One thing that struck me while researching and writing posts for retro week was the odd quality of transactions in the 80s. There were players traded, and traded away, multiple times. There was even a player traded for himself. That’s not even to mention the frequency of trades in general. So to close out Friday, I wanted to take a look at some of the things that stood out to me as odd in the 80s.
Trades were apparently more common in the 80s than they are today. For example, in the calendar year 2008 the Yankees made five trades. They made seven in 2009, and then six in 2010. In 2011 they consummated only two trades. (Without looking, can you name ‘em?) After making just four trades in 1980, the Yankees went kinda nuts for the rest of the decade. Here’s the breakdown.
So yes, the Yankees were just a bit more active in the past. Can you imagine them making 14 trades this year? It’d be insanity.
Why Ron Hassey?
I’ll be frank: I only remember Ron Hassey because I had a few of his baseball cards. He was pretty crappy, so he’d be a guy you got in every third or fourth pack. For the most part these were cards of him on the White Sox, but there was one year I had his Yankees card. In any case, the Yanks and the Sox dealt him frequently — and oddly.
The Yankees originally acquired Hassey from the Cubs after the 1984 season. (Ephemera: The Cubs got him from the Indians, in exchange for Joe Carter and familiar name Mel Hall.) Hassey caught for the Yankees during the 85 season, but after the season they traded him to the White Sox. That was in December. The following February, before Hassey had even put on a Sox uniform, he was traded back to the Yankees.
As if that weren’t enough, the Yankees ended up trading him at the 1986 trade deadline — back to the White Sox.
Traded for himself
After Thurman Munson’s death in 1979, the Yankees employed a ragtag duo at catcher. Neither Brad Gulden nor Jerry Narron could hit a lick — hence the Yankees’ acquisition of Rick Cerone that off-season. Gulden played sparingly for the Yankees in 1980, and after the season they traded him, along with $150,000, to the Mariners in exchange for Larry Milbourne and a player to be named later. That happened in November.
Six months later, the Mariners finally sent the Yankees that PTBNL. His name? Brad Gulden.
That didn’t end the Gulden saga with New York. Just before the start of the 1982 season they traded him to Montreal. Six months later, they purchased his contract back from Montreal. He became a free agent after the 1983 season, and he stayed as far away from the Yankees as possible, spending the rest of his career in the National League.
In 1980 the California angels took left-handed pitcher Dennis Rasmussen with the 17th pick of the draft. He never made it to the majors with them, though. Just before the waiver trade deadline in 82, the Yankees traded Tommy John to the Angels. Three months later, the Angels sent Rasmussen to the Yankees as the PTBNL.
Rasmussen would make his debut the following season, but not for the Yankees. Again near the waiver trade deadline, the Yankees got John Montefusco from the Padres. Why they wanted a slightly above average 33-year-old pitcher I don’t know. Why they ended up trading a recent first-round pick for him I really don’t know. In September they sent Rasmussen to San Diego, where he threw 13.2 innings. Those would be the last innings he’d throw for the Padres until 1988.
Just as the Yankees were about to break camp in 1984, they traded Graig Nettles to the Padres. The return? Yep. That’d be Rasmussen. This time they held onto him, giving him 71 starts and six relief appearances from 84 through 86, wherein he produced a 4.13 ERA (97 ERA+). In 87 he fell off a bit, and so before the waiver trade deadline they dished him to the Reds for Bill Gullickson. He’d make his way back to San Diego less than a year later.
For those who don’t remember, and I barely do, Tim Burke was a quality relief pitcher throughout the 80s. The Pirates had drafted him in the 2nd round in 1980, but before he made his debut they traded him to the Yankees for Lee Mazzilli. 362 days later, the Yankees traded him, still before his debut, to the Expos for Pat Rooney. I’m not quite sure what they saw in Rooney. He was a punch and judy hitter in the minors, while Burke had been at least decent.
Burke ended up having a fine career for the Expos; his 1.19 ERA (356 ERA+) in 91 innings in 1987 remains a career highlight. In July of 1991 the Expos traded him to the Mets, and then a year later the Mets traded him to the Yankees. They ended up getting 27.2 pretty good innings out of him before letting him walk in free agency, though he never pitched another inning in the bigs after that. It’s kind of a sad return on a quality reliever.
There were some other odd dealings. For instance, the Yankees traded for Claudell Washington twice, getting both the best (120 OPS+) and worst (18 OPS+) seasons of his career. There was something of a fascination with Tommy John. They also had multiple stints with Neil Allen. Again, these types of transactions seem downright outlandish by today’s standards. I mean, have you ever heard of a player acting as the PTBNL in his own trade? How about a guy traded back and forth in the same off-season? Those crazy 80s.