The virtual 1968-76 Braves, Astros, and Reds (Part 2:  1968-69)

Last time, we launched a counterfactual scenario involving three National League ball clubs. Our versions of the Astros and Reds did slightly worse than reality, but our Braves improved upon their actual counterparts by five wins, and two positions in the standings.

              Braves:  Actual           Astros:  Actual            Reds:  Actual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    81   81  5    514  549    72   90 10    510  588    83   79  4    690  673

              Braves:  Virtual          Astros:  Virtual           Reds:  Virtual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    86   76  3    538  535    68   94 10    516  634    81   81  5    671  669

Now we’re ready to have our trio begin competing in the brand-new NL West Division.

The 1968-69 offseason: Actual deals we will make

(We won’t list them here, but we are determining that every player actually surrendered by the Braves, Astros, and Reds in the October 1968 National League expansion draft will be surrendered, with two exceptions noted in the “Deals we will invoke” section below.)

Oct. 11, 1968: The Cincinnati Reds traded outfielder Vada Pinson to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bobby Tolan and pitcher Wayne Granger.

This was a challenge trade of a peculiar sort—two ballplayers of the same talent profile at the same position, but seven years apart in age:

The wager here was on the question of whether the longtime star Pinson would rebound at age 30 from the leg trouble that had nagged him in 1968: [St. Louis GM Bing] Devine bet yes, and Reds’ GM Bob Howsam … bet no.

Like Howsam, we’ll take Devine’s action. The issue isn’t whether Tolan will develop into a player as good as Pinson at his peak, because it’s near certain that Pinson’s peak is past. The question is which player will perform better over the seasons yet to come—that is, when Tolan’s peak will become present—and on that one, going with the younger player is where the smart money is. (It’s almost as if Howsam was a protégé of Branch “Better to Trade a Man a Year Too Soon than a Year Too Late” Rickey—oh, that’s right, he was.)

The Cardinals’ tossing in the nifty young side-arming right-hander Granger makes it a no-brainer.

Oct. 21, 1968: The Cincinnati Reds sold pitcher Don Nottebart to the New York Yankees.

Oct. 21, 1968: The Houston Astros sold pitcher Chris Zachary to the Kansas City Royals.

Getting something in return for guys who weren’t going to make the wintertime 40-man.

Nov. 21, 1968: The Cincinnati Reds traded shortstop Leo Cardenas to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Jim Merritt.

Mostly the logic of this one is simply converting a position player into a pitcher, pivoting from where we’re strong to where we need help. But there’s also a healthy dose of getting-younger here too. Cardenas has been a fine shortstop for many years, but he’s heading into his 30s and he’s had some injury issues in both of the past two seasons. The southpaw Merritt is a full five years younger, and looks to be just entering his prime.

Dec. 5, 1968: The Cincinnati Reds traded catcher-first baseman Don Pavletich and pitcher Don Secrist to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Jack Fisher.

This one is a straightforward leveraging of surplus (somehow catching depth really isn’t a priority in Cincinnati anymore) to shore up that pitching. We don’t expect great things from Fisher, but the durable strike-thrower surely will improve the back of our bullpen, as well as handle spot starts.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

March 29, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds traded catcher Jimmie Schaffer to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Ted Savage.

And another backup catcher we don’t need. The toolsy veteran Savage will fit nicely as our fifth outfielder.

April 3, 1969: The Houston Astros sold pitcher Howie Reed to the Montreal Expos.

Not making the cut this year.

The 1968-69 offseason: Actual deals we will not make

Oct. 11, 1968: The Houston Astros traded pitcher Dave Giusti and catcher Dave Adlesh and to the St. Louis Cardinals for catchers Johnny Edwards and Tommy Smith.

This one is so baffling as to require the long explanation:

On its face, this deal is incomprehensible. Giusti hadn’t developed into the star the Astros hoped he would, but through 1968 he’d been a dependable workhorse starter, an innings-eater. Such a pitcher is an essential back-half-of-the-rotation element of nearly every winning team, and moreover such pitchers have frequently proven to become quite effective when shifted (often at about the age of 30) to a less physically demanding bullpen role.

But [Houston GM Spec] Richardson chose to convert this meaningful talent into Edwards, who was not only a year-and-a-half older than Giusti, but was plainly on the downside of his career. At one time Edwards had been a solid first-string catcher, but in 1966 his bat speed had evaporated, and it had never returned. He was still strong defensively, but at this point Edwards was nothing better than a role player. Yet Richardson surrendered Giusti to get him, and Richardson’s Astros would restore full-time starter status to Edwards, and persist with him there through 1970 (and in platoon-starter status through 1973) despite chronically weak hitting.

Ah! But there’s an explanation for the trade, or so I’ve always heard. It goes like this: Richardson was aware that the San Diego Padres, about to stock their roster later that week in the expansion draft, were eager to grab Giusti. (Indeed, the Padres would draft Giusti from the Cardinals’ roster.) So, goes the reasoning, rather than give Giusti up for nothing, at least this way the Astros got Edwards in return.

But … but … one is left sputtering. In the first place, if you don’t want to lose a player in the draft, you can always, you know, protect him, as, apparently, the Astros protected Edwards. And if they didn’t protect Edwards, and he went undrafted anyway (as apparently they would be anticipating; otherwise why make the trade?), then just what does that demonstrate about the relative value of Edwards versus that of Giusti?

And in the second place, look what the Cardinals did. They made this bargain of a trade to acquire Giusti, and then immediately lost him in the draft. But what did they then do? They put together a package of spare parts and grade-B prospects and re-acquired him from San Diego. The Astros surely could have done something similar. As it was, the Cardinals were willing to surrender the spare-parts-and-prospects package and Edwards in order to get Giusti. I repeat, just what does that demonstrate about the relative value of Edwards versus that of Giusti?

All in all, it was an extremely silly move by Richardson. There were any number of far less costly steps he might have undertaken to shore up his catching corps.

Short version: we’ll keep Giusti. And it’s sensible to assume that the Padres, instead of drafting Giusti as one of their three allotted picks from St. Louis, would have taken third baseman Ed Spiezio instead, given that they would quickly swap Giusti back to the Cardinals in a deal in which Spiezio was their key target.

Dec. 4, 1968: The Houston Astros traded pitcher Mike Cuellar and infielders Enzo Hernandez and Elijah Johnson to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder-first baseman Curt Blefary and outfielder John Mason.

On the one hand, it’s entirely sensible for our last-place Astros to be surrendering the soon-to-be-32-year-old Cuellar for the 25-year-old Blefary. But age isn’t the only consideration in a trade:

Cuellar had missed six or eight turns in the rotation with various minor injuries in 1968. But his effectiveness remained as strong as it had been in ’67, both in terms of ERA and peripherals. He would be 32 in 1969, and so a decline to some degree could reasonably have been expected, but there was nothing suggesting imminent collapse.

And in Blefary the Astros were acquiring a player who’d already collapsed. At the age of 24 in 1968, Blefary had suddenly suffered a disastrous year with the bat: even within the context of “The Year of the Pitcher,” Blefary’s .200 batting average, eight-doubles-and-39-RBIs-in-451-at-bats rate of production stood out as distinctly lousy. So only if Blefary launched a dramatic comeback would the exchange amount to a break-even. Morever, offense was the only asset Blefary offered; his fielding was so famously bad that his nickname was “Clank,” so unless Blefary launched a dramatic comeback the Astros would be swapping Cuellar for a complete stiff.

We’ll pass on Clank.

Dec. 3, 1968: The Houston Astros traded outfielder Dick Simpson to the New York Yankees for pitcher Dooley Womack.

Our Astros have neither Simpson nor any interest in Womack.

Dec. 15, 1968: The Houston Astros traded pitcher Paul Doyle to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Sandy Valdespino.

And our Astros definitely have no interest in Valdespino.

Jan. 9, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Ted Abernathy to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Clarence Jones, catcher Bill Plummer, and pitcher Ken Myette.

Well, you might say:

This was one of the more incomprehensible trades in history. Abernathy, after being picked up cheaply in the 1966 Rule 5 draft, had put together back-to-back brilliant seasons for Cincinnati, re-establishing himself as one of the elite firemen in the game. Moreover, pitching overall had been the Reds’ weakness in 1968; the last thing they needed to be doing was dumping one of their best pitchers.

But dump him they did: This package from the Cubs was nothing but marginal spare parts, meeting no imaginable Cincinnati need.

Jan. 22, 1969: The Houston Astros traded outfielder-first baseman Rusty Staub to the Montreal Expos for first baseman Donn Clendenon and outfielder Jesus Alou. (Clendenon refused to report to the Astros. On April 8, 1969 the Expos sent pitchers Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn and $100,000 cash to the Astros, completing the deal.)


Speaking of incomprehensible deals …

Supposedly the story behind this one is that Staub, the Astros’ player representative, was shipped off because he was playing an enthusiastic role in the awakening MLBPA. Presumably this was the Houston management’s way of “teaching him a lesson,” or “making an example of him” or some such.

If so, it was an impossibly stupid thing to do. First, it was a tortured twist of logic to expect that punitively trading an active union rep would serve to intimidate the remaining players; if anything it would seem more likely to help radicalize them, and in any case Clendenon’s refusal to report immediately illustrated the obsolescence of the “let’s show ‘em who’s boss” mindset.

And second, this trade was a laughably one-sided talent giveaway. Clendenon at his peak had never been as good as the not-yet-25-year-old Staub already was, and moreover Clendenon was 33 and obviously in decline. And for his part Alou was, to put it charitably, a highly marginal regular.

The irony was that Clendenon’s obstinacy yielded a compensatory settlement from Montreal, brokered by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, that was more valuable than Clendenon (though the Astros utterly didn’t understand this, bitterly complaining that they’d been shorted). Nevertheless it didn’t come close to making the trade either a fair talent exchange or a strategically coherent maneuver.

The notion of trading the not-yet-25-year-old Staub for anything was daft enough, but to swap him for the soon-to-be-34 Clendenon and the never-any-good-at-any-age Alou was just mind-boggling. Clendenon’s subsequent refusal to report was a stroke of luck for Richardson, as the settlement package brokered by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was far more than Clendenon was worth—though even with that the deal remained distinctly lopsided.

In other words, even if the Expos were up-front offering us Alou, Billingham, Guinn, and $100 grand for Staub, we wouldn’t go for it. And they aren’t.

March 11, 1969: The Houston Astros traded catcher Hal King to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Mark Schaeffer.

We don’t see the purpose in unloading the power-hitting King. Certainly, he has defensive problems, but he’s 25 years old, has hit well right up through the minors, and we aren’t exactly overloaded with catching strength. We’ll decide that it’s time to give him a shot on the big league roster.

March 17, 1969: The Atlanta Braves traded catcher-first baseman Joe Torre to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Orlando Cepeda.

Oh, fer cryin’ out loud:

Yes, Cepeda had been once been a terrific player; as recently as his MVP season of 1967, in fact. And yes, Torre had suffered an injury-nagged, sub-par performance in 1968.

But Cepeda had slumped even worse than Torre in ’68. Moreover, Cepeda was three years older than Torre, and had a history of serious knee trouble. All in all, the notion that Torre-for-Cepeda was a sensible talent swap from the Braves’ perspective was, well, nuts.

However, a clear-eyed analysis of the talent really wasn’t what was motivating Atlanta GM Paul Richards.

During this period, many owners and executives resented the awakening posture of the Major League Baseball Players Association. But Richards’ resentment was second to none. The Wizard of Waxahachie had never been easygoing, and the contentiousness of modern players stimulated the bitter mode of his personality. Amid the “generation gap” disquiet of the era, Richards was a high-profile “establishment” hardliner.

Not only was Torre the Atlanta Braves Player Rep, he was among the core of the most engaged and committed MLBPA men working closely with Marvin Miller. And he was at loggerheads with Richards in his personal salary negotiations.

So Richards showed him who was boss! And meaningfully weakened his team. While adding greater cost, given that Cepeda was already making far more ($83,000) than Torre was asking ($65,000—yes, it was certainly a different era.)

Our Braves won’t lose our temper. We’ll keep Torre.

March 25, 1969: The Atlanta Braves traded infielder Bob Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Dave Adlesh.

Our Braves don’t have Johnson, and in our scenario the Cardinals don’t have Adlesh.

April 3, 1969: The Houston Astros sold pitcher Steve Shea to the Montreal Expos.

We’ll give the 26-year-old Shea one more chance in our bullpen.

The 1968-69 offseason: Deals we will invoke

Oct. 14, 1968: The Montreal Expos drafted outfielder Dick Simpson from the Cincinnati Reds in the 1968 National League expansion draft.

Actually the Expos selected Mack Jones from the Reds. But our Reds won’t let Mack the Knife, who performed just fine as our primary left fielder in 1968, go unprotected, and instead we’ll allow the toolsy young Simpson to go instead.

Oct. 14, 1968: The Montreal Expos drafted catcher Dave Adlesh from the Houston Astros in the 1968 National League expansion draft.

And in real life John Bateman was the catcher Montreal drafted from Houston (well, one of the catchers anyway, as they also took Ron Brand). Our Astros no longer have Bateman, but will leave Adlesh—who’s got fine defensive tools, but has really had problems with the bat—unprotected.

Dec. 3, 1968: The Atlanta Braves traded first baseman-third baseman Deron Johnson to the Houston Astros for infielder Bob Aspromonte.

Actually the Braves sold Johnson to the Phillies on this date. But our Astros will top that offer with Aspromonte.

As a rule, you don’t want to trade a player whose performance, and thus trade value, has just plummeted (which is the case for both of these). The exception to the rule is if the other guy’s in the same boat.

Dec. 3, 1968: The Atlanta Braves traded catcher Del Bates to the Pittsburgh Pirates for infielder Jack Damaska.

Actually it was the Orioles engaging in this deal with the Pirates on this date. Our Braves will accommodate them instead, as we’ve got a younger lefty-hitting backup catcher, Walt Hriniak, looking ready for the majors.

Dec., 1968: The Cincinnati Reds traded infielder Chico Ruiz and catcher Johnny Edwards to the Houston Astros for shortstop Sonny Jackson.

Our Astros are disillusioned with the 1966 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up. But he’s still only 24, so our Reds, needing to replace Leo Cardenas, will give him a shot.

Jan., 1969: The Cincinnati Reds purchased catcher Dave Ricketts from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Filling Edwards’ backup catcher slot.

Jan., 1969: The Houston Astros sold pitcher Ramon Hernandez to the St. Louis Cardinals.

March 11, 1969: The Houston Astros sold catcher Johnny Stephenson to the San Francisco Giants.

April, 1969: The Atlanta Braves sold infielder Gil Garrido to the Cincinnati Reds.

April, 1969: The Houston Astros purchased pitcher Ken Johnson from the Atlanta Braves.

And, the rosters are set.

The 1969 season: Actual deals we will make

Aug. 19, 1969: The Atlanta Braves sold pitcher Claude Raymond to the Montreal Expos.

He’s had a nice run, but Monsieur Raymond is looking rather terminé. Or, how you say, fini?

Sep. 8, 1969: The Atlanta Braves traded outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Clint Compton to the California Angels for pitchers Hoyt Wilhelm and Bob Priddy.

One doesn’t pass up the opportunity to beef up the stretch-run bullpen with the greatest knuckleballer in history.

The 1969 season: Actual deals we will not make

May 29, 1969: The Houston Astros signed pitcher Bill Henry as a free agent.

June 10, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds signed pitcher Pedro Ramos as a free agent.

If this was three or four years ago, sure. But not in 1969.

June 13, 1969: The Atlanta Braves traded infielder Van Kelly, catcher Walt Hriniak, and outfielder Andy Finlay to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Tony Gonzalez.

Not that we don’t love us some Tony Gonzalez, but our Braves are fully stocked with left-handed outfield bats.

June 14, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds traded pitcher Aurelio Monteagudo to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Dennis Ribant.

June 14, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds purchased pitcher Al Jackson from the New York Mets.

July 7, 1969: The Cincinnati Reds purchased pitcher Camilo Pascual from the Washington Senators.

Not that our Reds don’t have pitching problems, but we didn’t dump Ted Abernathy over the winter, so we’re not compelled to become as frantic as Bob Howsam actually did.

Aug. 8, 1969: The Houston Astros purchased pitcher Ron Willis from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Don’t need him.

Aug. 22, 1969: The Atlanta Braves sold first baseman-outfielder Tito Francona to the Oakland Athletics.

We fail to grasp the purpose in unloading this still-highly-productive utility bat.

Aug. 30, 1969: The Houston Astros traded outfielders Danny Walton and Sandy Valdespino to the Seattle Pilots for outfielder Tommy Davis.

Unlike the real-life Astros, ours don’t have a hole in left field.

Sep. 8, 1969: The Houston Astros sold infielder Fred Stanley to the Seattle Pilots.

Nor do we get the point of sending away a 21-year-old shortstop hitting .309 in triple-A.

The 1969 season: Deals we will invoke

Sep. 1, 1969: The Houston Astros traded pitcher Roric Harrison and cash to the Seattle Pilots for pitcher Jim Bouton.

This is only a very slight variation on the actual deal, which was Harrison along with Dooley Womack to the Pilots in exchange for Bouton on the 24th of August. But our Astros don’t have Womack, and aren’t willing to surrender any other 25-man roster spot until the roster expands in September, so we’ll do it this way.

(We do know that the knuckleballing Bouton has a reputation as an oddball, but it isn’t as though he’s writing a tell-all book about the season, or anything crazy like that.)

1969 season results


We’ve made only modest roster adjustments, believing we’ve got sufficient talent on hand to compete with anybody. We’re welcoming Rico Carty back to left field, and anticipating a return to health by third baseman Clete Boyer as well.

      1969 Atlanta Braves     Won 105    Lost 57    Finished 1st

 Pos  Player        Age   G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1B-OF A. Shamsky*   27   100 303  52  89   9   3  15  49  37  33 .294 .369 .492 .860  139
  2B  F. Millan     25   162 652 108 174  23   5   6  63  34  35 .267 .305 .345 .650   82
  SS  D. Menke      28   154 553  83 146  25   3  15  76  90  94 .264 .364 .401 .765  114
  3B  C. Boyer      32   144 496  63 124  16   1  14  63  55  87 .250 .326 .371 .697   94
  RF  H. Aaron      35   147 547 110 164  30   3  44 107  87  47 .300 .396 .6071.003  177
CF-LF F. Alou       34   123 476  59 134  13   1   5  35  23  23 .282 .316 .345 .661   85
  LF  R. Carty      29   104 304  52 104  15   0  16  64  32  28 .342 .401 .549 .951  164
 C-1B J. Torre      28   143 542  76 153  26   3  21  84  62  81 .282 .359 .458 .816  127

  OF  M. Lum*       23   121 295  36  76  13   1   4  37  29  36 .258 .321 .349 .670   87
  1B  T. Francona*  35    83 173  18  53   7   1   5  38  24  21 .306 .379 .445 .824  130
  C   J. Bateman    28    62 157  13  31   3   0   6  14   8  31 .197 .241 .331 .572   59
  UT  B. Aspromonte 31    72 149  13  37   6   1   2  18   9  15 .248 .292 .342 .634   77
  UT  M. Martinez#  27    68 149  12  46   4   3   0  11   7  18 .309 .331 .376 .707   97
OF-1B T. Aaron      29    65  95  17  23   4   0   2   9   9  11 .242 .308 .347 .655   83
  C   W. Hriniak*   26    25  37   3   8   0   0   0   1   5   6 .216 .326 .216 .542   54
  3B  D. Evans*     22    12  26   3   6   0   0   0   1   1   8 .231 .250 .231 .481   35

      Others                  54  10  13   2   0   0   4   4   8 .241 .288 .278 .566   59

      Pitchers               424  34  72   9   0   5  32  16 139 .170 .183 .226 .409   14

      Total                5432 762 1453 205  25 160 706 532 721 .267 .330 .403 .733  104

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      P. Niekro     30    40  35  21  25  10   1 284 235  93  81   21   57  193 2.57  142
      D. Lemaster*  30    34  33  10  15  12   1 220 198  82  77   24   68  161 3.15  116
      R. Reed       26    32  26   5  15   7   0 193 180  80  72   18   45  130 3.36  109
      P. Jarvis     28    31  22   3   9   6   1 156 143  78  73   17   53   90 4.21   87
      M. Pappas     30    26  24   1   7   9   0 144 149  66  58   14   44   72 3.63  101
      G. Stone*     22    31  17   3  13   7   3 141 141  69  56   17   41   88 3.57  102

      C. Upshaw     26    62   0   0   7   3  30 105 102  36  34    7   29   57 2.91  125
      C. Raymond    32    33   0   0   2   1   2  48  56  34  28    4   13   15 5.25   70
      B. Belinsky*  32    33   2   0   5   1   2  55  44  21  19    3   33   40 3.11  117
      J. Britton    25    24   3   0   4   1   2  59  44  23  23    6   33   42 3.51  104
      G. Neibauer   24    10   0   0   1   0   0  19  14   9   8    3   10   14 3.79   96

      Others                   0   0   2   0   4  20  13   6   6    2    6   18 2.70  135

      Total                  162  43 105  57 46 1444 1319 597 535 136  432  920 3.33  109

      *  Throws left

Well, how about that!

Just about every single thing falls right into place. With superstar right fielder Hank Aaron and ace starter Phil Niekro in top form, and a deep and balanced supporting cast completing the ensemble, the first-ever National League West Division flag is ours in a waltz (assisted, it’s worth noting, by a five-win Pythagorean overperformance).


Without much surplus trading capital to work with, we’re doing our best to plug our various holes with a couple of has-beens (Deron Johnson at first base and Johnny Edwards at catcher) and a never-was (Woody Woodward at shortstop). We welcome Joe Morgan back to second base with open arms (and crossed fingers). But mostly our posture has been to hold on to what we have, and hope for development from the youngsters.

      1969 Houston Astros     Won 94    Lost 68    Finished 2nd

 Pos  Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  D. Johnson    30   138 475  53 123  20   5  15  72  60 108 .259 .336 .417 .753  112
  2B  J. Morgan*    25   147 535 102 126  18   5  15  46 110  74 .236 .361 .372 .733  108
  SS  W. Woodward   26   124 375  40  94  17   1   0  23  34  56 .251 .310 .301 .611   74
  3B  D. Rader      24   155 569  67 140  25   3  11  87  62 103 .246 .324 .359 .683   93
  RF  R. Staub*     25   158 549 104 171  28   7  22  79 113  60 .311 .433 .508 .942  166
  CF  J. Wynn       27   149 495 123 133  17   1  33  95 148 142 .269 .435 .507 .942  166
  LF  A. Johnson    26   139 523  70 164  20   6  12  81  25  66 .314 .346 .444 .790  122
  C   J. Edwards*   31   126 331  32  80  14   4   4  33  36  45 .242 .313 .344 .657   86

1B-LF N. Miller*    23    79 205  22  53  10   2   2  26  22  40 .259 .336 .356 .692   96
  IF  C. Ruiz#      30    88 196  17  47   4   1   0  11  14  27 .240 .279 .270 .549   56
  OF  G. Geiger*    32    93 125  16  28   4   1   0  14  24  34 .224 .340 .272 .612   75
  C   H. King*      25    62 137  15  34   5   1   2  14  15  34 .248 .325 .343 .668   89
  SS  H. Torres     23    49 122   8  21   2   0   1   9   4  18 .172 .194 .213 .407   15
  C   D. Bryant     27    41  79   3  15   2   0   1   7   6  15 .190 .250 .253 .503   43
  2B  J. Gotay      30    23  41   3  10   2   0   0   3   3   7 .244 .295 .293 .588   67
  OF  C. Geronimo*  21    28   8   7   2   1   0   0   0   0   3 .250 .250 .375 .625   75

      Others                 135  16  34   5   2   4  15  10  24 .252 .311 .407 .719  102

      Pitchers               432  28  52   7   2   2  27  13 180 .120 .146 .160 .306  -13

      Total                5333 726 1327 203 41 123 645 690 1016 .249 .333 .371 .705   99

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      L. Dierker    22    39  37  20  21  12   0 305 240  97  79   18   72  232 2.33  152
      M. Cuellar*   32    39  39  18  22  13   0 291 228  97  80   18   71  196 2.47  143
      D. Wilson     24    34  34  13  17  11   0 225 210 119 100   16   97  235 4.00   89
      T. Griffin    21    23  23   3   8   6   0 127 103  53  47   12   63  137 3.33  106
      D. Giusti     29    22  12   2   4   6   3 100  97  45  40    6   39   63 3.60   98
      D. Coombs*    27    14   5   1   2   3   0  40  51  29  26    2   15   23 5.85   61

      J. Ray        24    45   9   0   8   1   6 105  96  50  46    9   52  107 3.94   90
      F. Gladding   33    38   0   0   3   5  13  49  53  25  22    1   18   28 4.04   88
      P. House*     28    31   0   0   3   4   5  44  53  19  15    2   18   28 3.07  115
      K. Johnson    36    30   3   0   3   4   4  59  57  26  24    4   24   47 3.66   97
      P. Doyle*     29    24   0   0   2   0   4  26  23   6   6    2    9   15 2.08  170
      S. Shea       26    15   0   0   1   1   2  21  24  11   8    2   11   13 3.43  103
      D. Schneider* 26     6   0   0   0   1   0   7  16  12  11    2    5    3 14.14  25

      Others                   0   0   0   1   1  38  37  22  21    2   22   35 4.97   71

      Total                  162  57  94  68 38 1437 1288 611 525  96  516 1162 3.29  108

      *  Throws left

And, well, how about THAT! This is the Houston version of everything falling into place.

There’s great news on every front except the bullpen, which remains a work in progress. Morgan does make it back and delivers a superb season in every aspect but batting average. Jim Wynn and Rusty Staub are both in marvelous peak form. (Wynn ties the National League record for walks!)

Most exciting is the blossoming into stardom of young right-hander Larry Dierker, who pairs up with a career year from veteran southpaw Mike Cuellar to give us double aces.

No more last place for us. In franchise year eight, we break out big time.


We’ve swapped out Pinson for Tolan in center field and Cardenas for Jackson at shortstop, but otherwise our starting lineup that dominated National League offense in 1968 returns intact. Our primary efforts have been focused on shoring up the pitching, with the import of Merritt, Fisher, and Granger.

      1969 Cincinnati Reds     Won 90    Lost 72    Finished 3rd

 Pos  Player        Age   G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1B  L. May        26   158 607  85 169  32   3  38 109  45 142 .278 .331 .529 .860  133
  2B  T. Helms      28   126 480  38 129  18   1   1  40  18  33 .269 .291 .317 .608   67
  SS  S. Jackson*   24    98 318  45  79   3   5   1  27  34  31 .248 .318 .299 .616   71
  3B  T. Perez      27   160 629 103 185  31   2  37 121  63 131 .294 .355 .526 .881  140
  RF  P. Rose#      28   156 627 120 218  33  11  16  81  88  65 .348 .427 .512 .939  157
  CF  B. Tolan*     23   152 637 104 194  25  10  21  92  27  92 .305 .342 .474 .816  122
  LF  M. Jones*     30   135 455  81 125  23   5  23  79  71 110 .275 .386 .499 .885  142
  C   J. Bench      21   148 532  83 156  23   1  26  90  49  86 .293 .353 .487 .840  129

  SS  G. Garrido    28    74 204  18  47   5   1   0  11  14   9 .230 .271 .265 .536   48
  UT  J. Stewart#   30    89 166  21  41   2   3   3  18  13  26 .247 .295 .349 .644   77
  OF  T. Savage     32    68 110  20  25   7   0   2  11  20  27 .227 .341 .345 .686   89
OF-1B J. Beauchamp  29    64 117  17  30   3   0   3  18  11  29 .256 .318 .359 .677   86
  UT  L. McFadden   25    55  95   8  18   3   0   0   4   5  14 .189 .221 .221 .442   22
  1B  F. Whitfield* 31    74  74   2  11   0   0   1   8  18  27 .149 .315 .189 .504   42
  C   D. Ricketts#  33    33  74   5  19   2   0   0   8   5   8 .257 .293 .284 .576   59
  SS  F. Duffy      22    21  38   5   7   1   0   0   3   2   9 .184 .238 .211 .449   24

      Others                  33   3   5   1   0   0   3   2  13 .152 .184 .182 .366    1

      Pitchers               402  36  63   8   3   6  23  27 157 .156 .187 .238 .426   16

      Total                5598 794 1521 220 45 178 746 512 1009 .272 .331 .423 .753  106

      *  Bats left
      #  Bats both

      Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
      J. Merritt*   25    42  36   8  17   9   0 251 269 127 122   33   61  144 4.37   86
      J. Maloney    29    30  27   6  12   5   0 179 135  64  55   11   86  102 2.77  136
      T. Cloninger  28    32  21   3   8  10   1 137 128  83  73   16   74   77 4.80   78
      J. Fisher     30    34  15   0   4   4   1 113 137  77  69   15   30   55 5.50   68
      G. Nolan      21    16  15   2   8   8   0 109 102  45  43   11   40   83 3.55  106
      G. Culver     25    32  13   0   5   7   4 101 117  55  48    8   52   58 4.28   88
      G. Arrigo*    28    20  16   1   4   7   0  91  89  50  42    9   61   35 4.15   91

      W. Granger    25    90   0   0   9   6  29 145 143  64  45   10   40   68 2.79  135
      T. Abernathy  36    56   0   0   7   2   5  85  70  34  28    8   44   53 2.96  127
      C. Carroll    28    55  12   1  12   7   5 151 154  73  62   11   75   86 3.70  102
      W. Blasingame* 25   26   5   0   2   3   1  52  61  39  33    6   36   33 5.71   66
      J. Peña       26    12   2   0   2   3   0  30  33  23  20    3   14   19 6.00   63

      Others                   1   0   0   1   0  20  30  18  15    2    7    9 6.75   56

      Total                  163  21  90  72 46 1464 1468 752 655 143  620  822 4.03   93

      *  Throws left

It’s déjà vu all over again. Just like last year, our hitting is an intensely productive monolith—one might even call it a “machine.” Once again led by the remarkable Pete Rose, and this time enhanced by the blossoming of Tolan, we methodically lay waste to opposing pitching staffs.

However, just like last year, all too often opponents lay waste to our pitching staff in return. Merritt eats innings, but in a shaky manner, and behind him the familiar problems of injuries (to Jim Maloney, Gary Nolan, George Culver, and Gerry Arrigo) and slumps render the starting rotation a mess. Fortunately our bullpen, featuring the durable arms of Granger, Abernathy, and Clay Carroll, is strong.

Outperforming Pythag by five wins allows us to come in at 90-72, which is a real improvement. But we’ve obviously still got work to do on the mound.

Next time

We’ll swing into the ’70s. Will these Braves repeat? Are these Astros for real? Can these Reds get fully automated?

              Braves:  Actual           Astros:  Actual            Reds:  Actual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    81   81  5    514  549    72   90 10    510  588    83   79  4    690  673
 1969    93   69  1    691  631    81   81  5    676  668    89   73  3    798  768

              Braves:  Virtual          Astros:  Virtual           Reds:  Virtual
 Year     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA     W    L Pos    RS   RA
 1968    86   76  3    538  535    68   94 10    516  634    81   81  5    671  669
 1969   105   57  1    762  597    94   68  2    726  611    90   72  3    794  752

References & Resources
I’ve introduced a new methodological feature here that wasn’t used in previous counterfactual scenarios.

In the past, each team’s runs scored total was determined simply by calculating the Runs Created based on the team’s aggregate batting stats, and going with that. However, just as teams normally vary somewhat from their projected Pythagorean won-lost records, they also normally vary somewhat from their Runs Created total.

Indeed, while it isn’t completely consistent in this regard, the variance from Runs Created tends to be slightly in the positive direction: in the 27 team-seasons included in this particular exercise—that is, each Atlanta, Houston, and Cincinnati team through the nine seasons from 1968 through 1976—the average actual team outscored its Runs Created projection by 4.3%.

So, just as we incorporate each team’s actual variance from their Pythagorean record in these exercises, we’ll now also incorporate each team’s actual variance from their Runs Created total.

These are the variances each team displayed in these years, that are factored into the team runs scored calculations:

1968: Braves -7.7%, Astros +5.6%, Reds -1.0%
1969: Braves +7.3%, Astros +12.1%, Reds +4.0%
1970: Braves +1.1%, Astros +5.4%, Reds -2.3%
1971: Braves -0.9%, Astros +6.6%, Reds +1.4%
1972: Braves -2.3%, Astros +7.8%, Reds +11.0%
1973: Braves +0.9%, Astros +8.4%, Reds +8.8%
1974: Braves +6.1%, Astros +0.8%, Reds +6.3%
1975: Braves +1.4%, Astros +8.3%, Reds +9.2%
1976: Braves +11.7%, Astros +4.5%, Reds +1.5%

Steve Treder has been a co-author of every Hardball Times Annual publication since its inception in 2004. His work has also been featured in Nine, The National Pastime, and other publications. He has frequently been a presenter at baseball forums such as the SABR National Convention, the Nine Spring Training Conference, and the Cooperstown Symposium. When Steve grows up, he hopes to play center field for the San Francisco Giants.
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10 years ago

Loving this series – can’t wait to hear your explanation of the Morgan to Reds trade, lol

10 years ago

This was nearly embarrasingly fun to read.  My wife, the Baseball Widow, keeps asking me what I’m laughing at.  “Alternative projections of Braves, Reds and Astros for the 1969 baseball season”.
Stony stare, goes back to reading her book.


10 years ago

Dooley mean THE Dooley Womack

Cliff Blau
10 years ago

If Johnny Edwards was on the Cardinals in 1968, how could Houston make a trade with the Reds to acquire him?

10 years ago

Another good series, Bruce.

Houston sure looks like they’ll be much better in the 70s and may not have to wait until 1980 for a division title. Obviously, Joe Morgan won’t be going anywhere (until free agency, anyway). But I look forward to seeing what happens to that Astros outfield as the 70s progress. (I assume the Dodgers are going to still have a certain reliable lefty in their rotation when TJ breaks down with his arm trouble in ‘74).

As for the Reds, they’re going to be stacked in the OF. Might Sparky ask Rose to move back to second? Nah. But the Big Red Machine will still have plenty of options in the mid 70s, including keeping Perez at third or moving May for pitching help or playing Driessen in RF if Griffey moves to file a hole in CF.

But as for 1969, it looks like these alternate Braves might have given the Miracle Mets a run for their money in the NLCS.

Art Shamsky had singled to start off a 2-run second inning in the Mets 9-4 game one win in Atlanta. But now he’s a Brave. He also had a key single in a 5-run 8th inning. He went 3-4 with one run scored (and a pinch-runner scored for him scored in the 8th).

In game two, an 11-6 Mets win, Shamsky went 3-5 for a run and RBI. He led off with a single in the 4th and scored when the next batter, ken Boswell, homered to give the Mets an 8-0 lead.

In game three at Shea, Shamsky was 1-4, scoring again after Boswell followed his single with a homer, in the 4th to give the Mets a 2-0 lead on their way to a 7-4 win and a three-game sweep.

Is the addition of Shamsky and Joe Torre enough for the Braves? Hard to say. But the Mets did coast the final week of the season, having clinched the division title, while the Braves were in a dog fight with the Giants and Reds.

On September 30th (the 2nd to last day of the season) Phil Neikro pitched the division-clinching game, going seven innings against the Reds, Wilhelm getting the save. It was Niekro’s third start in nine days – and on October 4th the Mets shelled him for 9 runs.

On the other hand, in a double-header sweep at Pittsburgh on September 21, the Mets’ Shamsky went a combined 4-7 with 4 runs scored and 2 RBI. If the Bucs take those two games, the Mets lead over Chicago drops to three and a half.

Then again, who knows? Shamsky was already a key ingredient in that slim division lead the Mets had anyway, going into that day hitting .300/.381/.493. So maybe instead of the Miracle Mets the Braves end up playing the Comeback Cubs for the N.L. flag.

Regarding ‘‘Le Grand Orange.’’ Well, I guess he won’t gettig that nickname since you nixed the trade with Montreal.

But how does Rusty Staub go from hitting .302/.426/.526 with 29 HR and 79 RBI as an Expo to hitting .311/.433/.508 with 22 HR and 79 RBI while playing half his games in the Dome instead of Parc Jarry?

I did look at ballpark data and it appears that may have been a quirky year for the Dome; the Astros scored more runs at home than on the road and hit 20 points higher at home, too, with homeruns only dropping from 57 away to 47 at home (in 98 less at bats) and their pitchers giving up 68 on the road and 43 at home.

I’ve read your past article but haven’t noticed or missed a stat adjustment explanation. Do you use ballpark factors to first neutralize a batter’s season stats and then adjust those stats for the new home park?

10 years ago

Cliff wrote:
‘‘If Johnny Edwards was on the Cardinals in 1968, how could Houston make a trade with the Reds to acquire him? ‘’

In part one, Bruce notes the Edwards to St. Louis 1968 pre-season deal was nixed. So the Reds still have him to trade to Houston.

10 years ago

My apologies, Steve. Had just been reading Bruce’s article on Nettles and mixed your names up.

Paul E
10 years ago

Not for anything, but “geeze”. How good would the Astros have been if they retained Staub, Wynn, Morgan, Menke, and played Cliff Johnson and Bob Watson every day along with Cedeno and Rader?

I guess we shall see.

The Astros organization might be the greatest argument for avoiding capital gains by retaining your publicly traded securities that are “up” simply because they’ll go higher if you’re patient – unlike the Astros

10 years ago

I really do enjoy these “What If” scenarios.  But I have to admit, I get a little discouraged when the article includes the Houston Astros.  I am once again reminded at what could have been…

10 years ago

Paul, ever seen Cliff Johnson behind the plate?

But, no matter. I’ll be surprised if Steve nixes decent backstop: Milt May.

What would have really made the Astros more frightening in the mid and late 70s with all those bats you mentioned is if there hadn’t been the tragic death of Don Wilson and if J.R. Richard didn’t suffer that stroke.

Not to mention needing a manager who either didn’t tick off half the team, pinch hit for pitchers when they’re throwing a no-hitter for eight innings or cancelling batting practice for the season because it supposedly is tiring out the hitters.

Or maybe Steve just doesn’t fire Grady Hatton in ‘68 and they won’t be troubled by Walter, Gomez and Durocher.

10 years ago

Dang typos.

Richard of course had his stroke in the mound during a game in July 1980, when he was still only 30 and one of the best pitchers in the game.

Also should have read: ‘‘I’ll be surprised if Steve nixes the 1973 trade that brings in a decent backstop: Milt May.’‘

And meant to say ‘‘Walker’’ (as in Harry the Hat). Joe Morgan blamed Walker on having him traded. And Jimmy Wynn, in his autobiography, said of Walker that he was ‘‘either the meanest man in the world, or else the most clueless manager in baseball history.’‘

Morgan in his book says he even had to stop Don Wilson one time from physically attacking Walker after a game in Los Angeles (apparently on April 18, 1969). The Astros took a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th, Wilson out-pitching Don Drysdale and allowing only 4 hits through six innings.

But after walking the leading off man in the bottom of the 7th, Walker pulled Wilson. Then later, in the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers rallied to score three runs and win 5-4 with a bases loaded walk deciding the game.

According to Morgan, what was the reason Walker blamed the loss on after launching a tirade and sweeping all the food off the post-game buffet table? Walker: ‘‘Because starting pitchers on this team don’t have a damn bit of guts.’‘

G.M. Spec Richardson claims the Morgan trade was merely as a result of his desire to acquire a power hitter (Lee May).

When Walker thanked Morgan later for stopping what could have been ‘‘an ugly scene,’’ Morgan replied that he hadn’t done it for his manager. ‘‘I did that for Don. Don’s my friend. If he kills you, he can’t play baseball.’‘

Regardless of Steve’s ‘fixing’ of the mess the Astros made of themselves through their poor front office management, with the way Walker was alienating most of the team, including Morgan, Wilson and Wynn, I can’t see them winning anything.

Walker in his own book accused Morgan of being a selfish player who ‘‘didn’t become a great player until he got to Cincinnati and joined a bunch of winners.’‘

Walker was also apparently behind the Don Clendenon trade, urging that the Astros acquire him from the Expos.

Maybe winning is a cure for a toxic atmosphere but more likely either Hatton either stays on or Richardson hires someone other than Walker, perhaps Gene Mauch who the Phillies fired three days before Hatton was let go?

10 years ago

Wow Philip, and here I thought I was the only Houston Astros fan that still held grudges.

As for the Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn Trades, that was before I even knew what baseball was, so I can only go from history.  But I will admit, I was one of those individuals who did not like the 1980 Free Agent Signing of Joe Morgan.  I guess it was too much of the Prodigal Son returns atmosphere around the signing.  Of course, later when Joe Morgan made the claim that the Houston Astros only became Winners after his arrival is when I really had enough of Joe Morgan.

I just wonder how the next few years will play out.  Since it is looking as if the Houston Astros will not need to sign Joe Niekro or Jose Cruz, just to name a couple, in the future.

I am just happy the article is stopping in 1976.  I would hate to see The Virtual 1979 to 1981 or 1980 to 1991 Houston Astros.

10 years ago

PHillip, great idea on “free agency delayed”.  Even a “no free agent” scenario is fun to play with.  Gossage stays with late 70s Pirates? Yankees without Gossage, Jackson, Hunter,etc. – that does make for a Red Sox dynasty as they certainly were producing more homegrown talent…

10 years ago

Ted, not an Astros fan. (Go Red Sox!)

But I began following baseball in the early 70s so I remember a lot of it and the internet does helps fill in the details (like finding out which game Morgan was referring to about Walker’s outburst on

Claude Osteen was one of my favorite Dodgers so it was sad to see him leave but there’s no denying the Dodgers wouldn’t have won the pennant in 1974 without the Toy Cannon, who then in 1976 was sent in a package deal to acquire Dusty Baker from the Braves. Saw quite a lot of those Astros, Reds and Braves at Dodger Stadium during that era.

I can’t deny Morgan was a great player (and I still hate those memories of watching on TV of him driving in what turned out to be the game-winning RBI against Boston in game 7 in the 75 Series). Or that he was part of division winners in Cincy, Houston, Philly and nearly in San Francisco too (when he essentially clinched the division for Atlanta with a 3-run blast against the Dodgers on the last day of the 1982 season the day after the Dodgers eliminated the Giants).

But what really made the 1980 Astros a division winner was take your pick: (a) the signing of Nolan Ryan or rather the inepitude of Buzzie Bavasi and his saying he could get two 8-7 pitchers to replace him; (b) the Reds refusal to go after free-agents or retain their own players; or (c) the Dodgers deciding TJ wasn’t worth a three-year contract after helping them win back-to-back pennants and then thinking they could replace him with Dave Goltz in 1980.

(Was at those three games in 1980 when the Dodgers caught them at the end of 162 to force the playoff game. And the 81 NLDS when the Astros again lost 3 straight and that time did lose the title to the Dodgers).

Jose Cruz was a heck of a player, though. Playing all those home games at the Dome really hurt him statistically (and no doubt financially, too, in the pre-sabermetric era). And it had to be hard for teams facing Joe Neikro with that knuckler after facing Ryan or Richard and vice-versa.

But I think had the Dodgers had met Andy Messersmith’s initial contract demands after he pitched them to a pennant in 1974 it would have certainly delayed free agency in MLB for at least a year (the Expos would have released McNally or offered him a can’t turn-down-deal) and probably longer. And there’d have probably been no way for anyone to break the Cincinnati/Dodgers dominace of the NL West from 1973-1979 until the mid 1980s at the earliest.

Finally, had Charlie Finley simply sent an insurance payment in on time for Catfish Hunter’s annuity, Hunter wouldn’t have become a free agent after the 74 World Series and players in the mid 70s, including Messermith (who soon saw how much money was being thrown at Hunter), would have had no idea just how valuable their contracts were worth in a free market. With the PA’s contract up for renegotiation at the end of 1975, there’d have been a good possibility that without the Hunter/Messersmith free agencies, a 4 or 5 year deal would have saw no ending of the reserve clause until the early 1980s.

Now there’s a scenario I’d really like Steve to cover, free agency delayed until 1981 and The Dynasty That Never Was: The Red Sox of 1975-1979.

Steve Treder
10 years ago

That is a truly great idea:  “what if free agency had been delayed/never transpired?”

I’ve generally ended these 1970s scenarios in 1976, because once full free agency enters the picture, it’s hard to be fair and confident in deciding which team might have signed which free agent.  But if we leave the old rules in place for a few more years … wow, all kinds of interesting things might present themselves.

It’s on the “to do” list!

10 years ago

Gary, actually Gossage could still be in Chicago with teammate Bucky Dent because the Bucs might not have felt it necessary to move Richie Zisk with a year left on his contract. (though granted, both The Goose and Terry Forster had played for Chuck Tanner’s White Sox and it could be argued the Pirates were worried about their bullpen). Also, the three principles in the trade – Gossage, Forster and Zisk – were all then unsigned by their current teams and Zisk had asked to be traded.

Steve, all your articles are great but I’d really look forward to that one. True, it’s a bit more difficult to sketch out a longer scenario into the mid 80s, but we could be fairly certain about most of the big signings for 1977-79, i.e. those players that won’t be going anywhere: Rose, Jackson, Ryan, John, Blue, Gullett, Messersmith, Hunter (those that was a botch job by Finley), etc., and even some of the trades that resulted from players’ impending free agency.

I think the key to it all is Catfish. If he stays in Oakland heading into the 1975 season, Messersmith never sees all the money that was being thrown at Hunter during the off-season and re-signs with the Dodgers.

Marvin Miller would later maintain the Dodgers threw in the towel once the Expos couldn’t get Dave McNally to resign but if Messersmith resigns prior to the 1975 season, I don’t see how McNally’s situation even becomes an arbitration case. Montreal would have just gave him his unconditional release.

Though some player movement could have still taken place with disgruntled players (perhaps the Pirates trade Randolph and Zisk to Minnesota to get Blyleven; the Twins were moving Carew to first so they had a hole to file).

But the big names staying in place in the late 70s and into around 81 (either because of not being a free agent or because no trade is ‘forced’) that quickly come to mind are:

Oakland: Hunter, Holtzman, Jackson, Campaneris, Washington, Fingers, Rudi, Tenace, Blue, Bando (though Finley offered him straight up to Boston for Fergie Jenkins – think that would have sewed up Boston’s 76 flag?)

Minnesota: Carew (possibly Blyleven)

Chi White Sox: Gossage, Forster, Dent

California: Ryan

Baltimore: Torrez, Grich (and he never gets hurt in California; does Dauer then become an expansion pick by Seattle or Toronto?), Baylor (perhaps swapped to Cubs for Monday or Stone?)

Boston: Lynn, Fisk, Tiant, Burleson (and he also never gets hurt in California)

Pittsburgh: Zisk

Chi Cubs: Stone

Cincinnati: Rose, Gullett

Los Angeles: Messersmith, John

San Diego: Winfield

10 years ago

Great stuff, Philip.  You’re right, of course, on Gossage/Forster for Zisk.  But since all three were on last year of contracts?, that trade would have still made sense for both teams- a proven hitter and solid citizen for two great arms who had done well as relievers but bombed as starters(although, in retrospect, White Sox gave away about 10 years of great pitching for a couple of years of good hitting)

The Zisk/Randolph for Blyleven trade is an interesting idea.  Sure makes more sense than the Doc Medich deal.

Steve Treder
10 years ago

“But since all three were on last year of contracts?, that trade would have still made sense for both teams”

No, no, there is no free agency.  The Reserve Clause still abides.  There is no such thing as “last year of contracts.”

10 years ago

Yes, Steve. You’re correct. With no Messersmith/McNally case for arbitrator Peter Seitz to be the deciding vote on, the reserve clause and the 10(a) provision in players’ contracts do apply towards Zisk, Forster and Gossage (and everyone else).

Gary, what the Pirates would have simply done (pre-Messersmith) is given Zisk an offer (with a small raise). If he doesn’t take it, they could simply renew his contract for one-year at the previous salary (thereby he maybe doesn’t even get a raise). So to with the White Sox players.

After Zisk plays that season without signing a contract, guess what? If he doesn’t sign, they simply repeat the process. But under the new CBA in the early 70s, the players got the right to have contract disputes settled by arbitration. Some came close to being an earlier test case (Ted Simmons, Bobby Tolan) but there were usually only a few players in that situation in season and were either signed (with decent raises) or released.

It wasn’t the testing of the whole notion of the reserve clause per se but of section 10(a) provision in the standard contract that made the reserve clause a lifetime commitment (i.e. with an owner being able to renew a renewal term).

It stated:
‘‘On or before December 20 (or if a Sunday, then the next preceding business day) in the year of the last playing season covered by the contract, the Club may tender to the Player a contract for the term of that year by mailing the same to the Player at his address following his signature hereto, or if none be given, then at his last address of record with the Club. If prior to the March 1 next succeeding said December 20, the Player and the Club have not agreed upon the terms of such contract, then on or before 10 days after said March 1, the Club shall have the right by written notice to the Player as said address to renew this contract for the period of one year on the same terms, except that the amount payable to the Player shall be such as the Club shall fix in said notice; provided, however, that said amount, if fixed by a Major League Club, shall be an amount payable at a rate not less than 80 percent of the rate stipulated for the next preceding year and at a rate not less than 70 percent of the rate stipulated for the year immediately prior to the next preceding game.’‘

Seitz ruled that a one-year renewal meant just that: ‘‘one.’‘

The very likely reason why Zisk, Gossage and Forster were (in our timeline) moved was because being in the ‘last year of their contract’ actually now meant that.

In the alternate timeline with the reserve clause still in full force, there is not even an impending decision on Messersmith when negotiations start for the general agreement which was due to expire on December 31, 1975.

Why? Because Catfish Hunter is still on the A’s and Messersmith resigns with the Dodgers.

In January 1974, Hunter signed a two-year contract for $100,000/year with Oakland. He was to be paid $50,000 in salary and the A’s were to purchase an annuity for Hunter with the other $50,000. Owner Charlie Finley failed to do so and then after failing to meet the deadline to purchase the annuity in October 1974 he tried to give Hunter a check directly. Hunter refused it and later Seitz ruled that the A’s didn’t abide by the contract and ruled Hunter a free agent.

The result was that nine clubs negotiated with Hunter via telephone and the mail and the other 15 clubs beat a path to Ahoskie, North Carolina to woo Hunter. Six owners even personally met with him, including then-Brewers owner Bud Selig.

It wasn’t just owners that were sent to woo Hunter. But club executives, managers and potential teammates, a list that included Walt Alston, Gene Autry, Al Campanis, Harry Dalton, Bob Howsman, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, John McNamara, Peter O’Malley, Paul Owens, Gabe Paul, Gaylord Perry, Bud Selig, Dick Williams and many others.

The Padres and Royals offered a package worth $3.5 million and the Red Sox, Dodgers, Indians and Phillies all offered more than $2 million.

10 years ago

The Yankees won the day, with a package of about $3 million that included a five-year playing contract at $150,000/year, a $1 million signing bonus, a $500,000 paid life insurance policy, $50,000/year for public relation appearances after his retirement, $200,000 for attorney fees and two $25,000 annuities for Hunter’s two children.

Is it any wonder that Andy Messersmith would later turn down the Dodgers three-year, no trade contact offer before the Seitz ruling of $150,000 for 1975 (this being retroactive), $170,000 for 1976 and $220,000 for 1977?

All Messersmith had essentially wanted after 1974 was a no trade contract, which the Dodgers refused to give him. Money wasn’t even much of an issue. But the club refused, he wouldn’t sign and so they renewed his contract for the 1975 season at $115,000, giving him a $25,000 raise from the $90,000 he made in 1974.

John Gaherin, the owners’ chief negotiator for the Player’s Relations Committee, had been trying to get the owners to compromise before the hammer came down on them.

But again, with no Messersmith/McNally case, even the arbitration clause itself which allowed the only opening for players to seek free agency, could have been tightened with a new CBA (or liberalized, too – perhaps giving free agency to a limited number of players after certain years of service was met).

But regardless, no Messersmith/McNally case means no free agent signings in 1977 for sure and likely for a handful of years after that, perhaps not until the expiration of any new CBA.

Perhaps the new CBA expires on December 30, 1980 and the 1981 season begins without a new agreement. Then a mid-season strike occurs not over the issue of free agent compensation but over 10(a) itself (the right for owners to renew a contract for one year and then renew the renewal).

Re: Zisk, Blyleven and Randolph

The Twins were interested in Zisk and Randolph and the Pirates were interested in Blyleven (and later got him in a trade with Texas).

I think a three-way trade that couldn’t have benefit everyone would have been the Pirates sending Doc Ellis, Ken Brett and Willie Randolph to the Mets (who move Felix Milan to third) in exchange for Minnesota native Jerry Koosman. The Bucs then send Koosman and Zisk (and perhaps even a prospect or two like Tony Armas or Mitchell Page) to Minnesota for Blyleven.

A toned-down deal with the A’s still gets the Pirates third-sacker Phil Garner and without free agency they groom Hebner to take over for Stargell at first base. And perhaps they give a kid named Craig Reynolds a chance at SS instead of sticking with Frank Taveras.

Oakland, having sent Bando to Boston to Fergie Jenkins, simply promotes Wayne Gross a year earlier.

The Red Sox lineup for 1976 could consist of 3b Bando, ss Burleson, 2b Doyle, 1b-dh Cooper, lf-1b-dh Yastrzemski, cf Lynn, rf Evans, lf-dh Rice, c Fisk, … with a rotation of Tiant, Lee, Wise (Eckersley in 1977 for Wise), Cleveland and Pole/Jones. I can certainly see Butch Hobson being sent to, say, the Cubs or the Angels for some pitching. And Bando will fill most of the gap at 3B nicely until Wade Boggs comes up.

The A’s rotation for in the mid-late 70s looks like this: Hunter, Holtzman, Blue, Jenkins, Norris +

The O’s rotation: Palmer, Torrez, Flanagan, D. Martinez, Alexander (they sell Wayne Garland to the Indians and trade Ross Grimsley to the Expos for Don Stanhouse)

The Yankees rotation: Medich, May, Dobson, Tidrow, Gura, Sawyer… McGregor (Oh yeah. Ron Guidry is traded to Toronto for Bill Singer because the Blue Jays end up keeping Rico Carty and put him on the cover of their media guide for 1977 instead of Singer, hence they accept the Yankees offer of Guidry for Singer—yes, that’s right. In reality, the Yankees did actual offered Guidry to the Blue Jays for Singer – and Toronto turned them down allegedly because Singer’s photo graced the cover of their inaugural media guide).

The Pirates rotation: Candelaria, Blyleven, Kison, Rooker, Reuss

The Dodgers rotation: Messersmith, John, Sutton, Hooton, Rau .. Rhoden, Welch, Sutcliffe (perhaps they move John in 1979 to the Angels for CF Ken Landreaux?)

10 years ago

Great stuff!  If Yankees were willing to trade Guidry for Singer, maybe they would have jumped on Dock Ellis who Pirates moved to them in Randolph trade. Or maybe they even give him up for Ken Brett.

Never heard about A’s lusting for Fergie Jenkins…

…wonder why Twins were so ready to trade young Blyleven? 

Yep, Reynolds was a #1 draft choice but Bucs were enamored with Taveras’s speed.  Mistake

Wonder why they didn’t give more serious look to9 Rennie Stennett at short – as I remember, he had a good if not great arm.  I think some combination of Reynolds and Stennett at short…and keeping Randlolph at 2b would have worked out well for them

10 years ago   Zisk played out final year of his contract in his one year with Sox, declared free agency and signed a big contract with Rangers. 

Still love your Zisk for Blyleven idea (:

10 years ago

After winning only one game out of seven in the past two NLCS to the Dodgers & Reds, Pittsburgh GM Joe Brown inexplicably concluded the problem was the 75 Pirates starting rotation of Candelaria, Kison, Rooker, Reuss, Ellis & Brett.

Never mind that their starters were 2nd in the NL in ERA at 3.19 (Dodgers were 1st at 2.80), nearly a full run better than NL East runner-up Philadelphia (4.11) and nearly a half-run better than the World Champion Reds (3.69).

Or that their 43 CG were also 2nd only to the Dodgers (51). Or that in 1975 Rooker (32) was the only one in the rotation over 30.

Never mind the fact that the left side of the infield, with Hebner and Taveras, was near the bottom in fielding. Or that the Reds stole 11 bases in 11 attempts on Manny Sanguillen in their 3 games sweep in the 75 NLCS.

Or that Pittsburgh scored only 10 runs combined in the six games they lost to the Dodgers and Reds.

Brown blamed it all on the starting pitching and felt they needed shut-down guy. And so they pursued Doc Medich of the Yankees. And the Yankees turned the offer of Dock Ellis and lefty Ken Brett (in 76 the NYY would be back at their remodeled stadium), even after the Pirates were willing to throw in AAA star Willie Randolph (who the Yankees wanted to replace the aging Sandy Alomar at second).

Enter the California Angels. Desperate for a power hitter (the club was not only out homered by Babe Ruth’s 1927 campaign but in 1975 they had the fewest team total in MLB in 20 years), the were sending out feelers.

The Yankees were moving back into Yankee Stadium after two years at Shea and they knew that right-handed power hitter Bobby Bonds’ numbers were bound to take a hit.

But after Gabe Paul sent starting pitcher Pat Dobson to Cleveland for left-handed slugging outfielder Oscar Gamble on Nov 22, 1975, Bonds suddenly became expendable when the Yankees realized they could solve three problems at once by capitalizing on the sheer stupidity of the Pirates and Angels front offices.

Bonds was sent packing to California in exchange for center fielder Mickey Rivers (given Elliott Maddox’ injury) and right-handed starting pitcher Ed Figueroa. With Figgy, Medich was expendable and the Yankees then agreed to the deal with Pittsburgh.

In three ‘trades’ (more like highway robbery), the Yankees upgraded their starting rotation, filled holes at second and center, improved their team speed and defense up the middle immensely and replaced a right-handed slugger in RF with a left-handed slugger.

Finley supposedly began shopping Bando after the A’s captain told the press that the firing of manager Al Dark was a “big mistake.” The two already weren’t on the best of terms after Finley called Bando the “worst third baseman” in baseball during contract negotiations after Bando had just helped the club win its third straight World Series.

[ I read about the Bando for Jenkins offer in some newspaper archive, coming across it when doing other research; forgot which one but in looking around I see the Boston Globe on 11/23/75 has a blurb about it, about a week after the Rangers dealt Jenkins to Boston.

The deal would have made sense for both clubs. But Red Sox GM Dick O’Connell foolishly thought that Rico Petrocelli would make a comeback in 1976 after a horrible 1975 season at the plate. Rico was never the same after a beaning to the head in September 1974 and other injuries had taken their toll as well. You think after what had happened to Tony Conigliaro that O’Connell would have jumped at the chance to get the right-handed, power-hitting Bando. As a result, Butch Hobson was rushed up and received unjustified criticism for his throwing problems at third, especially during the 1978 season considering he played much of the season with severe pain in his right elbow. ]

Blyleven was in a contract dispute with the Twins, who weren’t going able to keep him once free agency became a reality. He was shipped to Texas in a multi-player trade that included Bill Singer going north (the Twins then made Singer available in the expansion draft, which is how Toronto got him).

With the reserve clause still in play and no free agency in the late 70s, it’s still possible the Twins could have moved Blyleven to Pittsburgh, as they wanted to move Rod Carew to first. (They ended up using a pickup from the Dodgers farm, Bob Randall, at second). But that’s why the Twins were interested in Randolph, as well the Yankees, Dodgers and Kansas City. The Dodgers were thinking of moving Davey Lopes to center. But why K.C., who had Frank White ready to take over for Cookie Rojas? Go figure!

Stennett was pretty solid, until injuries took their toll. Like the Mets with Milan, I think a move to third could have made an opening for Randolph, though Stennett also had some major league experience at short, too.

10 years ago

I brought up the Koosman/Blyleven scenario because as it turns out, Blyleven did end up in Pittsurgh and Koosman did end up in Minnesota and the Twins had been interested in Zisk. And Randolph? He would have been in New York playing second in pinstripes on a grass field. Except in Mets pinstripes, not Yankees pinstripes.

I think it also helps each of the three teams:

Give up: Koosman
Acquire: Ellis, Brett, Randolph
On the field: Milan moves to third (instead of Staiger hitting .220 with 11 EBH in 76); Harrelson returns to SS from his injury and they have a nice DP combo. With a pending rotation of Seaver, Matlack, Ellis, Brett and Swan, perhaps in Dec 75 they don’t make the Staub for Lolich swap?

Would you rather have Staiger/Garrett at third and Koosman/Lolich in the rotation or Randolph in the lineup and Milan moving to third, Ellis/Brett in the rotation and Rusty Staub hitting .229/15HR/96RBI? Sure, John Milner hit .271/15/78 in 1975, but in 1974 he was horrible at the plate (.191) while Staub drove in 105 runs. I think looking forward the Mets could have had a reasonably solid infield of Milan///Harrelson—>Brooks-///Randolph///Kranepool—>Kingman. And if/when Tom Seaver demands that trade, they ask for Ray Knight from Cincinnati instead of Doug Flynn.

Give up: Blyleven
Acquire: Zisk, Koosman
On the field: Zisk could fit in nicely at DH, replacing an aging Tony Olivia and/or spend time in LF. Though in retrospect the Twins look OK in the OF in 1976 (Hisle, Bostock, Ford), both Hisle (elbow) and Bostock (broken ankle) were coming off injuries. Koosman was no Blyleven, but the Twins also had no left-handed starter to speak of, either.

Give up: Ellis, Brett, Randolph
Acquire: Blyleven
On the field: Lets see. Who’d you rather have? Doc Medich or Bert Blyleven. So this should be a no-brainer from the Pirates point of view.
In fact, since the Pirates are to benefit and arguably the Mets as well, the Twins may be the only party to the trade who may be reluctant to pull the trigger. So if the deal needs to be sweetened slightly, instead of sending Art Howe to Houston for Tommy Helms, they’ll include in as part of the deal to the Twins. Minnesota’s third baseman in 1975, Eric Soderholm had a knee injury that would sideline him for the 1976 season. If given playing time, there’s no reason to think Howe would perform any differently for the Twins in 1977 and beyond than he did for the Astros from 1977-82 (playing mostly at second, but also third).

Sure, it all looks bleak for the Yankees heading into 1976.

There’s no Randolph, no Figgy, no Mick the Quick, Bobby Bonds is still but hitting monster shots that die in the left-center field canyon, no Hunter (hence they can’t even spare Dobson, hence no Gamble) and all that adds up to no pennant.

An injured Elliott Maddox means they are desperate for a CF (my thought is they’d acquire Willie Davis from St. Louis). They don’t get Ken Brett, so they can’t swing him for Carlos May. Holtzman’s still in Oakland getting underpaid by Charlie Finley, so there’s no blockbuster deal in mid-76 that brings him and Doyle Alexander over from Baltimore. And Fred Stanley is at shortstop for years to come, until Damaso Garcia is ready.

But if that isn’t bleak enough? No Billy Martin, either!

On August 1st, 1975, the Yankees had fired manager Bill Virdon and hired recently fired Rangers manager Billy Martin (who Texas let go on July 20). But without Hunter in 1975, Bill Virdon gets fired much sooner.

Through games of July 31, 1975, the Yankees sat in third place, 10 games behind the Red Sox and only 5 games ahead of 5th place Cleveland. The Yankees at that point were 14-11 in games in which Hunter had started.

It gets even worst: From May 2nd to May 17th, the only games which the Yankees won were games in which Hunter started. They went 2-10 during that stretch and sat in last place, 12-20, seven and a half games behind division-leading Milwaukee.

The two games Hunter won? A 3-0 shutout at Oakland on May 10 and a 4-3, 10-inning, complete game win at California on May 14.

Has any Yankee manager’s job ever survived a 12-games losing streak, which is the situation Bill Virdon would have faced. (And those actual 12 games were bookmarked by two other Hunter wins).

One cannot underestimate just how badly the Yankees needed Catfish Hunter in 1975 (especially given that Mel Stottlemyre suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in 1974).

Without Hunter, Virdon (already on a short-leash and who was a reluctant hire to begin with when Dick Williams become ineligible) would have been canned long before Billy Martin was given his walking papers down in Texas.

Yankee coaches at the time were Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Dick Howser, Cloyd Boyer and Mel Wright.

10 years ago

Who could The Boss have hired had Virdon been fired early on in 1975? Yogi Berra wasn’t dismissed by the Mets until August 5, 1975. And all the other MLB managers fired later that season include Del Crandall (Milw), Jack McKeon (KC), Clyde King (Atl) and Preston Gomez (SD) were still in their dugouts in late May.

Gabe Paul could have hired Ken Aspromonte, who was let go by the Indians at the end of the 1974 season and had been his manager in Cleveland. Or he could have sought a care-taker until Steinbrenner got his man (Williams, after the Angels fire him in 1976). That may well have been a fiery, short-tempered manager, asked to come out of retirement and who was well-known to the New York media: Leo Durocher.