Of Frank Robinson, Milt Pappas and Jim Palmer
On Dec. 9, 1965, the Cincinnati Reds traded outfielder Frank Robinson to the Reds for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. It may be the single most significant trade in baseball history if you consider Babe Ruth wasn’t traded but sold by the Yankees to the Red Sox.
Robinson, 30 at the time, was one of the best players in the game but the Reds thought he was getting old. Pappas had been a steady starting pitcher for the Orioles for eight seasons, winning 13-16 games a year. Baldschun, who had been acquired three days earlier from the Phillies, was a really good reliever at the time with a career high of 21 saves and 118 innings pitched in 1964.
Simpson was 22 at the time so maybe the Reds thought they were getting a good young outfielder. But the Angels had just traded him to the Orioles a week earlier for Norm Siebern, who was ten years older and coming off a mediocre season. Think Gary Ward or Matt Lawton and you have Norm Siebern at the end of his career. Simpson never did hit in the big leagues so he probably wasn’t that great of a prospect.
So really the Reds were trading Robinson for two pitchers who had been quite productive over the previous 5-8 seasons. Pappas was pretty much the same pitcher for the Reds and ended up being traded 21/2 years later to the Braves. Baldschun did nothing for the Reds, his career pretty much died right after the trade.
He had averaged about 110 innings per season over the previous five years as a reliever and it might be safe to say that he had probably been overworked. That’s probably why he was a bust with the Reds. But it should be emphasized that it was not a 1-for-1 deal.
The trade overall is considered one of the most lopsided in history. Robinson spent six seasons with the Orioles. During that stretch they won four pennants and two World Series. The Orioles traded him to the Dodgers after the 1971 season, a deal Earl Weaver said would never have been made if the club knew that in 1973 there would be a designated hitter.
So everybody remembers the Frank Robinson trade, especially since Annie Savoy mentioned it in her opening siloquoy in the movie Bull Durham.
Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway brought it up this morning in an article in which he reiterated the need for re-signing Josh Hamilton. Suggested that the Rangers would be risking Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas if they did not.
Which had me dreaming up another scenario. Let’s say the Reds did not trade Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson at those winter meetings. Instead it happened this way.
The Reds decided they would indeed trade Robinson to the Orioles. But instead of two established pitchers, they wanted two young pitchers. They wanted two good young arms from a franchise that was well-known at the time for producing good young pitching.
They wanted a 20-year-old righthander who was 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA in six starts and 21 relief appearances as a rookie in 1965. They also wanted a 23-year-old lefthander who was 11-6 with a 2.85 ERA in 1965.
Yes, the Orioles won four pennants and two World Series titles in six years with Robinson. They also won it with great pitching, which obviously included Palmer and McNally. Everybody knows that Palmer and McNally are part of the great trivia question: who were the four pitchers who won 20 games for the Orioles in 1971. Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson were the other two.
Do the Orioles say yes to that trade? What if they did?
What if Palmer and McNally had spent the next ten years or more with the Reds. What if they had been in the rotation on the Big Red Machine, one of the greatest lineups in the history of the game but a team that had only average starting pitching. Maybe above average at times but nothing compared to what it would have been like with Palmer and McNally. The Reds won two World Series in 1975-76. But they lost to the Orioles in 1970 and the A’s in 1972. They also lost to the Mets in the NLCS in 1973.
Jim Palmer and Dave McNally pitching on a team that had Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Ken Griffey Sr.? Palmer won three Cy Young Awards and is in the Hall of Fame. McNally won 20-plus games in four straight seasons in 1968-71.
Who knows. The Reds did such a lousy job with their own talented young pitchers that maybe Palmer and McNally would have gone the way of Wayne Simpson, Gary Nolan, Don Gullet and Ross Grimsley. Maybe they would have not have risen to the same level in Cincinnati as they did in Baltimore. Or maybe there would be no question today about what was the greatest team of all-time.
Would still love to know if the Reds asked about them and if the Orioles were really smart enough back then to say no, no and heck no.