Baseball History: Alexander and Smoltz

john smoltz 1989The recent induction of John Smoltz into the National Baseball Hall of Fame always brings the discussion of the trade that brought him to the Atlanta Braves.

Many view it a lopsided deal, but was it? Smoltz was sent to the Braves from the Detroit Tigers for Doyle Alexander on Aug. 12, 1987.

Yes, Smoltz became a big league legend with a record of 213-155 and 154 saves in 21 seasons, while Alexander spent 19 years in the majors with eight teams.

A member of the 1995 world champion Braves, Smoltz was an eight-time all-star and won the National League Cy Young Award in 1996 with a 24-8 mark. Later in his career, he went to the bullpen led the NL in saves with 55. In the post-season, Smoltz was 15-4 with five saves in 14 years of action.

Balancing Alexander with a member of the Hall of Fame can be a little difficult, but calling the exchange lopsided really doesn’t seem fair. Alexander was 194-174 with a lifetime 3.76 ERA.

The Tigers were in a chase for the American League East title in 1987 and Alexander proved to be an important part of their run to the World Series.

doyle alexander 1987Alexander was 9-0 in 11 starts for the Tigers as they eventually fell to the Minnesota Twins in the Fall Classic. He was 14-10 for the year and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting.

On the other hand in 1987, Smoltz was a 20-year old with a 4-11 record in the minor leagues. He did improve to 10-5 the next season at Triple-A, which led to his call up to the Braves.

He finished his first major league season at 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA. Of course, that would all change for Smoltz and the Braves as they would become a dominate organization during the 1990s.

Alexander would make the AL all-star team in 1988 and ended the year at 14-11. At 38 years old, he retired the next season as he finished with a 6-18 record.

The Beginning

Picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth round of the 1968 draft, Alexander made it to the majors in 1971. He was 6-6 that year and experienced the first of seven trades in his career during the winter as he was sent to the Baltimore Orioles in a six player deal for Frank Robinson, another future member Hall of Fame.

Alexander’s best year in Baltimore was in 1973 when he was 12-8 as the Orioles fell in the American League Championship Series to the Oakland A’s.

doyle alexander 1976In the middle of the 1976 season, Alexander would be part of a 10-player swap that benefited his old team, the Orioles, and his new squad, the New York Yankees.

Alexander went 10-5 for the Yankees as they won the AL pennant as he qualified for the post-season for the second time in his career.

In the deal, Baltimore got rich like the Braves would do with Smoltz. Among the new players for the Orioles were Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez and Rudy May.

May would win 29 games for the Orioles before he was moved to the Montreal Expos after the 1977 season in a deal that gave the Orioles Don Stanhouse, who would have 21 saves for the 1979 AL champs.

Dempsey was the catcher with the Orioles for 12 seasons and was critical to their world championship in 1983. Martinez was a member of the Orioles for 11 years and was an all-star in 1983 as he was 9-3 with 2.35 ERA and 21 saves.

Perhaps the best player in the 1976 trade was McGregor. An all-star in 1981, he spent 13 years in Baltimore and was 138-108 as he was mainstay of starting staff until he retired in 1988. He was 20-8 in 1980 and 18-7 in 1983.

Another Trade Helps Blue Jays

After pitching for the Yankees in 1976, Alexander signed with the Texas Rangers and was 17-11 the next year. He then spent time in Atlanta, San Francisco before going back to the Yankees.

Alexander was released by the Yankees during the 1983 season and he finished the year with a 7-6 record in Toronto. He was 17-6 in 1984 and 17-10 the following season as the Blue Jays won the AL East for the first time.

However the next year, Alexander would be involved in another deal that would take him to Atlanta and his date with the destiny of Smoltz.

The Blue Jays picked up Duane Ward for Alexander. Ward became a factor for Toronto by 1988 and was a key member of the Blue Jays division titles in 1989 and 1991.

The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993. Ward’s best year was during Toronto’s second title run when he was named to the all-star team and posted a 2-3 record with a league-leading 45 saves.

It’s a strange legacy for Alexander as he was traded so many times for quality players, but to believe that any deal involving him was lopsided might not be true. Both sides always seemed to accomplish their goals.


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