The book: “Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History”
The author: Shawn Krest
The vital statistics: Page Street Publishing, 240 pages, $22.99, released March 28
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Vromans.com
The pitch: In 2009, writer Doug Decatur developed a way to quantify baseball’s all-time recording of swaps by producing the book, “Traded: Inside the Most Lopsided Trades in Baseball History” (Acta Sports). In it, he lists 306 transactions that really did favor one team over another, as looking back on history could determine.
Many Dodgers fans expect that the team sending future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to Montreal in 1994 for second baseman Delino DeShields is about as lopsided as it gets, but Decatur not only left that one off the top 10 worst trades in franchise history, but it’s just No. 255 overall.
The Dodgers reportedly weren’t high on Martinez’s durability based on his size (and somewhat ignoring the fact his older brother, Ramon, was built somewhat the same way but was to become a star in his own right). And they really needed a second baseman.
Done deal. Now, move along.
Why revisit it? Because having a book like this hang on its sales ability and credibility based on its author’s promise to thoroughly explain the “best and worst trades” in baseball history will ultimately mean some of us will never be satisfied with the rationale involved picking which deal to include and what to pass over.
Remember, it’s the stories that Krest is after here, not so much developing a ranking that decides how legend will define it.
The sportswriter living in North Carolina who has had work published on MLB.com, CBSSports.com, ESPN.com and The Sporting News picks 20 trades he thinks are best to explain.
“Instead of the first-round knockouts, we’ll take a look at the twelve-round title fights of baseball trades,” he writes. “It’s easy to forget that, first and foremost, this is a book of stories. A story is always better when the audience knows the characters well. They’re a lot like baseball trades in that way.”
Some still involve fleecing, but most have too much bizarre context that needs to be examined again.
So as long as we’re talking about raising Mike Piazza on a pedestal …
Dodgers GM Fred Claire, who did that Pedro-for-Delino deal years earlier, is in the middle of the Dodgers’ strangest trades franchise history if only because he didn’t make it.
Piazza and Todd Zeile sent to Miami for salary dumps Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenreich, plus someone named Manual Barrios, in May, 1998 was a mess from start to finish. And if you don’t remember why, here it is.
Just months after the Marlins won the World Series, ownership was slashing roster payroll down to almost nothing. The Dodgers, then owned by Fox, wanted the regional sports network outlet in Miami, and could trade Piazza to the Marlins as part of a deal that would guarantee them that business.
And Piazza, as it turned out, wasn’t even what the Marlins really wanted. Eight days later, they dumped Piazza, still in his option year, to the New York Mets to let them rent him for ther est of 1998 in exchange for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz. All of that is covered in the very first chapter.
It’s a story worth of retelling here if only because how bizarre it really was.
As is another Dodgers’ blockbuster — the Guggenheim Group, led by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson, who just purchased the franchise a few months earlier in 2012, decided to show their wherewithal to absorb some ridiculous contracts all for the benefit of having Adrian Gonzalez come to L.A., along with the salaries of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. The Red Sox’s haul included James Looney, Alan Webster and Ruby De La Rosa. More money traded hands than any other mid-season move in history – particularity since the July 31 trade deadline had already passed and everyone had to clear waivers. It should also be noted that Webster and De La Rosa, whom the Dodgers coveted as pitching prospects, were dealt away by the Red Sox by the winter of 2014.
In more recent years, expiring contracts and pending free agency help explain what otherwise might be an unthinkable trades. Salary dumps factor in as well.
And when you think about it, about half the players who make it to the Hall of Fame will at one point or another be traded, some of them five times (Gaylord Perry, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bert Blyleven) and one even six (Burleigh Grimes).
So when there’s a chapter about how St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog went a bit insane at the 1980 winter meetings, there’s a great story behind it.
Or another one explaining how Jay Buhner made it from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees became fodder for Larry Davis to use in an ongoing joke to use in the series “Seinfeld,” there’s another worthy story to tell.
Just one minor problem with this book, however. Trade in the idea that all these pages in whatever microscopic typeface are so necessary that they strain the readers’ eyes beyond repair.
Either add more pages and bump it up, or edit it back.