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More Than 25 Years Later, Detroit Tigers Still Regret Trading John Smoltz

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COMMENTARY | For more than two decades, the debate has raged among Detroit Tigers fans about whether or not the famed 1987 deal that saw the Tigers acquire pitcher Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for minor-league pitcher John Smoltz was worth it.

One side says it was a great deal for the Tigers because Alexander was incredible down the stretch that season, going 9-0 with a 1.59 earned run average while helping propel Detroit to a division championship. Simply put, Alexander was brilliant and for the first few months after the deal, it appeared the Tigers had robbed the Braves blind.

While there is some merit to the argument that the Tigers got a good deal because they made the playoffs following the trade, Alexander was atrocious in the playoffs, losing two games and posting a dreadful ERA of 10.00.

The following season Alexander was not as sharp, but did earn an All-Star selection. However, following the conclusion of a disastrous 1989 season, Alexander retired and the Tigers had to simply watch from a distance as Smoltz went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

In 1989, Smoltz pitched 208 innings while compiling a 12-11 record with a sub-3.00 ERA -- enough to earn him his first of eight All-Star appearances. Two years later, Smoltz was a key component in the Braves' run to the World Series.

In 1996, Smoltz put together one of the most impressive seasons by a pitcher in the last 50 years as he won 24 games, threw 254.3 innings and struck out a league-high 276 batters. That performance won him the Cy Young Award that year and once again he helped lead the Braves deep into October.

In the long run, the Tigers ended up trading away one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1990s for half a season of production from Alexander. The Tigers would struggle to find stellar starting pitching for years after the trade, and it is impossible to ignore the impact Smoltz could have made in a Tigers uniform.

To put it in perspective, from 1990-99, four Tigers pitchers won 15 games or more in a season. In that same stretch, Smoltz won 15 games five separate times and won 14 games twice. In only one season during the decade (1994) did Smoltz post an ERA more than 4.00 and fail to throw more than 160 innings.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2000 season, Smoltz returned to the Braves and became one of the game's most imposing closers. Then, just for good measure, he returned to the starting rotation and won 44 more games from 2005-07.

Following his trade to Atlanta, Smoltz became one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game, while the Tigers failed to be relevant for most of the next two decades. Trading Smoltz for Alexander is clearly the one deal the Detroit Tigers franchise will always regret.

Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.

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