With the winter meetings starting this weekend in Nashville, let’s look back 50 years ago at one of the most eventful winter meetings in Dodgers history.
In 1973, the Dodgers won 95 games, their most since winning the pennant seven years earlier, and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1966. The Big Red Machine beat Los Angeles by four games in 1973, but the Dodgers were a team on the rise.
The famed infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey coalesced in 1973, and would stay together for eight more full seasons. That quartet was all in their 20s, as were Bill Buckner, Willie Crawford, Steve Yeager, and Joe Ferguson, plus pitchers Don Sutton and Andy Messersmith atop the rotation.
The Dodgers were ready to contend, but needed a few tweaks. It all came together at the winter meetings in Houston.
Up first was a doozy on December 5, trading center fielder Willie Davis to the Expos for pitcher Mike Marshall.
Davis was a franchise icon who played with the Dodgers for 14 years. He still holds Los Angeles Dodgers records for hits (2,091), runs scored (1,004), total bases (3,094), and triples (110). His 31-game hit streak in 1969 is the longest in franchise history. But he was also about to turn 34 in April 1974, and the Dodgers wanted to move on.
Expos manager Gene Mauch was excited to acquire Davis. He told Sports Illustrated, “As far as I’m concerned there’s only one centerfielder in the league, and I’ve got him.”
Marshall was three years younger, and was the most prolific relief pitcher in baseball. He led the National League in games pitched in both 1972 and 1973 with Montreal, including a major league record 92 games pitched in 1973, when he also set a record with 179 innings pitched in relief. Marshall finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting in 1973, after finishing fourth in 1972.
“We’ve always relied on pitching and we know this will help us,” manager Walt Alston told Don Merry at the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Without Davis, the Dodgers had Buckner and Crawford in the outfield corners, but lacked a proven center fielder. General manager Al Campanis addressed this vacancy after the Davis-Marshall trade was announced.
From the Associated Press:
Asked to run down his outfielders after trading Davis, a Dodger regular since 1961, LA vice president Al Campanis casually repeated names fed him by newsmen and nodded. “Tom Paciorek ... Willie Crawford ... Billy Buckner .. Tommy (sic) Agee.”
Then he stopped abruptly as the packed press room erupted in laughter. The Agee-for-Richert had not yet been announced, although rumors about it were widespread. “That’s the first time you’ve trapped me in a long time,” grinned Campanis. Not much later, the Dodgers formally announced the trade they had let slip out.
Agee was a 31-year-old longtime center fielder and former Rookie of the Year known most for his time on the 1969 Miracle Mets. He finished the 1973 season with the Cardinals. The Dodgers sent to St. Louis left-hander Pete Richert, the former starting pitcher whose second tour of duty in Los Angeles included two years of effective relief work.
Agee hit just .221/.298/.398 with 11 home runs and an 88 OPS+ in 1973, and was more of an extra piece than an everyday center fielder. The Dodgers released him at the end of spring training in 1974, and he never actually played for them, or anyone else in the majors.
But the Dodgers did have another move up their sleeve, which makes it even funnier that Campanis while slipping in his press conference was actually doing a tremendous job of keeping another big trade under wraps.
Jim Wynn was nicknamed the Toy Cannon for packing so much power into his 5’9 frame, and he hit at least 20 home runs seven times for the Astros. But he wanted out of Houston, and the Dodgers were happy to oblige.
The Dodgers sent pitcher longtime rotation stalwart Claude Osteen and minor league reliever David Culpepper to the Astros for Wynn on December 6, one day after the Davis-Marshall deal.
Osteen solidified the Dodgers rotation on two pennant winners in 1965-66, and averaged 266 innings and 16 wins in his nine years in Los Angeles. But the Dodgers were ecstatic to get Wynn, and the feeling was mutual.
“I’ve been wanting to play for Los Angeles for the last four or five years,” Wynn told Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times. “I respect Alston and get the impression that his clubs want to win and know how to win.”
A big reason for these two trades was financial, as Davis and Osteen were the Dodgers’ two highest-paid players in 1973, making $100,000 each. Marshall in 1974 made $87,500 and Wynn made $70,000.
But the Dodgers were also getting two better and younger players. Davis and Osteen were both 34 in 1974, while Wynn was 32 and Marshall was 31. Wynn and Marshall were outstanding in their first year in Los Angeles, and each made the National League All-Star team in both 1974 and 1975.
Wynn fit perfectly into the heart of the Dodgers lineup, hitting third all year while playing center field. He hit .271/.387/.497 with a 150 OPS+ 32 home runs, 108 RBI, and 108 walks, and led the Dodgers with 7.7 bWAR. Wynn didn’t have the best arm in the outfield, but the Dodgers found ways to work around that.
Marshall shattered his own record for games and relief innings, setting marks that still stand today with 106 games pitched and a whopping 208⅓ innings. He won 15 games, saved a league-leading 21, and at one point pitched in a record 13 games in a row.
Wynn finished fifth in National League MVP voting, with teammate Garvey winning the award. Marshall won the NL Cy Young Award, the first-ever reliever in either league to win the award.
They helped the Dodgers to the National League pennant and 102 wins, the latter the Los Angeles record until 2017. It was the first of four pennants in an eight-year stretch for the Dodgers, helped along by a pair of veterans who were acquired at the winter meetings 50 years ago this week.