Astros continue to be benevolent traders
Ever so often, those in charge of the Houston Astros get this urge to morph into (ahem) benevolent souls. They do so by trading somebody of significance to help one of their poor brethren go from shaky to decent or from decent to good or from good to great.
John Mayberry. Kenny Lofton. Rusty Staub. Ken Caminiti. Mike Cuellar. Curt Schilling. Steve Finley.
They all were dealt by the Astros. Oh, and the primary reason the Big Red Machine rolled through the 1970s was because the Astros gave the Cincinnati Reds future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, perennial Gold Glove center fielder Cesar Geronimo, solid pitcher Jack Billingham and superb bench players Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke.
In return, the Astros got nothing worth mentioning -- you know, just like always. So this is more of the same: The Astros sent Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves this week for nothing worth mentioning.
The Braves are elated, by the way. Without having to part with one of their slew of great pitching prospects, the Braves got much of what they needed through Bourn as they seek to increase their lead in the National League Wild Card race by a bunch over the next few weeks. They also have a chance to play deep into October.
Courtesy of the Astros, for instance, the Braves have their most complete leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal in 2005 -- maybe since the 1990s, when Otis Nixon was around. The Braves also have been offensively impaired for most of the season, but now they have Bourn, who hits over .300. He also gives the Braves their modern-day Andruw Jones since he has won the NL's last two Gold Gloves in center field.
The other thing is that the Braves were the slowest team in baseball before Bourn arrived. Bourn leads the Majors in stolen bases.
If that isn't enough for Astros fans to go screaming into the night, consider the following: Before dealing Bourn before this year's Trade Deadline, the Astros sent All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to the Philadelphia Phillies, owners of baseball's best record. In contrast, the Astros have baseball's worst record. So I'm guessing that won't change with Bourn and Pence playing elsewhere the rest of this season.
The Astros did get several prospects from the Phillies for Pence, and who knows? Those players may shine someday. Still, the Pence move didn't exactly resemble the one of the New York Mets, who sent the highly sought after Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants for Zack Wheeler, the premier pitching prospect in the Giants' pitching-rich system.
Then there was the Colorado Rockies shipping ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland for the top pitching prospect of the Indians, along with three other Minor League players.
The Astros traditionally just ... trade.
I mean, what were the Astros thinking before the 1972 season when they sent all of those players to the Reds for Lee May, a strikeout-prone slugger whose strengths were negated in the massive and speed-oriented Astrodome, no-hitting second baseman Tommy Helms and journeyman reserve outfielder Jimmy Stewart?
"Well, the thing about it was that we were trying to improve the whole ball club and not just one position," said H.B. "Spec" Richardson, 88, over the phone from his home in Columbus, Ga. He was the Astros' general manager back then. That was during his tenure in Houston from 1967 to 1975, when the Astros set the foundation for future trade horrors. You could say it started in 1968 after Richardson dealt Cuellar to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Curt Blefary. While Blefary was a career .237 hitter who lasted a year with the Astros, Cuellar spurred the Orioles to five division titles, three AL pennants and a world championship by winning 20 games or more four times and snatching a Cy Young Award.
There was the Rusty Staub fiasco. The Astros thought their 24-year-old outfielder was a tad injury prone. As a result, Richardson shipped Staub to the Expos before the 1969 season, and Staub evolved into a red-headed legend in Montreal ("Le Grande Orange") after becoming a huge slugger for the Expos and other teams after that.
There also was Richardson contributing to the Royals' quick rise during the early 1970s from an expansion team to an AL force after he sent Mayberry to Kansas City.
Any regrets from Richardson?
"No. You don't worry about it. Once you pull the trigger, it's all over," Richardson said, still pleasantly defiant even now. "When I was with the Giants (from 1976 to 1980 as GM), I traded seven ballplayers and $400,000 (to the Oakland Athletics) for Vida Blue. That was in 1978, when we were drawing 6,000 to 7,000 fans per game. Then we raised attendance with Blue to close to two million. That was a big trade."
It was so big that The Sporting News named Spec Richardson baseball's executive of the year for 1978. Soon after that, he was featured in one of those classic Miller Lite commercials.
The point is, Richardson mostly was a respected GM. After his retirement decades ago, he remained popular among old and new baseball folks around Turner Field after he occasionally would drive from Columbus to Atlanta for Braves games.
Now Richardson is on a walker, and it has kept him close to Columbus. But with the combination of his television set constantly turned to games and his love for reading anything about baseball, he remains a student of the game, especially regarding baseball executives.
"I like the one in San Francisco," Richardson said, referring to Giants general manager Brian Sabean. "I like him very much. I think he's done a great job. And the boy in Atlanta, John Schuerholz, has done a good job, even though (Frank Wren is officially the GM these days and Schuerholz is the president). The other boy (Wren) is up there (in charge), but he's still got Schuerholz right besides him.
"You also have that boy, Pat Gillick, who just went into the Hall of Fame this summer. He used to scout for me in Houston. Tal Smith (now the Astros president) was my scouting director, and he's gone on to be a pretty good baseball man."
So was Richardson. It's just that he always will be tagged as the guy who traded Cuellar, Mayberry, Staub -- and, most famously, as the guy who placed a bunch of cogs in the Big Red Machine.
"I never worried about it," Richardson said, with a long pause, suggesting that he really does have amnesia.
As for loyal Astros fans, not so much.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.