Highlights from this day in baseball history: Sweet Lou’s honey of a trade, Pujols’ hot spring, A-Rod’s meh first day, and more …
NO CLUE ABOUT SWEET LOU
1969: After acquiring him from the Indians, new expansion team the Seattle Pilots don’t bother to give 25-year-old minor league outfielder Lou Piniella a shot at the bigs, trading him to fellow expansion club the Kansas City Royals for two marginal players just before the start of the season. Piniella, whose family is from Spain and was dubbed “Sweet Lou” for his fiery temper as well as his smooth right-handed stroke, would go on to win the 1969 Rookie of the Year award with K.C. — not to mention becoming a vital cog of the late 1970s Yankees dynasty, hitting a career .291 and managing the Reds to a World series win in 1990.
THE JOKE’S ON THEM
1987: Tony Peña, a three-time Gold Glove-winning catcher with the Pirates, is traded to the Cardinals for unproven players Mike LaValliere, Mike Dunne and Andy Van Slyke. Peña, who initially thought the deal was an April Fool’s Day prank, breaks down in tears at the press conference announcing the trade. The move didn’t work out badly for the veteran backstop, who went to the World series that year with the Redbirds and hit .409 in a losing cause to the Minnesota Twins. As for Pittsburgh? The Bucs finish in fourth place in the NL East, 15 games behind St. Louis.
A-ROD’S SO-SO FIRST IMPRESSION
2001: The Blue Jays and the Rangers face off in the first official MLB game ever played in Puerto Rico to kick off the season. It was also star shortstop Alex Rodriguez’s debut with Texas, which signed A-Rod to the then-biggest contract in history — $252 million. Reviews are mixed, though, as the marquee player gets the first hit and scores the first run of the baseball year — and throws the ball away on his first chance in the field as Toronto beats Texas 8-1.
LOCKED N’ LOADED FROM THE GET-GO
2005: Cardinals’ star first baseman Albert Pujols has a torrid spring training for the ages, hitting .458 with 6 homers and 20 RBI — and doesn’t whiff once in 68 plate appearances over 21 games. Pujols, 25, doesn’t leave his mojo in Florida as he goes on to win the NL MVP with 41 HR, 117 RBI and a .330 average.
FINALLY HAVANA GOOD YEAR
2006: After a disappointing season and a half with the Yankees, which signed him out of Cuba as a 31-year-old free agent and traded him to the White Sox, pitcher Jose Contreras lived up to his potential in 2005 when he helped lead Chicago to the 2005 World Series by going 15-7 with a 3.61 ERA and another three wins in the post-season. On April 1, 2006, just a day before the season opener, the Sox reward him with a $29 million, three-year contract extension — during which the right-hander goes 30-32 with a near-5.00 ERA.
Photo source: – EMR – Under Creative Commons License