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Trades From The Past: Staub for Lolich

Barry DuchanSunday, June 24, 2007
By Barry Duchan

Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.

In 1975, Rusty Staub had his best year for the Mets, driving in 105 runs. Then, in the offseason, for reasons few fans could understand, the Mets traded Staub to Detroit for veteran lefthanded pitcher Mickey Lolich. Actually, the trade was Staub and AAA pitcher Bill Laxton for Lolich and AAA outfielder Billy Baldwin.

I remember thinking that maybe this guy Baldwin was some super prospect (he wasn't) because otherwise, this trade was hard to justify. Trade Staub? Maybe not unthinkable, because the Mets thought they had his replacement in the much younger Mike Vail. But for Lolich? Was that the best they could do?

Mike Vail Mike Vail came to the Mets as a throw-in minor leaguer in an otherwise inconsequential swap of utility infielders with the Cardinals. But Vail quickly established himself as a superior hitter on the AAA level, and was a sensation when the Mets brought him up, with a 23-game hitting streak that made fans and team officials think they had found a future long-term fixture in right field.

So, Staub could be a valuable trade commodity to a team that had a solid starting 3 in Koosman, Seaver, and Matlack, but needed an established 4th starter. Lolich was the pitching star of the 1968 World Series, but by 1975, he was still a workhorse, but a 35-year old, terribly out of shape workhorse who had lost 39 games in 2 seasons and didn't figure to get much better. Would a change of leagues return Lolich to glory?

Well, Lolich went 8-13 for the Mets and soon departed, while Staub continued to hit for years. Fortunately, Rusty returned to the Mets a few years later where he became baseball's premier pinch-hitter.

And Vail? He injured his knee playing basketball in the off-season, leaving a gaping hole in the Mets' lineup and when he returned, he never lived up to his potential with the Mets, although he hung around with a few other teams for a while as a 4th outfielder and pinch hitter.

The 1976 Mets finished 86-76 with neither Vail nor Lolich making many positive contributions. Could the Mets have been a legitimate contender if they had kept Staub? We'll never know.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (4)

I remember the Staub for Lolich deal as the ultimate spite trade engineered by the idiotic M Donald Grant. All this because Staub declined to join the Mets on a goodwill tour of Japan in the offseason. And Grant was just getting warmed up in his spite moves. The next season he and his slimy cohort, Dick Young, would see to it that Tom Seaver got run out of town.

These were truly the dark days for Mets fans. What made the Lolich trade even worse was that he didn't even want to be here. After one season with the Mets, he "retired" only later to sign with the Padres.

I can still remember Bob Scheffing, Mets GM, after just about every one of Lolich's eight wins that season, saying "now that's the Mickey Lolich we traded for." It was pathetic.

You know, I think that this may be the most indefensible Mets trade I can remember except for the Seaver trade. Other trades turned out far worse but one could at least make up some sort of rationale for them (e.g. we need offense or an experienced pitcher now so we're trading this promising prospect). But there was no way to justify trading the core of the team's offense for an aging pitcher we didn't need. When I think about a trade like this, I wonder how and why I have remained as loyal a fan of the Mets as I have been for so many years.

This trade is painful to read about over 30 years later...I've always mentioned it to fellow fans as their most moronic trade ever.

The comment about remaining a fan after moves like this rings true.

This trade made no sense then, and less now.

I bet Lolich in the mid-90s -- he's a very, very nice guy -- and asked him about the trade. He said he hated New York, saying he was just a big old country boy and was never comfortable in the big city.

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