They were playing far-sies, top-sies and knock-sies with live players in Dallas last week at the 79th official baseball meetings. Whitey Herzog, manager and general manager of St. Louis, shuffled a whole lot of Cards by trading away six pitchers, three catchers, two infielders and one outfielder for four pitchers, two catchers and an outfielder. The popular term of endearment for Herzog is the White Rat, and he lived up to his nickname as he scurried through the suites and cocktail lounges of the Loews Anatole Hotel, packing away players.
Even before Herzog made his first deal, the winter meetings—held annually in the fall—had a touch of the bizarre. The Loews Anatole Hotel is a striking example of an architectural style that can only be called Texas-Egyptian. During the week Deena the Chimp, the San Diego Chicken and Max Patkin, Clown Prince of Baseball, were trying to outmug each other to get minor league bookings for 1981. By the time the zaniness ended at midnight on Friday, 17 trades, some of them blockbusters, had been consummated. Fred Lynn and Ron Guidry were shopped around like third-string catchers. One manager lost his job and his lunch in-one fell swoop. And Hank Peters, the Orioles' general manager, proudly announced that his daughter had given birth to a baby "to be named later."
These meetings were a delightful departure from the killjoy confabs of recent years. There were 58 players traded, the most since 1975. The inauguration of free agency (in 1976) and a second inter-league trading period (in 1977) had been responsible for the decline. Now the owners seem infused with more traditional values. Besides, as Chicago White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond said, "It's a lot more fun trading a player than signing him."
Even so, it was Herzog's signing of a free agent, Catcher Darrell Porter, on Sunday, Dec. 7 that set off his Whirl Series of trades. On Monday, Herzog and Padres General Manager Jack McKeon unveiled an 11-player deal, which baseball-card collectors immediately recognized as a variation on two Tom Sturdivants for one Harvey Kuenn. The most noteworthy names were Pitcher Rollie Fingers and Catcher Gene Tenace of San Diego and Catcher Terry Kennedy of St. Louis. "I plan to see you guys every day," Herzog vowed to reporters at his press conference. "If I do it all in one day, I'll have to go home."
Sure enough, the White Rat was back Tuesday afternoon to announce he had just gotten Relief Pitcher Bruce Sutter from the Cubs for Third Baseman Ken Reitz, Outfielder-First Baseman Leon Durham and a player to be named later. Cubs General Manager Bob Kennedy said he was happy with the trade, though not as happy as he would've been if he'd got his son, Terry. Herzog said the trade took about 74 phone calls to make. "The general manager is doing a great job," said Herzog. "Now if the manager doesn't screw up, we're in great shape." So, just two days into the meetings, Herzog found himself with two of the best relievers in the game—between them, Sutter and Fingers had 51 saves last season, 24 more than the whole Cardinal staff—and three first-rate catchers: Porter, Tenace and Ted Simmons. He clearly had some more dealing in mind.
That materialized on Friday when Herzog and Milwaukee General Manager Harry Dalton announced that the Cardinals were sending Fingers, Simmons and Righthander Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers for Outfielder Sixto Lezcano, Righthander Lary Sorenson and two minor-leaguers. "Now I have to leave to catch a plane," said Herzog. "Goodby."
The Herzog trades were actually a lot of sound and fury that seem to signify very little for the Cardinals; they may, in fact, have done more harm than good. All Herzog really added was Sutter, while losing the switch-hitting Simmons, one of the game's half dozen toughest outs, in the process. The sleeper in the deal with the Brewers may be Outfielder Dave Green, a 20-year-old Nicaraguan who reminds some baseball people of Roberto Clemente. "You haven't heard of him yet," said Dalton, who was very reluctant to give Green up, "but you will." The Brewers are going for broke in 1981 because both Vuckovich and Fingers can become free agents at the end of next season. Milwaukee also had to throw in a reported $750,000 to persuade Simmons and his agent, LaRue Harcourt, to waive the 10-and-5 rule, otherwise known as the Santo Clause: a player with 10 years' experience in the majors and at least five years with the same team can veto a trade, as Ron Santo first did.
Milwaukee seemed to have helped itself the most. Simmons is the best catcher the Brewers have ever had, and Fingers gives them their first solid reliever since Ken Sanders in the early '70s.
The other big trade of the week came on Wednesday when the Red Sox sent Shortstop Rick Burleson and Third Baseman Butch Hobson to the Angels for Third Baseman Carney Lansford, Pitcher Mark Clear and Outfielder Rick Miller. Lansford is a prize, but what the Red Sox really need—as usual—is pitching, and Clear has performed rather murkily since the first half of his rookie season, 1979. Why would Boston give up one of the three best shortstops in baseball? It happens that Burleson's contract expires at the end of next season, and the Red Sox held little hope of signing him.
Therein lies the twist of these meetings. Many teams were suddenly glad to unload even the best of players, preferring an already-signed or easier-to-sign lesser performer to an expensive one bound for free agency. That's why the Red Sox were so anxious to unload Lynn, who is in the last year of his contract. One of their proposed deals would have sent Lynn to the Dodgers in the wee small hours of Thursday morning. The two teams had been talking all week. After Boston General Manager Haywood Sullivan announced the Burleson deal with the Angels at 11 p.m., he and his new manager. Ralph Houk, went up to the L.A. suite to meet with their Dodger counterparts, Al Campanis and Tommy Lasorda. At about midnight they agreed on the players: Lynn for Pitchers Steve Howe and Joe Beckwith and minor league First Baseman Mike Marshall. In order to avoid charges of tampering, Bill Murray of the commissioner's office was brought in to oversee the Dodgers' negotiations with Lynn, whom they wanted to tie to a long-term contract right away. Campanis tried unsuccessfully to raise Lynn's agent, Jerry Kapstein, in San Diego and had to phone Lynn instead. Lynn was told of the trade and asked to contact Kapstein. At 1:30 a.m. Kapstein called back, and Murray told him he would send the necessary telegram immediately, granting L.A. permission to talk contract.