Watching the Glory Days documentary of the 1980 Phillies, former owner Ruly Carpenter mentioned a potential trade with the Texas Rangers over the winter of 1979 that would have removed three star performers of the 1980 season. Narrator Dallas Green states, "of course, we won't mention the players involved," while showing a clip of Tug McGraw. What was that trade? What would it have entailed?
Paperofrecord.com carries archives of the Sporting News. Searching for "McGraw" over the period of 1979 would bring up potential trade rumors, I would think. Sure enough, we find our answer. The Phillies seemed keen on acquiring an ace reliever. Whispers of offers to the Cubs for Bruce Sutter are mentioned, but the big one is a package to the Rangers for Sparky Lyle. Specifically, the Phillies would have sent Tug McGraw, Larry Christenson and Bake McBride to the Rangers for Sparky Lyle, outfielder Johnny Grubb, reliever Adrian Devine and maybe shortstop Pepe Frias.
Swapping Lyle for McGraw must have looked good at the time. Sparky Lyle at the time was the greatest lefty reliever of all time. Lyle however was hanging on the precipice. He bombed in 1980, producing a 4.69 ERA with Texas. Tug McGraw meanwhile battled tendonitis, but after a three week stint on the DL he came back and posted an amazing 0.52 ERA from July through the end of the season. I count 12 one-run victories among his appearances. Given that the Phillies won the NL East by a single game, surely that trade costs them the pennant.
The rest of the package looks a little more interesting. Bake McBride was the starting right fielder and a good player. McBride hit .309 in 1980 with 52 extra base hits. Among right fielders, he was middle of the pack. Grubb meanwhile was a lefty slugger, a tremendous platoon player in the era. With Grubb, the Phillies likely platoon him in right field with blazing rookie Lonnie Smith. Offensively that's a good move. Defensively with Smith in right and Greg Luzinski in left? Thank god Maddox was the Secretary of Defense.
Adrian Devine had a good ERA in 1979 but it was a fluke. He struck out merely 22 batters in 66.7 innings pitched. Sure enough, he had a 4.82 ERA the next season and never again pitched in the Majors. Frias was just an awful hitter.
So that trade costs them 1980. McBride faded after the season. Christenson gave the Phillies about 350 quality innings the rest of his career. McGraw had another good season in 1981 and hung on three more years. Grubb was a quality player but not a star. Oddly, the Phillies snagged Sparky Lyle later in the season in a September trade, sending Kevin Saucier after the season for a PTBNL. 1981 was the strike year, that is almost impossible to gauge. One wonders if the Phillies in 1982 could have contended without Christenson pitching a full season. And of course in '83 they won the pennant.
In retrospect, the trade costs them a World Championship. Thank goodness it did not happen.