A little historical work by Michigan Jim deserves promotion. -- Kurt
After Jim Leyland's comments over the weekend about a possible roster surprise there have been comments about how rare a Spring training trade is. I'll agree it doesn't happen often but there was a memorable trade at the end of Spring training in 1984,
The Tigers had a solid team anchored by the likes of Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon, Lance Parish, Jack Morris and Dan Petry. The missing component was a closer. Aurelio Lopez had done an adequate job in the bullpen saving 66 games after coming to Detroit, from the Cardinals, prior to the 1979 season. But Tiger Brass did not have faith in Lopez as a closer and all Winter there had been talk of trading for that missing piece.
On March 24 Bill Lajoie pulled of the trade that would help the Tigers start 35-5 and go wire to wire in first place. The Tigers sent fan favorite back up catcher John Wockenfuss and 1980 #1 draft pick, outfielder Glenn Wilson to the Phillies for a journeyman first baseman, Dave Bergman and a former Cubs pitcher Willie Hernandez.
I (and a slew of Tiger fans) thought it was a terrible trade. Wockenfusswas the charismatic and funny back up catcher witha flair for an occasional dramatic home run. Wilson had shown promise as an outfielder of the future and was the 1980 #1 draft pick. Coming to Detroit was a first baseman Dave Bergman who was on his 4th team in 7 years and he had never really experienced League success along with the centerpiece of the deal Willie Hernandez, the journeyman reliever that had spent 7 years with the Cubs and 1 in Philadelphia.
Wockenfuss played two years for the Phillies playing in 108 games before he retired after the 1985 season. Glenn Wilson had a solid baseball career, but he was only in Philly through 1980. The Tigers fared much better.
Dave Bergman was one of the 1984 heros's playing a defensively stellar first base and having one of the most memorable at bats of the season against Toronto. I forget how many pitches he fouled off before hitting the dtamatic home run but it was truly amazing to watch and for me was one of those highlights they will talk about whenever the 84 guys get together. Willie Hernandez was the relief pitcher version of Justin Verlnder in 1984 whenhe won both the Cy Young and the MVP awards. His appearances as closer after Aurelio Rodriguez had pitched the 8th inning were things of beauty and he ended up saving. He appeared in 80 games, finished 68 and saved 32. He wasn't perfect but he was damned close to perfection as a reliever.
Spring training trades are indeed rare but that March 24, 1984 trade with Philadelphia may have bee one of the top Tiger trades of all time. The 1984 season is now one for the ages and it would probably not have happened if Bill Lajoie hadn't decided to make a roster surprise 10 days before the season began.