The 10 Worst Trades in Seattle Professional Sports History
The city of Seattle is known for many things. The Space Needle. Fishies jumping to and fro from glistening water lining the shorelines. Sunsets skipping across snow clad ridges. The deep blue of winter skies. Tossed salmon through the Pike Place Market.
It is a city in a wonderland of outdoor bliss, where rugged mountains and skiing are within an hour’s drive of 150 golf courses played year round.
But the city is also known for assembling pathetic professional sports teams run by inept and/or confused general managers. This is the city, after all, that fumbled its beloved and seemingly permanent NBA basketball franchise with four decades of history, away to a tiny town in the tumbleweed-infested plains of Oklahoma.
Where oh where does one start in pointing out terrible trades and mind-boggling player movement associated with this metropolis? Perhaps an impossible task with dire consequences, sure to invoke scathing rebukes by the faithful.
The top ten worst trades in Seattle sports history!
10) Mariners – Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson to the Yankees (December 6, 1995)
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I spit on the ground at the mere mention of this travesty. The Mariners drafted Tino in 1988, and Martinez began his career playing under Lou Pinella who was a friend of his father back in Tampa. He had several mediocre seasons, but broke out in 1995 when he drove in 111 runs, hit 31 home runs and batted .293 during that fateful ALDS series of long ago. In 1995 the Seattle Mariners played the Cleveland Indians for the American League Pennant, riding the backs of two upcoming stars: pitcher Jeff Nelson and first baseman rookie Tino Martinez.
All the team needed to do is keep what they had for years of similar outcomes. So what did they do? The morons shipped off Tino and Nels to the hated and despised New York Yankees for prospects Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis.
Over the next four seasons Martinez provided key hit after hit as the Yankees romped to four world championships. Martinez hit two memorable home runs in one series, with his season statistically in 1997 when he was second in the AL MVP voting after hitting 44 home runs with 141 RBI’s.
Meanwhile outspoken Jeff Nelson, traded twice to the Yankees for mouthing off about player moves (certainly understandable) pitched for five seasons in New York, including four World Series and was a most valued set-up man for Mariano Rivera. And although Russ Davis did hit the first home run at Safeco, this trade was a dog and one that Yankee fans are still applauding as perhaps Karma, a make-up for the Bueller for Phelps debacle.
9) Mariners – Five players to for Erik Bedard (February 9, 2008)
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Bill Bavasi, one of a long list of outsmarted Seattle General Managers, assumed he was getting a sorely needed staff ace when he traded highly touted prospect and number one pick Adam Jones, left-handed reliever George Sherrill, and three minor league prospects to the Baltimore Orioles for 13-game winner Erik Bedard. Instead they got a very temperamental and oft-injured mediocre pitcher, who at age 29, was rumored to still living in the basement of his parents home.
When he did throw, the moody Bedard rarely exceeded 100 pitches. Worse was the extent of a un-communicated shoulder problem that came with him, which finally led to two lost seasons of rehab which is spilling into a third. Meanwhile newly acquired and near-rookie Adam Jones became Baltimore’s everyday center fielder, with Sherrill saving 31 games for the Orioles during an All Star summer before landing in New York the following year, and eventually to the Dodgers.
Meanwhile throw-in prospects Chris Tillman developed into a Orioles starting pitcher, fellow throw-in Kam Mickolio pitched several games in relief this past season and continues to develop.
8) Sonics: Kennedy McIntosh for Garfield Heard (October 20, 1972)
Garfield Heard and “the shot heard round the world”
The infant Seattle Supersonics were fleeced by the Chicago Bulls for a Seattle player who later played in many playoff series for three different teams. Kennedy McIntosh, originally drafted in the first round of the 1971 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, best season in Seattle was in 1973-74 when he averaged 7.4 points per game. McIntosh left the NBA in 1975 due to injury after only six games and lots of time riding pine.
Meanwhile the player they traded, Garfield (Gar) Heard, is best known for a buzzer beater made in Boston to send Game 5 of the 1976 Phoenix– Bostonchampionship series into a third overtime. This feat is commonly known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World ”
Fans had stormed the court after the time was erroneously allowed to expire, and one particularly boisterous fan attacked referee Richie Powers after it was announced that the game was not over yet. Future Sonic Paul Westphal then intentionally took a technical foul by calling a timeout when the Suns had no more timeouts to use. It gave the Celtics a free throw, which Jo Jo White converted to give Boston a two-point edge, but the timeout also allowed Phoenix to inbound from mid-court instead of from under their own basket. When play resumed, Heard caught the inbound pass and fired a very high-arcing turnaround jump shot from at least 20 feet away. It swished through, sending the game into a third overtime. However, Boston eventually won the game and the Finals, four games to two. Heard had scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Game 5
Heard went on to play eight more seasons in the NBA and was a solid veteran, with many Sonic fans stung to fury knowing they received nothing back for key defensive stalwart who seemed to always be in key playoff series for the Chicago Bulls, Buffalo Braves, and Phoenix Suns.
7) Mariners: Carlos Guillen for Juan Gonzalez and Ramon Santiago (Jan 8, 2004)
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Guillén was signed by the Houston Astros as a non-draft amateur free agent in 1992. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners with pitcher Freddy García and John Halama in the trade deadline deal that sent Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros.
Guillén made his debut in 1998 and was traded to Detroit at the end of the 2003 season after a trade for Omar Vizquel fell through. In Seattle, shortstop Guillén was forced to play second and third base with incumbent Alex Rodriguez at shortstop. After Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers for the 2000 season, Guillén moved back to his natural position. He had a league-average campaign in his first full season with the club.
The Mariners dealt Guillen for Santiago and Gonzalez who went on to play a combined 27 games for the Mariners (all of them by Santiago). Meanwhile, Guillen blossomed into a pretty solid run producer for the Tigers, hitting .318, .320, .320, 296, .286 from 2004 thru 2008 for the Tigers. Today he remains on the team and is a utility player providing veteran leadership.
6) Sonics – Lenny Wilkens for Butch Beard (August 23, 1972)
No trade in Seattle sports history ticked off local fans as this early introduction to professional sports, by the Sonics.
Owner Sam Schulman pushed his staff to trade five-time NBA All-Star Lenny Wilkens, who the team had acquired three years earlier for guard Walt Hazzard, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for guard Butch Beard and Barry Clemens.
Wilkens was arguably the first Seattle superstar and clearly the most popular player in early Sonics history. He led the club to a team-record 47-win season, just missing the playoffs, but the year following this trade the Sonics plummeted to a paltry 26-56 record. But he was a player-coach, and then owner Sam Schulman demanded that Wilkens choose one over the other (coaching or playing). Once Wilkens decided to play, the Sonics deemed it too difficult a situation for the succeeding coach and promptly traded him to Cleveland.
His coaching replacement, Tom Nissalke, was fired after only 45 games. Meanwhile Butch Beard bore the brunt of everyone’s frustration while trying to please hostile crowds He pressed and lost confidence, and things got progressively worse as his scoring average dipped from 15.4 points per game with the Cavs to 6.6 in Seattle.
Sonic fans, feeling jilted for perhaps the first time, packed the sold-out Seattle Coliseum the first time Lenny Wilkens returned to Seattle after giving him a two minute standing ovation during introduction, making it the franchise’s second-highest game attended to date. Wilkens’ every move was cheered while the home team was booed nonstop, beginning with the first pregame layup drill. Cleveland won 113-107
“It was brutal,” recalled Bob Houbregs, former UW All-America center and the Sonics’ general manager responsible for the ill-fated trade. “I felt so badly for him and his family. They took so much abuse and it wasn’t right.”
Soon-to-be-discarded Beard got even with the Golden State Warriors the next season by winning an NBA title with the Warriors, one of his five pro teams. Later he coached the New York Nets & went on to other managerial positions in the NBA.
5) Mariners: David Ortiz to Minnesota for Dave Hollins (August 29, 1996)
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Losing David Ortiz to Boston goes down as one of the poorest trades in Mariner history. Albeit a somewhat forgivable move since absolutely noone foresaw Ortiz developing into what he ultimately became: a six time All Star who set a single-seaon record in 2006 for 54 home runs.
Ortiz was a post-deadline throw-in completing the trade for the pinch-hitting David Hollins as oft-ignored “player to be named later.” Turns out the Mariners donated the farm by throwing in “Big Papi” during an unsuccessful push for the promised land of the postseason.
The Mariners were shocked when this cast-off eventually became the powerful team leader that Boston fans have adored ever since. Ortiz’s lovable easy-going nature has been a rock in the Boston clubhouse during tense pennant races and perhaps THE most influencial party during the stunning Boston come-back against the Yankees in 2002. His intensity with a bat is second to none. Ortiz is one of the greatest team leaders ever to play in beantown and has taken on near worship status in a city that loves their baseball team like no other.
4) Seahawks: Tony Dorsett for No.14 Pick Steve August (May 3, 1977)
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After using their first-ever draft pick on Defensive Tackle Steve Niehaus in 1976, Seahawk management and GM John Thompson decided the team needed help in many key positions rather than just one glory running back who would get crushed behind an expansion offensive line. Dorsett felt the same way, whimpered that he would never play for Seattle, and thus even with Dorsett’s NCAA rushing records and Heisman Trophy out there for the taking, the Seahawks went for quantity rather than quality.
Seattle made two proposals to the Cowboys. The first involved some Dallas draft choices and Linebacker Randy White. “The Cowboys bounced that back faster than we could spit it out,” Thompson says. The second was the deal that eventually was made.
Dallas general manager Tex Schramm, was rightly euphoric about landing Dorsett. “Dorsett is the outstanding back to come out of college since maybe O. J. Simpson,” he said. “He doesn’t have O.J.’s size, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be as successful as Simpson.” Then Schramm talked like a businessman.
“People can argue whether what we did at Seattle was good or bad,” former Seahawks front office member Bob Ferguson said years later, “but all I know is that those guys all ended up starting for us and we went 9-7 in our third year in the league.”
Fair enough point, but considering Dorsett ran for more than 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons, led the league in rushing during the strike-shortened ’82 season (when his string of 1,000-yard campaigns was broken), won two Super Bowls and retired as the second-leading rusher in NFL history behind Walter Payton, there’s a strong argument that this was an epic mistake.
3) Mariners – Jason Varitek & Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb (July 31, 1997)
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Both Boston fans and team management are still laughing about this pig of a trade.
The trade happened literally minutes before deadline, and apparently Woodward was working the phone lines hard. He ended up with too many irons in the fire, and as everything fell apart, he came back to Heathcliff Slocumb. Rumors leaked out that the Red Sox were asking for Derek Lowe OR Jason Varitek, but not both. It was the Mariners that came back offering both of them. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Boston to agree to the deal.
Slocumb had over 30 saves in 1995 and 1996, sporting ERAs in both years around 3.00. By traditional numbers, he looked fine, but the wheels started to come off in 1997, to the tune of a 5.79 ERA with only two fewer walks than strikeouts at the time of the trade. Looking beyond Heathcliff’s ERA (or watching him in person for that matter), Slocumb always struggled to throw strikes, and didn’t counteract that with an eye-popping strikeout rate.
His split-finger was a swing-and-miss type of pitch, but hitters often felt no need to expand their strike zone with his questionable control. Still, despite the obvious signs the Slocumb wasn’t a strong rebound candidate; M’s GM Woody Woodward bit the bullet, and put some trust in him.
In Woodward’s defense, Slocumb was added to one of those epic mid-’90s terrible Mariners bullpens. Although Heathcliff wasn’t great, he was 1 of 20 pitchers used in relief by the 1997 Mariners, which says plenty about the talent level of that bullpen. In Seattle the rest of the season, as the closer, Heathcliff got about a strikeout an inning and his ERA went down nearly a couple runs. However, Slocumb showed his true colors again in 1998, and was gone by the end of the season.
In the end, the deal sort of worked for three months. The price was excessive, to say the least. Derek Lowe, who made his MLB debut for the 1997 Mariners (and was ineffective in his nine starts), did not take long to establish himself as an All-Star caliber pitcher for the Boston Red Sox where he posted a 21-8 record with a 2.58 ERA and candidate for the Cy Young in 2002.
Jason Varitek was still a prospect in the Mariners system, but went on to become a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner at catcher,and a Silver Slugger Award winner. Varitek was part of both the Red Sox’s 2004 World Series and 2007 World Series Championship teams. In December 2004 he was named captain of the Red Sox, only their third captain since 1923.
2) Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice (June 22, 1987)
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Seattle held the fifth pick in the 1987 draft, but on draft night 1987, the Chicago Bulls acquired Scottie Pippen by convincing Seattle to exchange for the eighth pick, center Olden Polynice, a second-round pick and the option to switch first-round picks in 1989. It sounded advantageous to the Sonics at the time since they intended to take Polynice anyway, but it is now known nationally as quite possibly one of the biggest stinkers of all time. Pippen would later be named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.
The Bulls got this seven-time All-Star who became a vital component of the Chicago Bulls’ six NBA Championships in the 1990s. During his seventeen-year career, he played twelve seasons with the Chicago Bulls, one with the Houston Rockets and four with the Portland Trail Blazers, making the postseason sixteen straight times. He racked up the second most playoff game appearances (208) behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (237). But above and beyond, his all-around game was the prototype for the next generation of small forwards. The Bulls got the perfect compliment to Michael Jordan and one of the greatest, most versatile players of all time who could do everything.
Polynice played for eight different NBA teams in his 16-season NBA career, including two stints with Seattle. Zero championships, always known as a somewhat mediocre if not slow methodical player and career back-up whose best scoring average was just over 12 points per game.
1) Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal (June 3, 1980)
How can I call this trade the worst in Seattle history in comparison to the other dogs we just mentioned? Because this trade ruined the chemistry on TWO former contending teams, not just one.
The balance which had worked so well in both Seattle and Phoenix no longer worked as well in either city, although both teams did do well the year following the trade. But with the exchange of these two All-Star players in this straight-up trade, neither found the dominating form that had made both teams the elite they had been during the previous years. Part of that was obviously due to the Lakers drafting sensational rookie Magic Johnson and vaulting the Lakers to heights previously unknown, but the impact Dennis Johnson’s defense had for the Sonics is unmeasured.
Dennis Johnson was a 6-foot-4 guard and five-time NBA All-Star who averaged 14.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds over his 14-year career. When Johnson retired in 1990, he was just the 11th player in history to have 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. He was named to nine straight All-Defensive Teams. He was a member of three NBA championship squads, two after leaving Seattle.
In what could be the best draft pick the Sonics ever made, Seattle selected Johnson in the second round of the 1976 NBA Draft with the 29th pick and was given a four-year contract which started with a salary of $45,000 in year one and ended with $90,000 in the last year.
He had grown up on the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles, one of 16 children. He didn’t make varsity until his senior year of high school and went to work driving a forklift in a tape warehouse after he got his diploma. He played ball in local leagues and was “discovered” by Jim White, coach of Los Angeles Harbor College. From there, Johnson went to Pepperdine. The Seattle SuperSonics drafted him as a “junior eligible” in 1976
Four years later Johnson and teammate Gus Williams were both named to the All-NBA Second Team, and Johnson was also named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team for the second consecutive year. After the Sonics made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season, it would be the last time that the backcourt of Williams and Johnson would play together in SuperSonics uniforms. Dennis Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns before the start of the 1980–81 season.
Wilkens felt Johnson was too moody and erratic, too immature and a “cancer” on an otherwise championship team.
Paul Westphal was no slough either. Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1972 out of USC, Westphal played three seasons and earned a ring in 1974, and then was traded to the Phoenix Suns where he earned another in 1976. He was a prolific scorer if not a bit soft on defense, yet defensive plays may be what he is best known for three decades later after his role in the triple-overtime win game 5 Phoenix win at Boston. He spent one year in Seattle before being shipped off to the Knicks the following year, eventually going back to Boston and then ending his career back in Phoenix.
Meanwhile Dennis Johnson was shipped off to Boston after several years in Phoenix, in another Red Auerbach fleecing for Celtic and former Kentucky lumbering big man Rick Robey, and Johnson went on to be a centerpiece in the legendary Lakers / Celtics rivalry on the 1980’s. In Sports Illustrated, teammate Larry Bird, who was not known for lightly tossing around compliments, called Johnson “the best I’ve ever played with.” Meanwhile in Seattle the Sonics were never quite the same and eventually declined into mediocrity following Gus William’s season long contract hold-out, the Sonics change in ownership and consequent move to the Kingdome.