One of The Biggest Trades in Atlanta Braves History

We’ve started a side by side series on the Best and Worst Trades in Atlanta Braves History…this is neither. With John Coppolella at the helm, there were some monster trades (I’m sure a few will make this list), and one in-particular that was larger, in terms of players, than the topic at hand, but a 4 team, 10 player trade? Yes, it was one of the biggest trades in Atlanta Braves History.

Dec 8, 1977, the Trade

Braves get: Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine and Eddie Miller

Braves give: Willie Montanez

Mets get: Ken Henderson

Mets give: John Milner, John Matlack

Pirates get: Bert Blyleven, John Milner

Pirates give: Al Oliver, Nelson Norman

Rangers get: Al Oliver, John Matlack, Nelson Norman

Rangers give: Bert Blyleven, Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine, Ken Henderson, Eddie Miller

The Background on the Deal

The Braves had been the worst team in baseball in 1977, including one game managed by Ted Turner (they lost!) New General Manager Bill Lucas had been brought in midway through the 1976 season after Ted had purchased the team with a mandate to make the team younger, more athletic, and fun. His first order of business after the ‘77 debacle was to hire Bobby Cox and then he started on the job of clearing the deadwood from the roster.

During the ‘78 season Lucas would also rid the team of veterans Buzz Capra, Tom Paciorek, Jim Bouton, Dick Ruthvin and Dave Campbell.

Meanwhile Texas had soured on Blyleven because, as Bill James once noted, bad teams tend to fixate on the failings of their best players. Burt was blunt and anti-social at the best of times and was thoroughly unimpressed with the Rangers organization. He also wasn’t afraid to tell the media about his viewpoint. They set out to find a taker.

Enter the Pirates. The Buccos had already traded for a young Phil Garner to man the hot corner and were playing Al Oliver out of position to accommodate him. Trading the sometime All-Star for the Ace they were missing from their rotation seemed like a good solution but unfortunately the Rangers wanted more: they insisted on a “good pitcher” in the deal as well. This put Hardy Peterson, the Pittsburgh GM in a bind as Texas didn’t like anyone on the Pittsburgh farm and he thought he needed all his major leaguers. His solution was both creative and brilliant: by involving the Braves and the Mets in a now 4-way deal he could have many more balls in the air at once to confuse everyone. He got his trade with John Matlack of the Mets being the extra pitcher to Texas — but the Bucs still only gave up the same 2 players from the original deal.

So Who Got Hosed?

Pittsburgh got by far the best player in the deal and he was indeed critical in winning the 1979 World Series for the team. They did great.

The Rangers got a couple All-Star years from Oliver and Matlack should have won a Cy Young in 1978 with 270 innings of 2.21 ERA ball. They missed Blyleven, but got good short term value for him.

The Braves really gave up nothing. Montanez was a flashy fielder who actually had no range and had a flashy batting average without all the walks and power that would make him valuable. Plus Bobby had already decided to try some kid named Dale Murphy at first in 1978 anyway. Of the 3 players received, only Matula made a difference. He was OK in 78 and 79 before having a terrific season in 1980 where he threw more innings than ever before, and … we have seen this movie before. Eddie Miller was a fun pinch runner who really couldn’t hit. I loved it when he was inserted late in the game and EVERYBODY in the park knew he was running. Bad team but fun times! Adrian Devine was a sore-armed pitcher who, truth be told, never got healthy again. Momma always told me not to trade for sore-arm pitchers! Still we got about 8 WAR more than we gave up and saved salary. Good job!

Which leaves us with… the Mets. They gave up 2 Hall-of-Pretty-Decent-to-Pretty-Good guys mid-career and got Ken Henderson. Yeah, I just looked him up again too! Decent guy at the end of his career.

Thanks for reading on one of the biggest trades in Atlanta Braves history.

16 thoughts on “One of The Biggest Trades in Atlanta Braves History”

  1. Thank you so much for this as I had no idea about this trade! So, as I read it, it looks like the Braves wandered into a trade that they basically had no business being in and did quite well, and the only team that truly got screwed was the Mets. I love stories with happy endings!

  2. @1
    That was my impression as well. As I was editing, I read it, digested it, and still didn’t really understand how the Braves were needed in this trade.

  3. Something school related for me…respond if you’re a fan of any of the franchises:

    You guys are my guinea pigs on something I’m tinkering with online with my students. You are a character in the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars franchises…a new character inserted into the stories. What’s your name, role, and how do you influence the storyline? GO!

    Me? I’m a hobbit in the LotR series that is a bit of a troublemaker, but sacrifices myself at the end of the book in “The Scouring of the Shire” to save a family of hobbits from the brigands. Unfortunately, this the best chapter in the entire trilogy and didn’t make the movie.

  4. @3

    In our house, some big Potter fans, and collectively we like the alternative plotline that Draco Malfoy had a younger sister who essentially replaces Ginny Weasley through the story arc of the books with some narrative adjustments (clandestine romance, forced to choose a side in Battle of Hogwarts for example)

    How much detail would you like?

  5. Well, right now, it’s hard to escape feeling like an elf in Gondolin, and hoping that Maeglin stays away.

    (Gondolin was the hidden city, an elf-Metropolis that was nonetheless something of a gilded indoor prison, as its residents were sworn to secrecy about its whereabouts so they required the king’s permission to leave. Maeglin was the traitor who ultimately brought about its crashing ruin and downfall. No, it’s not a very good metaphor for staying at home during quarantine, but still.)

  6. @6
    That’s great! I’m very familiar with Gondolin.

    I’m a hobbit in the LotR series, distant cousin to Frodo, Timothy Took. Good hobbit, but always in mischief. I sacrifice myself to save a family of hobbits from the brigands in the best chapter of the books, “Scouring of the Shire”, that just so happened to not make the movies. I understand the reasoning that Peter Jackson didn’t make it a movie, but it’s such a remarkable finish to the series. One last battle led by hobbits.

  7. Haven’t seen coop or blazon around this last week or 2. Anyone heard from them?

  8. Rickey Henderson stole 1406 bases and did so at an 80.7% success rate to go along with a career .401 OBP. That’s bloody remarkable and there’ll never be another player like him.

  9. Thanks for doing this; brings back memories. A couple of quibbles: The Mets also got Montanez, and BRef says Tom Grieve also went from the Rangers to the Mets, and I think you meant Boggs and not Matula in your description of who did what for the Braves. Montanez’s BRef page and bio have lots of unusual details:

    He played 14 seasons with a career WAR of 1.7; I wonder how common that is.
    After he hit .235/.276/.235 as a 17-year-old for a Cardinals rookie league team, the Angels chose him in the Rule V draft, so the Angels must have really trusted one of their scouts;
    The Angels played him in 8 games, 6 as a pinch-runner, and then returned him to the Cardinals, for whom he had a decent single-A season; The Cardinals put him on the inactive list for 10 days that year so he could return home for his high school graduation, which I doubt too many people have done after their MLB debut;
    He missed most of the next two years with various injuries and then was sent to the Phillies after Curt Flood refused to report as part of the Dick Allen-for-Tim McCarver-and (originally) Curt Flood deal;
    He missed part of his first year in the Phillies system doing military service (reserves?) in the Coast Guard;
    Was a center fielder his first couple of years with the Phillies, with league-average range factors and lots of errors but lots of assists too, before being moved back to 1B, which he had played in the minors;
    As a CF, he made a couple of good plays to save Rick Wise’s no-hitter in the game in which Wise hit 2 HR;
    Despite being a CF for a couple of years, he had 32 SB and 42 CS for his career;
    His best year was his rookie year with the Phillies at 23;
    Played with 9 different teams but only the Phillies for more than 2 seasons, so lots of teams must have thought he might be able to help them, and lots of teams must have thought they could be better without him;
    Along those lines, in addition to the Dick Allen trade and the one that’s the subject of Karl’s article, he was traded on different occasions for Garry Maddox and Darrell Evans; and
    His last four seasons, he changed teams in-season each year.

  10. Honestly, I’m struggling to even remember other Braves three-team trades. How many other trades have we consummated with more than one other partner?

    I’m going out of my mind on the Furcal Rule for that Trevor Plouffe tweet. I’d guess that they’re about 90% of the way towards a deal, but it could all blow up at any moment until they dot every i and cross every t.

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