June 20, 2018

The 1979 Baseball Winter Meetings

December 11, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

A day by day breakdown of the 1979 Baseball Winter Meetings in Toronto.


Monday, December 3rd:
Executives from all 24 Major League teams checked into the Sheraton Centre Hotel complex in downtown Toronto on a cold, blustery Canadian winter morning for the start of the annual Baseball Winter Meetings. Over the next five days, every major league club would attempt to bolster their club via free agency and trades and even before team representatives received their hotel room keys, rumors were flying in Toronto. Among the players whose names had circulated in trade talks around the league were:

  • Baltimore Orioles’ pitching ace Jim Palmer was the biggest player who was thought to be moved during the meetings. Palmer felt he was being severely underpaid as a member of the O’s and gave Baltimore GM Hank Peters a list of teams whom he would approve a trade to. The California Angels were perceived as the most likely destination for Palmer, a three-time AL Cy Young Award winner.
  • Craig Swan was one of the few bright spots on the 1979 New York Mets, who finished dead last in the National League with a 63-99 record. Swan, a product of Arizona State, went 14-13 with a 3.29 ERA and according to a major league source, the Mets had made it no secret they would try and move the pitcher.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies came into the meetings with a plan to acquire a big name player and the first player they laid their sights on was San Diego Padres slugger Dave Winfield. The 27-year-old slugger was coming off a career year in which he led the NL in RBIs (118). However, there was no indication that the Padres were willing to part with Winfield.
  • Outfielder Al Oliver had a good year in ’79, finishing fifth in the AL with a .323 batting average and the Texas Rangers had floated his name out as a possible trade candidate. The Rangers had discussions with both the Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers on the first day of meetings about trading Oliver. One rumor had Oliver going to San Diego in exchange for 41-year-old pitcher Gaylord Perry. Rangers owner Brad Corbett was very fond of Perry, who pitched for the Rangers between 1975-77, and was making a strong push to reacquire him.

The only order of business to take care of on the first day was the annual Rule 5 draft. The draft saw nine different players change organizations. Among the players drafted was relief pitcher Doug Corbett, who was selected by the Minnesota Twins from the Cincinnati Reds organization. Corbett would go on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award the following season. In one other transaction, the Montreal Expos signed free agent pitcher Fred Norman.

Tuesday, December 4th:
Despite much trade talk and speculation, Tuesday was a very quiet day at the meetings. Only one transaction of note happened, as the Dodgers signed free agent outfielder Jay Johnstone. The 33-year-old split the ’79 season between the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees and finished with a .277 batting average. By signing Johnstone, the Dodgers removed themselves from any potential trade with the Rangers for Oliver.

Another big name that was placed on the trading block was Detroit Tigers outfielder Ron LeFlore. The hometown speedster, whom the Tigers signed out of a state prison in 1973, stole 73 bases in the previous season but his contract would expire at the end of the 1980 season and one Tigers official was quoted as saying, “We can’t [re]sign him.” The Tigers publicly denied this claim but it was reported that LeFlore was looking for a four-year contract that would pay him upwards of $5 million, way out of Detroit’s price range.

Wednesday, December 5th:
The hometown Blue Jays broke the two-day trading drought by agreeing to a five-player trade with the Atlanta Braves. Chris Chambliss, whom Toronto just acquired a month before, would head to Atlanta along with shortstop Luis Gomez in exchange for Barry Bonnell, Joey McLaughlin, and Pat Rockett. Braves manager Bobby Cox was excited about the acquisition of Chambliss, whom he planned to bat fifth behind slugger Bob Horner.

The Angels solved one of their problems on Wednesday by signing free agent veteran infielder Freddie Patek to become the team’s everyday shortstop. The 5’3” Patek was one of the shortest players in the game and was coming off a season where he was an American League all-star for the Kansas City Royals. Angels manager Jim Fergosi was forced to use 14 different players at the shortstop position in an injury-plagued ’79 season but now he had a player who could play there everyday.

Other developments that happened on the third day of the meetings were:

  • The Angels and Mets shook hands on a deal that would send Craig Swan to the Angels in exchange for first baseman Willie Aikens and two prospects. However, at the last second, Mets owner Vincent de Roulet pulled out of the trade, saying it would be unfair for new ownership to buy the team and not have Swan on the roster. Angels GM Buzzy Bavasi was incensed at the last-second switch, saying, “In my 40 years in baseball, I’ve never seen anything like it.” It now appeared it would be unlikely that Swan would be traded.
  • Edward Keating, the agent representing Jim Palmer, had confirmed that both the Angels and Royals had talked to him about acquiring his client. Earlier in the day, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles and Royals were close to a trade which would see Palmer go to Kansas City along with SS Mark Belanger and DH Lee May. In return, the Orioles would receive P Paul Splittorff and OF Al Cowens.
  • The Phillies made a play for Dave Winfield but were promptly turned away by the Padres. The proposed deal made by Philly would have seen Winfield and Gaylord Perry go to Philadelphia for pitcher Larry Christensen, outfielders Bake McBride and Greg Luzinski, plus prized catching prospect Keith Moreland.
  • After being turned down by the Padres in their quest for Winfield, the Phillies turned their attention to Chicago Cubs closer Bruce Sutter. The Phillies offered a similar but smaller package for Sutter but they were also turned away.
  • Excluding the Atlanta-Toronto trade, only one other trade happened on the midway point of the meetings. In a simple swap, the Detroit Tigers sent pitcher Fernando Arroyo to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for pitcher Jeff Holly.

Thursday, December 6th:
For the second day in a row, the Atlanta Braves found themselves involved in a major transaction. This time, they dealt Jeff Burroughs, Adrian Divine, and Pepe Frias to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Doyle Alexander and Larvell Blanks. The big piece in this deal was Burroughs, who would be returning to Texas, where he was the AL MVP during the ’74 season. For the deal to be complete, the Braves just needed Burroughs to waive his no-trade clause, which was considered just a formality. However, when Braves management reached Burroughs, who was vacationing in Hawaii, he declined to waive his no-trade. The two teams negotiated throughout the remainder of the day before deciding the Rangers would receive a sum of $50,000 instead of Burroughs.

California Angels infielder Rance Mulliniks was becoming a hot commodity during the meetings. Over the course of the week, both the San Francisco Giants and another team made inquiries about Mulliniks’ availability However, on Thursday, Mulliniks was traded along with Willie Aikens to the Kansas City Royals for Al Cowens and Todd Cruz. This trade, though, had major implications on a possible Jim Palmer trade. Both the Royals and Angels were considered front runners for Palmer but any deal that Baltimore would make with either team would have included Aikens and Cowens. With both players getting traded, it now appeared highly unlikely that Palmer would be traded at the meetings.

Three other transactions happened on Thursday:

  • The Cleveland Indians traded former top prospect Ted Cox to the Seattle Mariners for three players. The Indians acquired the much-hyped Cox from the Boston Red Sox two years before in a trade that sent future Hall-of-Famer Dennis Eckersley to the BoSox. However, Cox hit a disappointing .224 in his time with the Tribe, resulting in the trade.
  • In a deal of prospects, the Orioles traded reliever John Flinn to the Milwaukee Brewers for infielder Lenn Sakata.
  • The Expos added some quality depth to their outfielder by signing free agent Rowland Office, formerly the starting centerfielder for the Braves.

Friday, September 7th:
At Midnight EST, the window of trading between National League and American League teams would close and it would not reopen until February 15th. Many teams hurried to try and acquire players on what was the busiest day of the meetings.

The Tigers finally found a suitor for Ron LeFlore, who was dealt to the Expos in exchange for promising left-handed pitcher Dan Schatzeder. The day before, LeFlore turned down the Tigers’ contract extension of 6 years at $3 million dollars, forcing Detroit to move the fan favorite in what was the biggest trade of the meetings. Earlier in the day, the Tigers also moved slick-fielding third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later.

The Phillies continued their quest to acquire a big name player and on the final day, they set their sights on Rangers pitcher Sparky Lyle. The two clubs reportedly came close to finalizing an eight-player deal involving Lyle but the trade fell apart late in discussions. Neither team could agree to terms as the clock hit midnight and Philadelphia struck out on their quest to acquire a big player.

Here are the other moves that happened on the final day of meetings:

  • In a deal that was finalized in the last minute, the Indians traded Bobby Bonds to the St. Louis Cardinals for John Denny and Jerry Mumphrey. The deal marked the sixth time in seven years that the 34-year old Bonds had been traded.
  • After many repeated tries, the Phillies finally made a deal, this time receiving pitcher Paul Thormodsgard from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for infielder Pete Mackanin. The hurler would never appear in a game for the Phillies.
  • The Twins made one other trade, swapping players with the Baltimore Orioles. Tom Chism headed for the Twin Cities while Dan Graham packed his bags for Baltimore.
  • Manager Chuck Tanner rewarded the Pittsburgh Pirates with a World Series in 1979 and now, the Pirates rewarded Tanner with a three-year contract extension with a significant raise.

Saturday, December 8th:
The meetings came to a wrap early Saturday and Major League executives boarded planes and traveled back home. Only 11 trades materialized over the course of the five-day meetings, the lowest amount of player movement in recent memory at the gathering. “We might just as well have stayed home,” said Giants GM Spec Anderson.

Despite all of the rumors circling around key players during the meetings, most of the big names stayed put for the 1980 season. Jim Palmer continued to pitch for the Orioles and didn’t leave until his retirement in 1984. Craig Swan, Al Oliver and Dave Winfield all remained with their respective ball teams for the 1980 season. On February 15th, the first day of inter-league trading allowed, the Rangers finally ended up getting Gaylord Perry. In August, Texas ended up trading Perry to the New York Yankees for two players.

The general consensus was that both the California Angels and Montreal Expos had the best weeks in terms of acquiring players. The Angels were a massive disappointment in 1980, dropping from 88 wins and the AL West pennant in ’79 to only 65 victories in 1980. With the help of LeFlore, who stole 97 bases, the Expos finished with a record of 90-72. Still, it wasn’t enough to win the division; that honor went to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philly never ended up acquiring the big name player they set out to get during the winter meetings, but their end result in 1980 couldn’t have been better. They ended up acquiring Sparky Lyle from Texas in September for the stretch run, but Lyle wasn’t eligible to pitch in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Phils went on the beat the Houston Astros in five games to win the NL pennant, then went on to beat the Kansas City Royals in six to capture their first World Series title in franchise history.


3 Responses to “The 1979 Baseball Winter Meetings”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Great stuff Brendan. Brought back a lot of memories.

  2. Jeff Polman says:

    I second the greatness. And I’d be willing to bet these meetings got 1/16 of the coverage the ones today get.

  3. Brendan Macgranachan says:

    Thanks for kind words guys. Jeff, I can verify the minimal coverage the meetings received back then. I could only find a handful of papers who covered the meetings with any meaningful information I could use. Most just used the same, reworded article every day. Certainly not the level of rumors we see today.

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