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50 years ago today, Dodgers trade for Phil Regan

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Phil Regan, standing in the Dodgers bullpen with (L to R), catcher Jeff Torborg and pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski in 1966.
Phil Regan, standing in the Dodgers bullpen with (L to R), catcher Jeff Torborg and pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski in 1966.
Photo: Sporting News via Getty Images

While we wait in the 2015-2016 offseason for the Dodgers to do ... something, Tuesday marks another anniversary of a notable transaction of years past. It was 50 years ago today that the Dodgers acquired one of their most memorable relief pitchers — and the one with the best nickname — in Phil Regan.

The Vulture.

On Dec. 15, 1965, the Dodgers traded infielder Dick Tracewski to the Tigers in exchange for Regan.

Tracewski was a light-hitting backup infielder who played shortstop, second base and third base for the previous three years with the Dodgers, hitting .231/.307/.288, a 76 OPS+, during his time in Los Angeles. Tracewski was heading into his age-31 season in 1966.

Regan was heading into his age-29 season in 1966, and was added as starting rotation depth for the Dodgers. He was 42-44 with a 4.50 ERA, an 86 ERA+ in six years in Detroit. The deal was made minutes before the offseason deadline for making interleague trades without requiring waivers, a rule that no longer exists.

Regan ended 1965 for Triple-A Syracuse, where he spent most of his season. He was closing in on five full years of major league service time, which would have qualified him for a major league pension, when he was sent down to the minors by Detroit.

"I was really disappointed. I thought seriously of going home. But I remembered I needed only 14 days to complete five years, so I reported to Syracuse," Regan told Hal Bock of the Associated Press in 1966. "I called [Tigers general manager] Jim Campbell and asked to be traded."

After joining the Dodgers, rather than slotting into the starting rotation behind Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and rookie Don Sutton, Regan instead found a role in the bullpen as the Dodgers stuck with a four-man rotation nearly all season long.

Only one other pitcher made starts for the Dodgers in 1966 — Joe Moeller, with eight.

Regan thrived in relief for the Dodgers, putting up a 1.62 ERA in 65 games, with 88 strikeouts and 24 walks (nine intentional walks) in 116⅔ innings. Since Regan in 1966, only Charlie Hough (twice) and Mike Marshall (in his record-breaking Cy Young Award-winning 1974 season) have pitched more innings in relief in a season as a Dodger.

He joined an already strong relief corps that included Ron Perranoski and Bob Miller.

That trio combined for a 2.42 ERA in 283 innings, and made 77.6 percent of the Dodgers relief appearances in 1966 and pitched 78.1 percent of the team's relief innings. Regan, in his first year in Los Angeles, felt compelled to write a poem about himself and his relief pals.

"These are men of the blue beret," Regan told the Associated Press, "waiting for Alston's call; they are ready to give their all, fighting Giants and the Reds, day and night until they're dead."

"Seems like the starter holds on until the seventh or eighth inning. Then just as soon as there's a pitching change we get some runs." -Phil Regan in 1966

Regan led the National League in 1966 with 48 games finished and 21 saves. He made his only All-Star team in 1966, and was voted Comeback Player of the Year, the first Dodger to win that award. Regan appeared in two games in the World Series against the Orioles, retiring five of his six batters faced with one walk and a pair of strikeouts.

But what stood out was his 14-1 record.

In eight of those wins, Regan entered a tie game, and four times he came in when the Dodgers were trailing. Only twice did he earn a win after blowing a lead, each time surrendering a one-run lead by allowing an inherited run to score.

But he earned the nickname "The Vulture" from teammates, one he and the team embraced.

On Aug. 1, Sandy Koufax struck out nine and allowed one run in seven innings, but left the game trailing the Pirates 1-0. Regan pitched the final two innings scoreless, while the Dodgers offense rallied for the tying run in the eighth inning, then four more in the ninth for a 5-1 victory. It was Regan's third win in six days.

In case you were wondering, Koufax finished his final season in 1966 at 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, with five no-decisions in 41 starts. Regan got the win in two of those five Koufax no-decisions, in back-to-back starts on July 27 and Aug. 1, the former an 11-inning outing for Koufax that saw him strikeout 16 while allowing only one run.

Koufax left that July 27 game tied, then the Dodgers won after Regan pitched a scoreless 12th inning.

"Seems like the starter holds on until the seventh or eighth inning. Then just as soon as there's a pitching change we get some runs," Regan explained to Roy McHugh of the Pittsburgh Press. "Ron [Perranoski] and I are like vultures. The starting pitcher goes all the way and then I come in and pick up the win — or Ron does."

Perranoski three years earlier set the Dodgers record with 16 wins in relief. Since Regan's 14-1 season, only three Dodgers pitchers have won double digits in relief in a season — Marshall (15 wins in 1974), Pedro Martinez (10 in 1993) and Matt Herges (11 in 2000).

Regan's 13 consecutive wins remains a Los Angeles Dodgers record.

But even ignoring the wins, Regan was an effective relief pitcher for the Dodgers. He pitched for them again in 1967, then started 1968 with Los Angeles before an April trade to the Cubs.

Regan had a 2.28 ERA in 125 relief appearances for the Dodgers, the sixth-best ERA by a Dodgers pitcher with at least 100 games in relief, narrowly behind Kenley Jansen. Regan's 140 ERA+ ranks 11th.

Regan would pitch in the majors through 1972, and seemed content with the move to the bullpen.

"In the back of your mind you always think it's nice to start," Regan told the Pittsburgh Press. "But now I wouldn't want to go back to it. Relief pitching has been so good to me, I'm satisfied. I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing."

Regan, who turns 79 in April, remains in baseball to this day. He managed one season in the Dodgers system, for Triple-A Albuquerque in 1996, one year after he managed the Orioles. Regan has been the pitching coach for the Class-A St. Lucie Mets in the Gulf Coast League for the last seven seasons.