The Ken Holtzman for Rick Monday trade


Yesterday, I wrote about five baseball trades made in late November/early December of 1971 involving Hall of Fame caliber players. But a trade need not involve players at that level to be hugely significant.

On November 29, 1971 — the same day as the blockbuster deals that sent Joe Morgan to Cincinnati and Gaylord Perry to Cleveland for Sam McDowell — the Oakland A’s acquired Ken Holtzman from the Chicago Cubs for Rick Monday. Neither player produced anything like Hall of Fame numbers, and the trade was not one-sided. However, without Holtzman, Oakland would not have won three consecutive world championships.

Rick Monday was the first player selected in the 1965 amateur draft — the first such draft ever. He was a worthy pick, having just led Arizona State to the College World Series championship and been named College Player of the Year.

Monday played five full seasons for the A’s, and they were productive ones. However, he did not quite live up to his billing.

Monday’s best season for Oakland was probably 1970, when he batted .290 with an OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) of .844. In 1971 those numbers slipped to .245 and .774. In his best home run year with Oakland, Monday hit 18. His highest RBI total was only 58.

Holtzman’s career with the Cubs was up-and-down, but mostly up. In 1966, his first full season, he made his name by outpitching fellow Jew Sandy Koufax late in the year, the final loss of the great left-hander’s career.

When Koufax retired a few weeks later, Holtzman proclaimed himself “the best left-handed Jewish pitcher in the world.” That was faint praise and was intended as such, but Holtzman pitched sensationally the following year, going 9-0 with a 2.53 ERA. Unfortunately, he was limited to 12 starts due to military duty.

Holtzman posted back-to-back 17 win seasons in 1969 and 1970. However, the next season he dipped to 9-15 with a 4.48 ERA, about a run higher than normal for him.

Holtzman was only 26, though, and A’s owner Charlie Finely recognized the lefty’s 1971 performance for what it was, an aberration. Finley also recognized that he needed another ace starting pitcher to match Baltimore with their four 20-game winners.

Finally, Finley probably recognized that he might not have Vida Blue, the 1971 Cy Young winner, at the start of the 1972 season. Blue was looking for a six-figure contract. Finley had no intention of paying anything close to that amount.

Trading Monday would leave an opening in centerfield. However, Oakland had a promising young replacement in Angel Mangual, who hit .286 in 1971, albeit playing almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers and with little power. Finley must have figured that if Mangual struggled, he could get find a decent player to share centerfield duties more easily than he could find a quality starting pitcher. (As it turned out, Finley found veteran left-handed hitting Matty Alou to pair with Mangual in 1972 — a so-so combo — and then struck gold the next year when he acquired Billy North from the Cubs for veteran reliever Bob Locker.)

Holtzman was outstanding for Oakland. In his four seasons there, 1972-1975, he won 77 games and pitched to an ERA of under 3.00. In three World Series, his record was 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA. He started Games 1,4, and 7 of the 1973 classic, going 2-1.

Monday had a good career with the Cubs. He developed into the power hitter Oakland thought he would be, belting 32 home runs in 1976. As indicated below, Monday’s career value measured by stats is similar to Holtzman’s.

But timing is everything. Holtzman was instrumental in leading Oakland to three world titles in three years. Through no fault of Monday’s, the Cubs never got within a sniff of post-season play while he was there.

Monday did get to play for a championship team, though — the 1981 LA Dodgers. And Monday was instrumental in the title run. Playing 66 games in that strike-shortened season, he batted a career high .315 with a remarkable OPS of 1.031.

Moreover, it was Monday’s ninth inning home run off of Steve Rogers that sent the Dodgers to the World Series.

Holtzman was out of baseball by then, but had played for two more world championship teams — the 1977 and (very briefly) 1978 New York Yankees. His career record is 174-150, with a 3.49 ERA. Monday ended up with a batting average of .264, an OPS of .804, and 241 home runs. Their career WARs (wins above replacement player) are 37.2 for Holtzman and 31.1 for Monday.

This, then, was an even trade that yielded lopsided benefits for one of the trading partners.



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