Odd transactions abounded in the 80s

The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2012
Update: Yanks, Pirates continue to talk about Burnett

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.

Transaction explosion

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.

1980: 4
1981: 10
1982: 8
1983: 9
1984: 10
1985: 6
1986: 8
1987: 10
1988: 7
1989: 14

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.

Dennis Rasmussen

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.

Tim Burke

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.

The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2012
Update: Yanks, Pirates continue to talk about Burnett
  • STONE COLD Austin Romine


  • Professor Longnose

    Int he 70s the Yankees made great trades. Bobby Bonds for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw for Fritz Peterson et al. Willie Randolph, Ken Brett, and Doc Ellis for Doc Medich! Craig Nettles and throw-ins for Charlie Spikes and throw-ins. Danny Cater and a PTBNL for Sparky Lyle. Lou Piniella for Lindy McDaniel and a throw-in.

    They got taken in the Scotty McGregor-Rick Dempsey-Rudy May-Ken Holtzman-Doyle Alexnader-etc swap, but you can’t have everything.

    • KeithK

      I think that reflects that the team had a strong GM in the 70s who was pretty savvy, while in the 80s they had a revolving door of weak, short term GMs. The tendency to reacquire players (Washington, John, Cerone) might be a result of Steinbrenner’s meddling. That just feels like a George thing, like rehiring Billy Martin four times.

  • DSFC

    They just really flailed about in the ’80s. I don’t think it was the era so much as it was the Yankees of the era. George was at his mercurial worst in those days, ordering players to be dealt on whims, ordering players to be acquired on whims.

  • Botz

    Maybe it was all that cocaine back then? Those GMs must have been flying high by the seat of their pants.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Dennis Rasmussen signed a baseball for my son who was about nine. He was a big lefty with a great personality. When I think back on all the trades that the Boss would make. Pushing young guys out the door with regularity. It use to get to me. Sure the mentality to win and improve was always present but the results in those years were lacking big time.

  • Sweet Lou

    I’ve been following the Yankees on a daily basis since 1977 and I can say unequivocally that Ron Hassey’s HR vs. Toronto at the Stadium in September 1985 is one of the great moments during the dark ages of 1982-1992.

    • Big Jim Walewander

      Good call, Sweet Lou. Ron Hassey’s number for the Yankees were well above his career averages. He had 3.0 bWAR for the Yanks (4.2 offensive bWAR) in 458 at-bats.

      Don Mattingly’s home run off of Don Aase that month was also awesome.

      As for Tommy John, from 1986 – 1988 he had a 104 ERA+ for the Yankees. He seemed to be a great teammate, and would do whatever was asked. Check out his numbers from June of 1988. He was 45, and he started six games and finished two more for Billy Martin… 40 innings, 2.48 ERA.

      Things fell apart for TJ in 1989. I sort of remember Dallas Green hanging him out to dry in games he didn’t have anything, but I’d have to go over the game logs to see if that was really so.

      • Sweet Lou

        Well, Dallas Green left lots of pitches hung out to dry – Leiter, Isringhausen, Wilson. Leiter detests Dallas for leaving him in for 162 pitches.

        I seem to recall that Tommy John was the opening day starter in ’89. All that mediocre pitching they would get from the national league was insane – Hawkins, Rhoden, Trout, Hudson, Candelaria

        • Big Jim Walewander

          Interesting, I didn’t know that about Leiter and Green.

          You’re right, Tommy John was the opening day starter in 1989. There had been a good amount of drama that Spring Training… I recall Green being open about not thinking someone of TJ’s age could contribute anymore. Fairly dismissive, actually. But TJ had a great camp, and Green had him start opening day.

    • Steve S

      I was at that game and will never forget the sight of Hassey’s home run ball arcing into the upper deck in right. Best Yankee Stadium memory for me until Arod’s ninth inning home run in the 2009 ALDS against the Twins.

  • RetroRob

    RAB writers would be quite busy if the Yankees made fourteen trades today.

    It does lead to an interesting question: Are trades down overall for ALL MLB teams? Or is it a case that winning teams make less deals, and as the Yankees began to sink further throughout the 1980s they began to make more deals?

  • Claudell

    Claudell Washington FTW!

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Steve S.
  • Madefelice

    Ron Hassey was picked up b/c he was a lefty bat that could catch. The Yanks in the 80s wanted every lefty that could take advantage of the short porch. The Boss loved Tommy John b/c he pitched tough against them when he was with the Dodgers. The Yanks also loved Gary Ward and Claudell Washington too. The 80s sucked. Thank god for Mattingly. I did love when the Yanks had Rickey Henderson, whenever he stole a base they played this Getty or Sunoco commercial with him turning into to a cheetah while stealing the base. I thought that was cool.