Indians Got Better of Giants, Dealing Sudden Sam for Gaylord Perry

When the Indians dealt Sudden Sam McDowell for Gaylord Perry on November 29, 1971, it was seen as a wise move for both teams.

The Giants were coming off a division title, and needed to upgrade its pitching staff. McDowell, who had pitched his entire career in the American League at that point, would serve as a perfect complement for Juan Marichal. Perry, a solid pitcher (who even then had a reputation as a spitballer) who ate innings, was four years older than McDowell, and to sweeten the deal, the Giants threw in shortstop Frank Duffy.

It seemed like a deal where both teams benefited, but if you had to pick a winner at the time, it would probably have be the Giants. “The big negative is that (Perry) doesn’t have many years of pitching left,” Hal Lebovitz wrote in the Plain Dealer the day after the trade. “Sam should have several. He could make the Indians look foolish – or wise. With Sam, one never knows.”

The sweepstakes for Sudden Sam was a rich one, with the Athletics offering as many as six players, and the Mets, Pirates and Orioles all making offers, too. McDowell had gone 13-17 for the Indians in 1971 but was just a year removed from a 20-win season for the Tribe. He had appeared more trouble than he was worth in 1971, holding out for a $100,000 contract. He ended up with a $72,000 contract laden with incentives – against MLB rules at the time and quickly voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. McDowell then left the team and was fined. He re-signed, but with the understanding that he’d be dealt after the season.

After the 1971 season, Perry’s career record stood at 133-109. McDowell was 122-109, but had led the American League in strikeouts four times in his career to that point.

McDowell won his first five decisions in San Francisco, but finished the year 10-8. Meanwhile, Marichal got old all at once, going 6-16 in 1972. The Giants finished fifth in the division, 26 ½ games behind the Reds (who had cemented their dynasty the same day McDowell was dealt for Perry, trading for Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo, among others, from Houston). The Giants started unloading other aging stars. Willie Mays went to the Mets in 1972, Willie McCovey went to the Padres the following year, and Marichal was dealt to the Red Sox before the 1974 season. The Giants wouldn’t win a division title again until 1987.

McDowell had 25 more wins in that blazing arm. He was out of the majors by 1975, done in by a combination of nagging back and neck pain and alcoholism (McDowell quit drinking in 1980 and serves as a counselor for those with substance abuse problems).

Perry went 24-16 in his first year in Cleveland, a fact made even more incredible by the fact that the Tribe averaged three runs a game. He won the Cy Young Award for his performance. It would take a generation for either of those marks to be equaled. C.C. Sabathia won the Cy Young Award in 2007, and Cliff Lee won in 2008, becoming the first 20-game winner since Perry.

In 1974, he was joined on the Indians by his brother, Jim. They combined for 38 of the Indians’ 77 wins that year.

It appeared that the Indians had engineered a deal after the 1973 season to send Perry to the Red Sox, but Boston ended up making a deal with the Cardinals instead. Another deal the next year sealed Perry’s fate, as the Indians acquired Frank Robinson in September, essentially making him the manager in waiting – and Ken Aspromonte a lame duck.

Perry and Robinson clashed in spring training in 1975 over Perry’s training regimen, and that summer, Perry was dealt to the Rangers for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown, Rick Waits and $150,000 in cash – which was probably the biggest selling point for the Indians, who like their home city were perpetually strapped in the 1970s.

The Indians didn’t get quite as skunked by the Rangers as they did to the Giants, but Perry’s career was far from over. In 1978, he won another Cy Young Award, this time for the Padres, who had acquired him from the cash-poor Rangers. In his first year in San Diego, he went 21-6 to become just the third pitcher to win 20 games for three different teams – and the first to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues.

Perry finally retired after the 1983 season with 314 wins and 3,534 strikeouts – then third all-time. All told, he had gone 70-57 in three and a half seasons in Cleveland.

Oh, and the Indians got six years out of Duffy – who the Giants had given up George Foster to the Reds to acquire; Foster was a key cog in the Big Red Machine later that decade – before dealing him to the Red Sox in 1978 for Rick Kreuger, who pitched a total of 9.1 innings in six appearances before hanging it up.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 – wearing a Giants cap.


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