Midseason each year, Major League Baseball teams swap players; struggling teams often trade stars for prospects. No trade deadline period had more of an impactful effect than 1976.
A’s owner Charlie Finley sold stars Joe Rudi, and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each and Vida Blue to the Yankees for 1.5 million dollars, as quickly as possible before trade deadline day on June 15 to avoid free agency periods and risk their disappearance for free.
Ron Fimrite from Sports Illustrated described this deal as unprecedented in MLB history in terms of both stars involved and the amount of money involved.
Three days after Finley sold his A’s for $3.5 million, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn shocked Finley by nullifying all transactions due to his best interests of baseball power. Finley A’s were an American League powerhouse during the 1970s before Rudi and Fingers left in free agency due to an owner who couldn’t afford them, crippling Finley’s franchise.
Since MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller negotiated free agency rights for players, salaries skyrocketed, and team building became even more intricate.
So Finley was screwed over by Kuhn; instead of at least getting some money out of his stars that he could not afford to resign, he got nothing out of them. Rudi and Fingers were already headed to free agency and were going to the highest bidder anyway, so Kuhn stopped Finley’s attempt to get something for his players at least.
Finley began dismantling Oakland’s dynasty in April 1976 by trading Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to Baltimore Orioles for cash considerations. Finley then sold players off in June, to much dismay of A’s fans; their departure meant five consecutive American League West titles and three World Series victories since 1972 were all over!
“Finley can stash his cash on that [expletive] mound and come over here and cheer for it,” according to an A’s fan at Oakland Coliseum who spoke with the San Francisco Examiner back in 1976.
Other MLB owners were similarly wary of free agency, yet none tried to offload their stars like Finley had done.
MLB was no stranger to deals involving star players and substantial sums of money: In January 1920, future Hall-of-Famer Babe Ruth was sold from Boston Red Sox to New York Yankees for $125,000. Sixteen years later, St Louis Cardinals sent future Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean from St Louis Cardinals to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for $185,000 and three players. Finally, in the early 1930s, Philadelphia A’s manager/owner Connie Mack sold future Hall-of-Famers Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove as part of deals that involved star players being sold off by then Philadelphia A’s manager/owner Connie Mack.
Due to Boston being in town when Finley sold them, Rudi and Fingers strolled over to their clubhouse to suit up for their next game. Before Kuhn killed the trade Fingers posed in a Red Sox uniform on the field at Oakland Coliseum; none of the two players never played for “their new team”.
“Allowing such transactions now and in the future would open the floodgates for wealthy clubs to buy success at any cost, which could arouse public suspicion, undercut traditional and sound methods of player development and acquisition, and undermine our efforts at maintaining competitive balance significantly,” according to the Commissioner.
Finley quickly labeled Kuhn a village idiot after his decision to invalidate players’ sales agreements.
This 1976 mid-summer baseball circus, culminating in Finley’s $10 million suit against MLB and Commissioner Kuhn, provided fodder for days among sports writers nationwide:
“Finley’s First Annual Garage Sale, passing $3.5 Million in small, unmarked bills and numerous coast-to-coast obituaries of his sport has finally allowed Kuhn to accomplish something,” wrote Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe.
Kevin Lamb from the Chicago Daily News described the attempted sales as innovative, arrogant and, above all, flamboyant.
Charley Finley has claimed his right to sell ballplayers as his property under American capitalism; not entirely, though; when you join a men’s or country club, you agree to its rules and abide by them.”
Kuhn and Finley shared an uneasy relationship for years: In 1972, Kuhn ordered the frugal Finley to open contract talks with Vida Blue, who won the American League Cy Young Award the previous season; during the 1973 World Series against the Mets, he demanded Finley reinstate infielder Mike Andrews whom “Charley O” had released due to two errors committed during Game 2.
Finley had fears that his best players were ready to leave, and sure enough, Rudi signed with the California Angels while Fingers joined San Diego Padres via free agency after that season while Blue spent one more season before being traded to San Francisco Giants; additional losses included third baseman Sal Bando (freed after 1976 season by the California Angels), catcher Gene Tenace and shortstop Bert Campeneris via free agency with nothing returned for Charley O. The next year saw them lose 98 games while only once playoff appearance between 1977-1987!
Finley would eventually be forced to sell the A’s in 1980; maybe if he could have done his fire sale in 1976, things would have been different, but probably not. ‘
Bowie Kuhn was one of the worst commissioners in the history of Major League baseball, and his decisions affected many teams in the mid to late 70s.
Maybe his worst move was stopping Finley from trading star Vida Blue early in 1978 to the Cincinnati Reds. That move was almost like he was protecting the Dodgers and the Yankees!
Bowie Kuhn of Major League Baseball blocked the Trade of Vida Blue trade to the Reds because it would distort baseball’s competitive balance and tilt in their favor.
On December 9, 1977, as one of Reds GM Bob Howsam’s final moves before retiring, he acquired Blue from the A’s for Triple-A 1B Dave Revering and $1.75 million cash.
But seven weeks later, on January 30, 1978, Kuhn cancelled the trade, believing it wasn’t in the game’s best interest and too heavily tilted in favor of the Reds. A’s owner Charlie Finley had begun offloading players to generate income.
Howsam planned to revive the Big Red Machine by pairing Tom Seaver with Blue for an effective two-hitter in rotation.
Howsam had traded Tony Perez to the Montreal Expos for pitchers Woody Fryman and Dal Murray after winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 1976, but this decision had negative repercussions: Perez had been at the core of clubhouse leadership and run production; his departure contributed to their dropping to 88-74 and second place finish in the NL West; 10 games behind their archrival Dodgers. Dan Driessen had played well, but he was no Tony Perez.
Blue had burst onto the scene in 1971 with an incredible 1.82 ERA and 24 wins, winning both Cy Young and MVP awards. He continued this success during 1973 and 1975 by winning 20 games each year before falling off slightly during 1977 (14-19 3.83 with 279 strikeouts). In his defense in 1977, he pitched as well as ever, but the team around him, especially the run support, were no longer there.
Revering was selected in the seventh round by the Reds in 1971 as a right-handed power hitter and considered their top prospect at that time, widely considered one of the greatest power hitters in minor league baseball.
Revering hit.300 for Indianapolis that year with 30 homers and 110 RBI; his expendability was due to Dan Driessen playing first base for Cincinnati; this 25-year-old had previously hit.300 with 17 HR, 91 RBI, and 31 SB for them in 1977.
Kuhn suggested restructuring the trade, and shortly thereafter, New Reds General Manager Dick Wagner traded Revering and cash to Oakland for relief pitcher Doug Bair – who would go on to save 28 games with a 1.97 ERA during 1978 for Cincinnati. Bair was not exactly Vida Blue!
In March, the A’s traded Blue to the Giants for seven players and $300,000. Within his first season with San Francisco, he went 18-10, pitched 258 innings and started in the National League All-Star Game – becoming an immediate fan favorite!
The 1978 Reds were beleaguered by injuries (Joe Morgan missed 30 games while Johnny Bench missed 42) and poor pitching, yet still managed to record a 92-69 record – finishing 2.5 games behind their rival Dodgers. It would not be a huge stretch to assume that Blue could have easily been the difference in the Reds winning the division had he been on the team.
Revering hit.271 with 16 homers for the A’s in 1978 before posting good numbers over his next two seasons before being traded to the Yankees in 1980. Unfortunately, Revering’s career stalled out, and he was eventually released.
Retiring from Major League Baseball after 557 MLB games for four teams and hitting.265, with 62 homers.
Blue’s presence with the Reds was long enough for him to appear in their media guide for the 1978 season. But not long enough to have the effect that Reds fans had dreamed of.
What might have been if the Reds had acquired Vida Blue? The 1978 Reds lost out by 2.5 games to the Dodgers, and the 1979 Reds won the NL West but were beaten in the NLCS by the Pirates. In 1980 the Reds missed out on winning the NL West by a few games and in 1981, the Reds missed the playoffs even though they had the best record in baseball. I do not think it’s a huge stretch to believe that with Blue on board, the Big Red machine may have won another World Series or two. That’s all conjecture but not hard to fathom.
Bowie Kuhn rejected the trade and the 76 trade to the Red Sox because he did not like Finley and wanted him gone from Major League Baseball. He assured that would happen by destroying much of Finley’s cash flow. I want to mention that Finley should have been run out of baseball for the way he ran the A’s, but Kuhn should have been run out also, as neither was truley could for the game.
Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from all of this would be what might have been. What if the Red Sox had gotten Rudi and Fingers in 1976? What if Blue goes to the Yankees in 76 or the Reds in 77? We will never know those answers, but it is fun to imagine.
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