COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Dodgers fans have a long list to pull out when it comes to goats in the club's history. From Ralph Branca to Jonathan Broxton to Chad Billingsley to Ned Colletti to Frank McCourt, there is no shortage of players and management figures fans find loathsome and responsible for failure.
This is the case for every team, of course, and fans generally feel like their team has the most irrepressible chokers in baseball history. These goats can be actual goats or simply perceived ones who have actually been productive people for their team in the larger picture, regardless of one or two mistakes.
In the case of the Dodgers, while McCourt, Colletti, and the FOX ownership group that traded Mike Piazza rather than signing him are excellent choices, I've come to the conclusion that the biggest "goat" in team history is the Dodgers' management group, Tommy Lasorda, and any person that had direct input into the decision to trade Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields.
Martinez, whose brother Ramon spent the majority of his career in L.A., was signed as an amateur free agent in 1988 and made his first appearance in The Show four years later. He was primarily a reliever in his two seasons with the Dodgers, making just three starts in 67 appearances. He displayed electric stuff, a great ability to get hitters to swing and miss, and was a cheap arm that any organization should have loved having team control over.
Every organization did not love this and him, however, as many in Los Angeles felt Martinez would never amount to anything beyond a reliever because of his slender frame.
While Martinez had not built up the cache with the city and fans like Piazza had, the Dodgers got nothing back in the deal that sent him to our neighbors to the north. As bad as trading Piazza over money was -- and then signing Kevin Brown to the first $100 million contract in baseball history instead of giving that to your franchise backstop -- at least an in-his-prime Gary Sheffield came back in the deal.
To give up Martinez, a dynamic and cheap young arm that could anchor some part of your staff for a decade, only to get back a mediocre middle infielder, is unforgivable. DeShields was an excellent base runner but a terrible fielder at a defense-first position and an average, at best, hitter.
He was, however, coming off of a career year in all aspects of the game and the Dodgers found themselves needing a second baseman. While I don't want to presume what those who approved the deal were thinking, I imagine it trended somewhere along the lines of, "This is an organization that has always developed pitching; we need a second baseman; DeShields was great last year; and Martinez is scrawny and too risky."
Clearly, their thought process was wrong, particularly in hindsight. Martinez went on to become one of the greatest pitchers ever while DeShields was only in L.A. for three years and had quite the forgettable career, as he's most known for being dealt straight up for Pedro.
Tommy Lasorda, then-general manager Fred Claire, prominent Latin American scout Ralph Avila, and countless others in the front office gave up on a 21-year-old hurler with amazing stuff for a light-hitting second baseman simply because the guy the club wanted to play second, Jody Reed, was holding out.
Decisions of such an important nature rarely work out well if thought, logic, reason, and smart business practices aren't applied to the decision-making process. In this situation, they were clearly not on the menu for the men involved in this rash and impulsive transaction.
Lasorda's portion of the blame should perhaps be the largest, as he was the manager during a number of '80s/'90s deals in which the Dodgers shipped out pitching prospects. This was due in part to Tommy's belief that the Dodgers had to always do everything to compete at the major-league level, even if that meant stripping the farm system and sending young guys out for veterans.
As Ross Newhan of the L.A. Times wrote, Lasorda "often said that the Dodgers couldn't afford to operate a developmental camp in the major market that is Los Angeles." Tommy's impatience became a detriment to the club and should not be overlooked when assessing blame for the Martinez-DeShields fiasco.
The Dodgers made a horrible transaction in 1993, dealing the future for a perceived up-and-comer at second that turned out to be a stopgap who didn't plug any holes. The gentlemen behind the deal have earned the title of "biggest goats" in Los Angeles Dodgers history, and the trade forever changed the Dodgers of the 1990s and beyond.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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