This Day in Baseball History: January 10th, 1991

Wrong Glen Davis. Wrong spelling even. Wrong … well … just about everything except for phonetics.

On January 10th, 1991:

The Baltimore Orioles made one of the most infamous trades in baseball history when they traded Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch, and Steve Finley to the Houston Astros for Glenn Davis.

At the time, Davis was 29 (about to be 30; cool factoid — we share the birthdate of March 28) and had just a down season in which he hit 22 HR and spent two months on the DL with a strained ribcage. The previous season, he hit .269/.350/.492 with 34 HR and 26 2B. Before 1990, he played at least 150 games in each of the previous seasons, and his home run totals (31, 27, 30, 34) were consistent and high. He looked the part of a clean-up hitter. However, the Astros were unwilling to sign Davis to a multi-year contract (he wanted an average of $4M a season for 3-4 years — that sounds so cheap), and he would be a free-agent at the end of the 1991 season. The Astros, making an anti-2008 move, decided to get younger and traded Davis for three young prospects. Davis was entering his prime and seemed headed for big things.

But he never arrived at those big things. He played a total of 185 games over the next three seasons for the Orioles, and he only hit 24 HR, 2 more than he hit in his injury-shortened 1990. An odd neck injury and a barfight leading to broken jaw lead to Davis’ problems, and he was out of baseball by 1993. He came back and hit .287 with 27 HR for the Omaha Royals the next year but was not given a second chance (some suspect he was blackballed).

The future of the three prospects turned out quite differently. Schilling was a reliever in 1990, and he pitched 46 innings with a 2.54 ERA. His 32 K and 19 BB were not as that impressive, but he somehow managed to keep runners from scoring. His first and only season in Houston (1991), Schilling pitched 75.2 innings as a reliever, and his ERA dropped to 3.81. He was traded to Philadelphia the next off-season for Jason Grimsley (remember him?). Philadelphia eventually gave him a spot in the rotation, and the rest is … history. He won 212 more games, was elected to six All-Star games, and finished second in the Cy Young voting three times but never won (really?).

Pete Harnisch’s career wasn’t as great but was better than most. In 1990, he went 11-11 in 31 starts with a pedestrian 4.34 ERA (actually a half run over average), but he was still a young 24-year old (Schilling was also 24 at the time of the trade). The next season was one of Harnisch’s best as he went 12-9 with a 2.70 ERA in 216.2 IP and made his only All-Star team. He would be a solid but unspectacular pitcher for the next ten seasons, winning 16 games twice.

Steve Finley had a more decorated career, but it didn’t seem that way initially. As a 25-year old, Finley hit .256/.304/.328 for a robust 80 OPS+ in his first full season (1990). He apparently figured something out over the off-season, and he hit .285/.331/.406 the next season for a better 114 OPS+ and never looked back. His career .271/.332/.442 screams league-average hitter (so does his career 104 OPS+), but he was still highly regarded. As a center fielder, his league-average offense became above-average for a center fielder, and his five Gold Gloves showed his defensive prowess, making him extremely valuable. He would add 2 All-Star games to his resume on his way to an above-average career.

This obviously looks bad now, but at the time, Davis looked like a good, young power-hitter who was traded for a good but seemingly volatile reliever (Schilling), a below-average young starter (Harnisch), and a scrawny center fielder that couldn’t hit. Although they were good prospects, they were far from their finished products. Isn’t historical perspective great?

“Everybody that you ran into in baseball was congratulating us on the deal. Not one person said anything negative about the deal when we made it. Not one person.” – Frank Robinson

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2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: January 10th, 1991”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    I like the direction of this. Two good posts. This is what will get people coming back to read more.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Thank you, Ron. It was fun doing it, and I hope it continues to be as fun.

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