FPF: The trade that taught me how baseball works

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Note: This is late because I missed it over the weekend, but check out this great response to last week's prompt on "Your favorite Mariners trade" from Suburban Shocker!

I'm going slightly off-prompt here. We're asked to come up with a favorite trade. This is one that isn't a favorite -- I hated it at the time, and it continues to look bad in retrospect -- but it contributed to my baseball education.

It was December 1980. The Mariners were coming off a disappointing season. The 1979 squad had a 67-95 record, 6th out of 7 in the AL West, but showed promise. The lineup was pretty good from spots one through six and there were a few good staring pitchers. There was something to work with, and hope for the future.

9-year-old me had a decent understanding of baseball trades. Trade a good player for a good player; trade a mediocre player for a mediocre player. It all adds up. After that 1979 season, the Mariners made a move that I was also able to grasp: they traded franchise cornerstone Ruppert Jones to the Yankees for Jim Beattie, Juan Beniquez, and a couple of prospects. I understood the concept of trading one very good player for a number of potentially useful pieces. This could help the team in the long run. I got it.

But 1980 marked a step backwards for the franchise as the team finished 59-103, the worst in MLB. Some guys from the 1979 team completely crashed and burned (Mike Parrott, Dan Meyer, Willie Horton) and nobody really stepped up to fill the gaps, except maybe Floyd Bannister and the always-reliable Bruce Bochte.

I remember the Seattle Times headline: "Zisk in, Honeycutt out." A trade! Richie Zisk, a well-known player who was a quality hitter, was coming to the Mariners!! For Rick Honeycutt, whom 10-year-old me understood to be a #2 starter -- a reasonable price! I got it!

But I read further: the trade was Rick Honeycutt, Larry Cox, Mario Mendoza, Leon Roberts and Willie Horton in exchange for Zisk, Bryan Allard, Ken Clay, Jerry Don Gleaton, Steve Finch and Rick Auerbach. I read that as five well-known Mariner starters for Richie Zisk, Who?, Who?, Who? Who? and Who?.

I consulted the best resource I had at the time: my Strat-o-Matic cards. No help. Auerbach seemed to be Mendoza without the defense (which is to say, not an MLB-caliber player). The rest of the no-names were a bunch of pitchers who had been up for a cup of coffee at most. Clay, I found, had already been traded before, after a stint with the Yankees.

And thus I was introduced to the concept of the salary dump. It took me at least a year to grasp that, but I eventually did.

I actually wound up attending Gleaton's Mariner debut, against the Angels. He pitched well, won the game and walked off to a standing ovation that ended with a hat-tip. That was probably his career highlight as a Mariner.

And so, while this wouldn't be my favorite Mariner trade in terms of helping the team, in retrospect it's my favorite trade in terms of educating me about the business of baseball. It changed my thinking about sports forever.

Apologies if this has come off as rambling and/or incoherent and/or off-topic. As I've discussed in a couple of threads, it's been a rough week for me to say the least. It's Friday and I've had a few drinks. So these are my unfiltered thoughts. I thought maybe it would be nice for an old guy like me to share some memories from before most of you became Mariner fans. This is what it was like to follow an expansion team back in the day.