Deadline deals fall in line with history
Familiar narrative of July 31 changes makes mark on '08
Doug Melvin says each year as the July 31st Trade Deadline approaches, "There's an adrenaline rush that's almost overwhelming. And your imagination goes a little bit wild too."
Ah, yes -- baseball's sometimes-wacky, always-intriguing July 31 Trade Deadline. Another has come and gone, and now we must wait to see if the frantic wheeling and dealing will pay dividends for the "buyers."
As Melvin, the highly respected general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers says, this is one of the most exciting times during the season -- a fun time for fans and GMs, but agony and uncertainty for some of the players involved.
For Melvin, his imagination worked on July 7 when he landed 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia in a stunning trade with Cleveland.
The Brewers are pulling out all the stops to return to the postseason for the first time in 26 years. That's why Melvin was willing to give up Matt LaPorta, his organization's top prospect.
It's significant to note that Melvin made the deal early because it allowed Sabathia to win three games before the Deadline. Those three wins could mean a lot down the stretch.
One player, such as Sabathia, can put a team over the top, even if he's nothing but a two-month "rental" as CC is expected to be.
For Pat Gillick, then Toronto's GM, that one piece in 1992 was pitcher David Cone. Cone helped the Blue Jays win their first World Series, then became a free agent and signed with Kansas City.
I'm convinced he was the major reason the Blue Jays were able to advance to the World Series and win it.
The following year, Gillick obtained Rickey Henderson at the Deadline. Henderson, expected to be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame next year, was an integral part of the Blue Jays as they won a second consecutive World Series.
Henderson was on second base, distracting Philadelphia reliever Mitch Williams, when Joe Carter blasted his walkoff home run in the sixth game that ended the series.
"I remember those two deals more than some of the others," says Gillick, now the Phillies' GM. "Actually, we got Cone from the Mets after the Deadline on a waiver deal. We gave up a couple of prospects and the interesting thing about that is one of the guys, Jeff Kent, is probably on the edge of going to the Hall of Fame.
"We got Rickey the following year from Oakland. Those two deals stick out because they helped us get over the hump. I wouldn't say the Cone and Henderson contributions were extraordinary, but their experience was invaluable."
When I think back to my favorite Trade Deadline deals, the Chicago Cubs trading Lou Brock to St. Louis remains No. 1. That happened in 1964 and coupled with the Phillies' historic collapse, Brock sparked the Cardinals as they won the World Series. They won again in 1967 with him.
Gillick, who plans to retire after this season, has been in baseball for 50 years.
"You start planning for the Deadline weeks in advance," he says. "We talk on the phone a lot. You look at some clubs and you can be sure they're going to be sellers based on where they are in the standings. I usually do this around the first of July, then monitor them on a daily basis and make adjustments as we go.
"Take the Colorado Rockies. At one point they were a seller, then Arizona and Los Angeles haven't been playing particularly well, so they're in that Catch-22 situation. They're close enough to be a contender and aren't sure which way to go.
"The Braves were probably in it until they came to Philadelphia and lost two out of three last weekend. Had they swept us they would have been buyers. But now Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson are injured , so they've changed their situation. They traded Mark Teixeira."
Melvin believes the Deadline creates enormous interest, especially the non-stop rumors that get a life of their own because of widespread use of the Internet by fans.
"The Trade Deadline sometimes gives you second-half hope," he says. "In some instances, clubs look at it and admit they're having a bad season and give up players, cut payroll. It's always fun."
It can become enormously stressful as the 4 p.m. ET Deadline approaches.
"Since the Sabathia trade, I haven't had more than two or three phone calls [from GMs], but yesterday I had seven or eight. When you get close to the Deadline, you have to make yourself available, your owner has to be available, your manager has to be on hand. You never know because a deal can be made in a couple of hours."
Melvin says the most stressful trade he made was in 1998 when he was running the Texas Rangers. He was closing in on a swap for Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre from St. Louis, giving up Darren Oliver, Fernando Tatis and a player to be named later.
"Because I was trading a young third baseman, Tatis, I couldn't make the trade unless I could get another third baseman," Melvin remembers. "So, I had a phone on one ear talking with [St. Louis GM] Walt Jocketty trying to get him to OK the deal and my cell phone on the other ear trying to get Todd Zeile from the Marlins, which I was able to do."
A huge deal came in '98 when the Seattle Mariners dealt Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros.
"There were rumors Johnson wasn't going anywhere and that's what we thought," says Melvin. "But I remember seeing a video clip of [Seattle manager] Lou Piniella bending over in the dugout during the game telling Randy he'd been traded. When Jose Canseco was traded by Oakland to Texas, he was in the on-deck circle for the A's when it was announced."
Now, future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez are joining the esteemed company of Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and others who weren't immune to bewitching July 31 en route to Cooperstown.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.