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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Today's Birthdays

Rick Burleson CAL b. 1951, played 1981-1986. Over the years, the Angels have made some stunningly successful trades, the most notable of which was Jim Fregosi for Nolan Ryan. The trade for shortstop Burleson and third baseman Butch Hobson was not one of them. Sending 3B Carney Lansford, reserve outfielder Rick Miller, and dominating but erratic reliever Mark Clear to the Red Sox, the Angels got back a pair of guys who had between them two good years:

  • Hobson free-fell into a decline so profound the Angels were forced to give the third base job to Doug DeCinces the next year, trading the now-nearly-worthless Hobson to the Yankees for the mediocre reliever Bill Castro, whom the Angels released just after the start of the next season.
  • The Angels signed Burleson to a four-year, $4.65 million contract — and in his second season with the Angels, he separated his shoulder in an April 17, 1982 contest against the Twins. "[The Burleson injury] puts a damper on everything," Brian Downing said after the game. "I can't think of a player we could least [sic] afford to lose." They did, and he missed the rest of the season. He ended up having rotator cuff surgery in April, 1983, which prevented him from playing until the last game in June. His shoulder continued to hurt him through 1985; during his absence, newcomer Doug DeCinces (traded for in the wake of the Hobson disaster) played third, and the light-hitting Dick Schofield filling in at short. When Burleson finally came back in September 1984, he got only a handful of pinch-hitting at bats, none of which were successful. He missed 1985 completely after re-tearing his rotator cuff lifting weights in December, 1984. Finally having one good season in 1986 — the one-strike-away squad that almost got to the World Series — he ended his career in Baltimore to a Mendoza-ish batting average.
  • Meanwhile, Carney Lansford had a pair of solid seasons in Boston, and later became a 10-year veteran with Oakland, a tenure that included an All Star appearance.
  • Mark Clear had five more years with Boston, most of them mediocre (save for his impressive 1982), and four more besides that, one a return to California.
  • Rick Miller hung around for five years as a fourth outfielder and late-innings defensive replacement first baseman.
One of the worst trades ever by the Angels, and probably, in the history of the game.

Pat Deisel BRO b. 1876, played 1902, d. 1948-04-17

Bob McClure CAL b. 1952, played 1989-1991

Ron Washington LAN b. 1952, played 1977. Ron's now the A's third base coach; he's had a tough year what with Hurricane Katrina destroying his home.

I was at that Burleson game.... Never forget the look on his face after he walked off the field, holding his arm as if it was some kind of heavy snake.... And speaking of April 17, 1982, what in hell was Rod Carew doing hitting 3rd on that team?
Yeah, and what the hell was Mickey Hatcher doing working for the forces of evil, anyway?
Rick Miller wasn't a late-innings defensive first baseman. In fact, he only played 10 games at 1B his entire career. He was a superb defensive CF.

Similarly, Doug DeCinces only played four games at SS while with the Angels.

Save for a mediocre sesaon in 1978, Rick Burleson was an above-average hitting shortstop in the five years prior to the trade. During that period, Burleson hit .277/.330/.367 vs. position average .251/.305/.330. Only Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, and Roy Smalley were better hitters among A.L. SS back then.
I guess I take a modern viewpoint of what shortstops are supposed to hit... in those days, yeah, he was a premium bat at the position.
One of the worst trades in history? Gimme a break! A total of 5 nobodies traded for each other. None of them really bad, but none in the top 20% of their contemporaries.

So I am not totally hostile, I always liked Carny as a good, reliable, everyday team player.

Historic bad trades: Locally, Piazza was way worse and since I can't stand McCourt, I personally like to think of the trade as the "Curse of Piazza" pox on the Dodgers.
I loved it when people said Carney Lansford was a great defensive third baseman because he wasn't afraid to get his uniform dirty.
Burleson's 1981 with the club was arguably the best season ever by an Angel shortstop not named Jim Fregosi.

What made the trade for him even worse was that the Angels had a great young shortstop named Dickie Thon who was entering his age-23 year. Thon was the best SS in the NL by age 24, and came in 7th in the MVP vote by 25. If it wasn't for his beaning, he was heading for a possible HoF career.

In return for Thon, the Angels got one good year out of Ken Forsch & two decent ones; plus a gaping hole at SS that required trading a 24-year-old future batting champion 3Bman to fill.

The team's inability to deal smartly with young talent like Thon, Lansford, Aikens, Brunansky and Brian Harper definitely cost them some Division titles, I think.
Barkley: I remand you to the part where Downing said "I can't think of a player we could [afford to lose less]." Burleson was a 20-30 VORP player; similar value guys in the current league are David Eckstein, but in those days, he was only behind U.L. Washington, Roy Smalley, Gary Templeton, Alan Trammell and Robin Yount. So he's a top six pick, anyway, and a definite bad trade; he forced other guys (DeCinces) to pick up the slack who weren't able to get the job done offensively.
Burleson was better than Eckstein. He was a much better defender (their arms are polar opposites), and he played at a high level for many more seasons. Their Win Shares for their best five seasons:

RB: 25/21/21/19/16
DE: 28/20/12/11/10
Rob: About Burleson being a top 6 hitting shortstop. There were only 26 teams back then, so he was only in the top 23% even back then.

Piazza: Maybe the best hitting catcher of all time, not for a year, or a period of time, but all time against all comers.

Two years after trading the greatest hitting catcher ever, what did the Dodgers have to show for the trade? I don't remember specifically, but I know the results were closer to bubkas than breaking even!
On a side note Rob, when Templeton was traded for Smith, I thought the Padres got the way better part of the deal. Hard hitting shortstops were the rarest of breeds, and Templeton looked like a monster with his power.

Way back then, shortstops were defense first, offense a distant second. Smith was good to very good defensively, but in the lower echelon when it came to shortstops who could hit.

Hindsight is so obvious. Templeton had his offense, but a headcase came with it and he was a has been before Smith became the legend he is today. Smith had great glovework, a good attitude, and hit like shit. But Smith had a head on his shoulders, and very good defense turned into great defense, and crummy hitting became something that only us oldtimers remember about Smith, who became one of the games best hitting shortstops of his era.
Barkley -- no question the Piazza trade is worse. Heck, the 90's Dodgers were full of that kind of inept player decisionmaking (c.f. Delino DeShields for Pedro Martinez, and letting Konerko go). That was an off-the-cuff remark, and as such, I dropped a caveat on it.

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