TOT – The *Other* Doyle Alexander Trade

TOT – The *Other* Doyle Alexander Trade

Transaction of Today…December 12, 1980 – The Atlanta Braves traded Doyle Alexander to the San Francisco Giants for Craig Landis (minors) and John Montefusco.

We often talk about the Doyle Alexander Trade. You know the one. On August 12, 1987, the Atlanta Braves sent Alexander to the Tigers in exchange for a minor league right-hander named John Smoltz. The deal was your classic instant reward/forever regret for the Tigers. Alexander threw three shutouts in his eleven starts down the stretch for the Tigers, helping them reach the ALCS. He lost both of his starts to the eventual World Champion Twins. Alexander would throw at least 220 innings the next two seasons and was named to the ’88 All-Star Team.

But Smoltz, a native Michigan son, developed into a Hall of Fame arm for the team down south rather than help to lead the team he grew up a fan of. Worst of all, the Tigers would go two decades between playoff appearances after the ’87 season.

However, that wasn’t the first time the Braves traded Alexander. On this day in 1980, Atlanta sent Alexander out west to San Francisco. The Braves just acquired Alexander the previous winter from the Rangers. Alexander signed with Texas following the ’76 campaign, inking what was a pretty rich five-year, $750K contract. That’s the full total, not his seasonal salary. Yes, players used to get $150K a year and we thought, “damn!” Alexander was a letdown in Texas, finishing with an ERA+ above 100 once in three seasons before the Braves got him. Ultimately, the trade didn’t cost much for the Braves, but the change of scenery also did little to improve Alexander’s luck. He finished 1980 with a nice 4.20 ERA. Adjusted, that’s an ERA+ of 89.

With Alexander a year away from free agency, the Braves decided to move on from the 30-year-old righty and sent him to the Giants. San Francisco traded a minor leaguer named Craig Landis and pitcher John Montefusco to the Braves. Like the trade that brought Alexander to Atlanta, the haul was minimal as it turned out. Landis never made it to the majors, maxing out with Richmond and never playing affiliated ball after ’82. After a run as a defensive back with Stanford, Landis became a sports agent and, and this is true, he represents Mike Trout now.

Yep.

Montefusco won the Rookie of the Year in 1975 and went to the All-Star Game the following year. However, injuries soon caught up to him and his play suffered as well. His one year in Atlanta during the strike-shortened ’71 campaign was not a gamechanger. A free agent following the year, he spent the next five seasons with the Padres and Yankees, finding some success when he wasn’t injured.

Fun fact I am pigeon-holing into this article because I can’t find a place to bring it up organically. Smoltz wasn’t even the only Hall of Famer Alexander was traded for. In 1971, his original team, the Dodgers, traded Alexander in a six-player deal. The biggest piece? Frank Robinson, who went from Baltimore to Los Angeles. Anyway, back to the meat of the article.

Alexander’s one year with the Giants was solid. In 24 starts, he had a 2.89 ERA. Hitting free agency on a high note, he flocked to the Bronx. There, he struggled badly through an injury-riddled year-and-a-half. Released at the end of May in 1983, Alexander found a new home with the Blue Jays three weeks later. Once again, Alexander rebounded, finishing 1983 with a 3.93 ERA. Sticking with Toronto, he led the junior circuit with a .739 winning percentage in 1984 and finished 6th in the Cy Young vote the following year. In 1986, he was beginning to fade so Toronto traded him at the midway point to the Braves for Duane Ward.

We don’t talk about this because it’s not nearly as damning as the Smoltz trade, but the Braves did suffer eventually by trading FOR Alexander, too. Ward, a young fireballer with control issues, developed into a great reliever for the Jays. Notably, in 1992, he appeared in four World Series games against the Braves, allowing no runs in 3.1 innings and picking up the dubya in both Game 2 and Game 3.

Back to Alexander. To finish 1986, Alexander had a 3.84 ERA in 17 starts. Now, you might be wondering why the Braves acquired Alexander in the first place. Giving up a young arm with potential for an aging veteran was typically not the move those 80’s Braves teams made. On the day the deal happened, the Braves were 41-40 and 3.5 games behind the Giants. One of the big reasons for that was a pitching staff that had given up the fourth-most runs in the National League. Atlanta hoped Alexander could solidify their rotation and helped them get to the playoffs for just the third time since coming to Atlanta. But the Braves would finish 31-49, scoring the fewest runs in the NL in that time period.

Alexander returned in 1987. He missed the first 44 games, but had a 3.38 ERA working through his first dozen starts before three consecutive six-run outbursts kicked up his ERA nearly a full run. On August 10th, he seemed to get back on track with seven innings and only two runs allowed. The Braves offense was shutout, though, and Alexander was dealt two days later. In his final ten starts as a Brave, the team and Alexander went 1-9.

Like I said before, Alexander was excellent down the stretch for the Tigers. In his final eight starts, he gave up seven runs in 67 innings (0.94 ERA). As it happened, the Tigers welcomed the Blue Jays to Detroit for the final three games of the regular season. They were behind the Jays by one game. Alexander took the ball in the series opener and yielded just three runs in seven innings, besting Jim Clancy and leading the Tigers to a 4-3 win to help the Tigers equal Toronto’s record of 96-64. He watched the next two days as Jack Morris and and Frank Tanana brought home the division title. Toronto finished with the second-most wins in baseball and missed the playoffs.

Just to drum this point home a little more, when the Tigers acquired Alexander on August 12, they were 1.5 games behind Toronto. They were also 3 back in the win column. They would go 33-18 after the 12th, winning all eleven Alexander starts.

Of course, to quote Moneyball, if you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit. As Alexander finished his career, in Atlanta, Smoltz was just getting started. It would be a tough pill to swallow for the Detroit organization for years to come.

Alexander pitched 19 years in the majors, making 464 starts, throwing 18 shutouts, and logging over 3,000 innings. But his career is more known for who he was traded for than anything he ever did on the mound.

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