Did both teams agree on the player, but they wanted to delay naming him for some reason (e.g. some restriction in his contract had to be overcome, or the receiving team had to make room for him on the roster)? Do they have someone in mind, but want to make it contingent before they finalize it (e.g. the receiving team is concerned about an injury and wants to have a doctor look at him)? Or are there a few potential players, and one of the teams picks the guy from the list (or they negotiate) at some future point, depending on other players who may or not be on their rosters at that point? Would appreciate some enlightenment from one of the baseball mavens out there.

  21. basilisc: All of the things you mention are possible reasons for this type of trade. Here are some other reasons. If a team is trading a veteran for a prospect and the prospect’s team is involved in the minor league playoffs, the receiving team will usually allow the prospect to finish the playoffs with his minor league team before he reports to his new team. Another scenario is when a team is trading a player to get rid of his big salary,
    sometimes getting rid of the salary is more important than the player they get in return so they trade the high salaried player and worry about who they will get in return at a later date.

    Probably the funniest example of this type of trade was part of the ’62 Mets. The Indians traded Harry Chiti to the Mets for a player to be named later. About two months later, the Mets completed the trade by sending a player to the Indians. The player: Harry Chiti. The guy was traded for himself! Ha!

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