Baseball winter meetings a tradition more than a century old

Jackie Robinson opted to retire rather than play for the New York Giants. (Getty Images)

The Major League Baseball world has descended upon Nashville, Tenn., this week for the annual winter meetings.

The winter meetings have evolved into a time when free agents are signed and introduced, but there are still some good, old-fashioned trades that take place.

The winter meetings themselves date back to the very beginnings of big league baseball, with the first being held in 1876.

That year, the National League elected a new president, William Hulbert, and expelled two of its largest-market ball clubs. The New York Mutuals and Philadelphia Athletics were booted out of the league after both teams failed to make their final western swing of the 1876 season.

Over the years, the winter meetings have evolved into something of a combination swap meet and reunion. Everyone who is anyone in baseball heads to the location of the meetings to network, reconnect with old friends, find a job or, in the case of the general managers, sign a free agent or make a trade.

One of the biggest trades in winter meetings history is a trade that didn’t happen, but one that ended a Hall of Fame career.

On Dec. 13, 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers swapped Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants in exchange for pitcher Dick Littlefield and $30,000 cash. Robinson, however, refused to report to the Giants and retired, and the trade was rescinded later the same day.

It was during the winter meetings that the New York Yankees helped themselves return to the top of the American League after finishing third in 1959.

On Dec. 11, 1959, the Yankees shipped pitcher Don Larsen and outfielders Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry to the Kansas City Athletics for infielder Joe DeMaestri, first baseman Kent Hadley and some outfielder named Roger Maris.

Maris went on to win the AL Most Valuable Player award in 1960 and 1961, the latter during the season he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season mark for home runs with 61.

Two future Hall of Famers were dealt in December 1963.

The Detroit Tigers sent pitcher Jim Bunning and catcher Gus Triandos to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Jack Hamilton and outfielder Don Demeter.

At age 31 in 1963, Bunning had slumped to a 12-13 record with a 3.88 ERA and 1.264 WHIP. But Bunning showed he still had some life in his arm. He went on to win 74 games over the next four seasons for the Phillies, posting a 2.48 ERA and 1.039 WHIP in 1,191.2 innings.

Hamilton, on the other hand, went 1-2 in nine appearances for Detroit in 1964-65. Whoops.

Frank Robinson was traded twice at the winter meetings during his Hall of Fame career. (Getty Images)

The other star moved in 1963 was Nellie Fox. The 1959 American League MVP was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Houston Colt .45s for pitcher Jim Golden, outfielder Danny Murphy and cash. Fox was almost 36 at the time of the trade and played just one full season for Houston. Golden never played for the White Sox and Murphy only did years later. He made 68 relief appearances for the Sox in 1969-70 after being converted to a pitcher.

The Baltimore Orioles secured a big piece of their first World Series championship team in December 1965 when they shipped pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun along with outfielder Dick Simpson to the Cincinnati Reds for former MVP Frank Robinson.

Robinson went on to win the Triple Crown for the O’s in 1966, hitting .316/.410/.637 with 49 homers and 122 RBI. Baltimore stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-game sweep in the World Series that October.

Robinson also won MVP honors in 1966, becoming the first player to ever win the award in both leagues.

Five years later, Robinson would be on the move again at the winter meetings, this time being dealt with pitcher Pete Richert to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a package of four young players including pitcher Doyle Alexander.

That wouldn’t be L.A.’s only big deal at those meetings. The same day as they acquired Robinson, they traded infielder Dick Allen to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Tommy John and infielder Steve Huntz.

Allen went on to win the MVP award for the White Sox in 1972 while John had a famous surgery named after him. In 1974, John was the first pitcher to undergo ligament replacement surgery in his elbow. He wound up having a pair of decade-plus careers—from 1963-74 with his old arm and from 1976-89 with the new one.

It was the Dodgers who got the best of a trade at the 1973 winter meetings. They traded aging outfielder Willie Davis to the Montreal Expos for relief pitcher Mike Marshall. Marshall was the Cy Young Award winner for the Dodgers in 1974, helping lead a young Los Angeles club past favored Cincinnati in the National League West. Marshall set records with 106 relief appearances and 208.1 innings out of the bullpen.

The New York Yankees helped lay the foundation for their World Series winners in 1977 and 1978 with a deal made at the winter meetings in 1975. In that trade, outfielder Bobby Bonds was sent to the California Angels in exchange for outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa, both key figures on New York’s later title teams.

Two of the era’s best relief pitchers moved in the same trade at the meetings in 1976. The Chicago White Sox traded both Goose Gossage and Terry Forster to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Richie Zisk and pitcher Silvio Martinez. Both Gossage and Forster would each pitch just one year in Pittsburgh before leaving the Pirates as free agents the following winter.

In the winter of 1977, four teams got together for one of the most complicated deals on record. The Atlanta Braves got pitchers Adrian Devine and Tommy Boggs and outfielder Eddie Miller from the Texas Rangers, who got pitcher Jon Matlack from the New York Mets and shortstop Nelson Norman and outfielder Al Oliver from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets received outfielder Tom Grieve and a player to be named later from the Rangers and first baseman Willie Montanez from the Braves and sent outfielder John Milner to the Pirates, who also got pitcher Bert Blyleven from the Rangers.

Rickey Henderson was a 26-year-old superstar the first time he changed teams at the 1984 winter meetings. (Getty Images)

The trade — involving 11 players and four teams — wasn’t complete until the following March when the Mets acquired outfielder Ken Henderson from Texas as the PTBNL.


A superstar switched coasts in the winter of 1984. The Oakland Athletics traded outfielder Rickey Henderson to the Yankees along with pitcher Bert Bradley and cash. The Athletics got back outfielder Stan Javier and pitchers Eric Plunk, Jose Rijo, Jay Howell and Tim Birtsas. Because Henderson ended up playing for something like 85 teams in a career that seemed to last a millennia or so, it’s not such as odd thing to think about him being traded. But at the time, he was a 26-year-old established star who had already won five stolen base titles in five full seasons, played in four All-Star games and won a Gold Glove.

The winter meetings of 1990 brought the blockbuster of all blockbusters: A four-player trade involving four All-Stars. The San Diego Padres sent Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff. Alomar is already a Hall of Famer and Carter and McGriff may someday wind up there.

The last really massive trade to occur at the winter meetings came in 2007. It was that winter that eight players switched addresses. The Florida Marlins sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for six players, two of whom are actually still in the major leagues in Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. Willis was sort of a bust in Detroit, too.

But the Cabrera guy? He sorta worked out okay in Motown.

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