1976: The Bert Blyleven Trade

I quoted from Larry Batson’s Strib article dated June 2, 1976 in The Franchise 1976:

Our drama began as an old-fashioned salary hassle, depressingly familiar to followers of the Twins. But, hoo boy, did it escalate.

Blyleven, a pitcher of solid performance and enourmous potential, came to regard his employer as niggardly, to say the least. And that was the very least that Blyleven, an outspoken person, said about Griffith.

Three seasons ago, as Griffith tells it, Blyleven made a specific salary demand. Griffith immediately agreed. “I think that stuck in Bert’s craw,” Griffith said recently. “I believe he thought he could have got more money if he’d asked for it – and maybe he would have.”

The next year Blyleven took his case to arbitration and lost. He fumed.

This year Blyleven refused to sign, Griffith fumed.

Griffith is a merchant. He sells baseball and, quite often, baseball players. By playing a season without a contract, Blyleven could become a free agent. He could then sell himself.

Griffith had a potential competitor on his own payroll. Every fourth day, Blyleven would take the mound for the Twins and throw beanballs at Griffith’s corporate assets. It was galling – and Calvin had to pay Bert meal money on road trips to boot.

As Blyleven put it yesterday, he was merely setting up a little ma and pa store, taking a chance on the free-enterprise system of which he has heard so much from baseball owners.

“I had to think of my future, my career expectancy, and of security for my family,” he said. “Mr. Griffith should be able to understand that. He has a huge family.”

Observers will long debate and probably never agree on the motivation for Griffith’s next move. He told Blyleven that he could negotiate with any club interested in signing him. Was this frustration or genius? Was Griffith surrendering or baiting a trap?

If it was bait, Texas seized it. The Rangers talked to Blyleven in terms he could appreciate. He likes numbers with lots of zeroes, and who doesn’t? By Monday morning, Blyleven had decided that he was going to Texas.

As a parting gesture, Bert hoped to win his 100th game for the Twins that evening. He lost it, but improvised another gesture for jeering spectators which will probably be remembered longer.

“Fans pay good money and they’re entitle to boo,” Blyleven said yesterday. “But when they go too far, I think a player has the right to respond in kind.”

The trade the two teams worked out was this:

Twins get: P Bill Singer, SS Roy Smalley, 3B Mike Cubbage, and $250,000.

Rangers get: P Bert Blyleven and SS Danny Thompson

Overall, the Twins missed out on 31.4 WAR without Blyleven from 1976-1985. Danny Thompson, of course, tragically died in December of 1976.

Smalley had some great years for the Twins, and for a brief time was the best shortstop in the American League. Overall he was worth 15.7 WAR in his first stint with the Twins. In 1982, the Twins traded Smalley for Ron Davis, Greg Gagne, and Paul Boris – a total of 15.5 WAR over the next decade (0.4 from Davis, 15.1 from Gagne). Mike Cubbage was worth 6.1 WAR to the Twins between 1976 and 1980.

All in all, the Twins lost 31.4 WAR, but gained 37.3 WAR. Taken in a vacuum, this was a good trade for the Twins at the time. They had to give up Jay Bell to get Blyleven back, in a trade that didn’t come out well in terms of WAR, but did aid in bringing the Twins a World Series Championship in 1987.

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