HOUSTON - JULY 23: Houston Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell looks on during batting practice before the Houston Astros play the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park on July 23 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
In 1991, Bill James wrote,
You never know exactly how good a young player will be, but with some luck (for Bagwell) Lou Gorman will hear about the Bagwell trade until the day he dies. It could be one of those deals, like Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi and Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, that haunts the man who made it.
I met Lou Gorman once, very briefly -- actually, Bill James introduced us -- and of course I didn't ask him about Bagwell. Or for that matter, about Curt Schilling. I don't know if memories of either player haunted Gorman, who died at his Massachusetts home this morning. He was 82.
Gorman took over as Red Sox general manager in 1984. There was plenty of talent in place already. Gorman did acquire Spike Owen and Dave Henderson during the 1986 season; both played terribly down the stretch, but the Sox won their division anyway, and both Owen and Henderson played key roles in Boston's dramatic comeback against the Angels in the American League Championship Series.
To get Spike and Hendu from Seattle, Gorman gave up Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo and John Christensen. Neither Owen nor Henderson gave the Red Sox much after '86, but at least they didn't cost a lot.
The same can't be said of Larry Andersen and Mike Boddicker.
Two years after trading for Owen and Henderson, Gorman made another big move when he traded Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson to the Orioles for Boddicker, a veteran starting pitcher. Boddicker pitched quite well for the Red Sox, and without him they almost certainly wouldn't have won the division (the Sox finished just one game ahead of the Tigers).
Yes, Schilling and Anderson both became stars ... but it took them a while. The trade happened in 1988. Schilling didn't pitch well as a major-league starter until 1992, and that was after he'd been traded twice more (first to the Astros, then the Phillies). Schilling's been pretty up-front about admitting he needed to mature, and that might never have happened if he'd remained with the Red Sox. Brady Anderson also didn't get his game together until 1992. Meanwhile, Boddicker gave the Red Sox two-and-a-half solid seasons, two of which included by-the-skin-of-their-teeth division titles.
As I wrote in this book (only $6.40!), "The trade for Boddicker worked exactly as trades like that are supposed to work."
The Larry Andersen deal, though? Not so much.
To get Larry Andersen for one month, Lou Gorman gave up (at least) six years of Jeff Bagwell. In Gorman's book about running the Red Sox, he devoted four or five pages to defending the deal, essentially arguing that 1) the Red Sox needed Andersen, a relief pitcher; 2) the Astros wouldn't trade Andersen unless they got Bagwell; and 3) Bagwell wasn't a particularly hot prospect.
None of those things are true.
Most odd, Gorman wrote, "We could not ... hold onto our lead in the division unless I could find a way to strengthen our bullpen."
When Gorman traded Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Anderson in a waiver deal on August 30, 1988, the Red Sox owned a six-and-a-half game lead in the American League East. Now, it's true that they wound up finishing the season with just a two-game lead, but down the stretch Andersen pitched in only two close games the Red Sox won. And he pitched poorly against Oakland in the ALCS.
It just wasn't a good move, and it's difficult to defend it, objectively. One month of a relief pitcher, however good, for a young player with immense hitting talent -- which was obvious to anyone who understood minor-league statistics -- is almost impossibly difficult to justify.
Gorman was a baseball man for many decades, and seems to have made a good impression on nearly everyone he met. But when he is remembered by those who didn't know and love him, he will often be remembered for trading Jeff Bagwell for a leather pouch filled with magical beans.
It's sports. We keep score.