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Mostly I just wanted an excuse to use this photo again

June 15, 2011

“Mama!” I hollered, bolting up the stairs from my bedroom to the kitchen. “The Cardinals traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets for someone named Neil Allen and another guy! I just heard it on KMOX!”

My mother looked up from her cooking, calmly. “You must have misunderstood, honey,” she said. “They wouldn’t have traded Hernandez.”

It was June 15, 1983. I was nine. And I was right, though she’s not the only Cardinal fan who’s had trouble over the years believing that the Redbirds would deal away their Hall-of-Fame-caliber first baseman for two pitchers who amassed a combined 61-81 record in their years of big-league service. The fallout from that trade polluted the St. Louis air for years afterward: Hernandez accused Whitey Herzog of evicting him for his habit of doing crosswords in the clubhouse; Herzog kept his mouth shut and shouldered the abuse of fans and media alike until Jack Clark came along to salve Cardinal Nation’s wounds; the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985 clarified that “crosswords” was actually Hernandez’s way of pronouncing “cocaine”; and everybody moved on, a little worse for wear.

It’s all part of the fun of the trading deadline, which, readers of a certain age will recall, fell on this date until 1986. Let’s take a moment to memorialize, in no particular order, some of the moves that made June 15 a day to remember or forget for baseball fans across the leagues:

  • June 15, 1977: Frustrated by the Mets’ refusal to negotiate a salary commensurate with his stats, staff ace Tom Seaver told general manager M. Donald Grant once and for all to pound sand, and was dealt to the Reds for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman, and Pat “You Might Actually Remember Me” Zachry. Interestingly, the “Midnight Massacre,” as it came to be known, had a quasi-(anti-)feminist angle, as Bill Madden recounted in a 2007 New York Daily News story:

In the end, it was a column by [Daily News columnist Dick] Young—in which he invoked the names of Seaver’s wife, Nancy, and Nolan Ryan’s wife, Ruth, and claimed that the Seavers were jealous that Ryan was making more money with the California Angels—that ultimately forced the June 15 trading deadline deal that would live in Met infamy.

….as he sat in the coffee shop of the hotel where the Mets were staying in Atlanta, Seaver was informed of the column Young had written on the “battle page”—in particular a paragraph toward the end of it—that sent him into a rage. “….Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver,” wrote Young, “and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.” Bolting from his chair in the coffee shop, Seaver stormed back to his room and rang up Mets public relations director Arthur Richman. “Get me out of here, do you hear me?” he bellowed. “Get me out of here!”

  • June 15, 1964: The Minnesota Twins sent George Banks and Lee Stange to the Cleveland Indians for Mudcat Grant. Stange posted a 9-8 record over parts of three seasons in Cleveland. Banks made a total of 33 plate appearances as an Indian. Grant, on the other hand, went 50-35 over four seasons with the Twins, including a 21-7 record in 1965 that helped Minnesota win a pennant—a legitimate one, I mean, since the unholy abomination known as the Metrodome wouldn’t blight Minnesota baseball for another 17 years.
  • June 15, 1984: Once upon a time, kids, the Cubs were capable of making personnel moves that weren’t expensive and crazy and doomed. Sometimes, in fact, they were downright prescient, like the 1984 trade that sent Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Darryl Banks, and Don Schulze to the Indians for George Frazier, Ron Hassey, and a mostly undistinguished, often injured, and occasionally jerky right-handed pitcher named Rick Sutcliffe. Carter was a valuable hitter and base-stealer for six seasons in Cleveland before going on to become a permanent highlight-reel fixture in Toronto, but it was Sutcliffe who stole the headlines in 1984 by going 16-1 after the trade and guiding Chicago to a runaway NL East title. In the end, of course, one man alone could not shake off the three-quarter-century curse of the Small Bears, but Sutcliffe brought a few seasons of hope and optimism, if not a pennant, to the North Siders. (By the way, an overlooked benefit to the trade was unloading Mel Hall, whose usefulness on the field never outweighed his nastiness in the clubhouse, and who’s currently serving a 45-year sentence in a place waaaaay crummier than Wrigley Field after sexually assaulting multiple young girls.)
  • June 15, 1964: Remember how I said there was a time when the Cubs made non-stupid personnel decisions? Yeah, well, 1964 wasn’t it. You know how this one goes: Broglio for Brock, Brock for Broglio—the words are still sweet music to Cardinals’ fans’ ears. Heck, I wasn’t even born until a decade later, after Lou Brock had sped and slid the Cards to three pennants and two rings, but I’d have had a very different childhood if Bing Devine and John Holland hadn’t shaken hands on that deal.

God bless the trading deadline!—a universal reminder that after all the articles and blog posts have been written and all the metrics have been sabered, we still don’t really have a clue what’s around the next corner. (If you’re a Cardinal fan, that’s terrific news right now. Anybody want some veteran pitchers?)

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