Before today’s blockbuster trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers became official, some in the sport wondered if Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig would approve such a staggering amount of contracts, some $260 million, changing hands in one deal.
The concern recalled the one trade in baseball history a commissioner nixed. In June 1976, Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley tried to sell three of his best players. He would trade Vida Blue to the Yankees for $1.5 million, and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox for $1 million each. That $3.5 million may be a far cry from a quarter of a billion dollars, but in 1976 it qualified as staggering.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed the deal by invoking a now-infamous phrase. The selling of players, he said, was “not in the best interests of baseball.” The stricken trade was, however, in the best interests of a 22-year-old minor league pitcher named Steve McCatty.
McCatty, now the Nationals’ pitching coach, would have replaced one of the traded pitchers on the A’s. Finley summoned him and a teammate, Wayne Gross, from Class AA Chattanooga to Oakland.
“When we got there, we were playing Milwaukee,” McCatty said. “I remember because Hank Aaron was with the Brewers at the time. He was always my favorite player growing up as a kid, him and Al Kaline. But I would never tell Al that.
“When we got there, they said that we couldn’t play. We had to wait until the commissioner okayed the deal, which he never did. So, I was going back. … I was buried so low in the minor leagues, when they had to send me back, they sent me to the wrong [stinking] club.”
The misunderstanding was settled, and McCatty was eventually sent back to Chattanooga, which was playing in Orlando.
“Stupid me, I could have waited another day and told them to send me back to Chattanooga,” McCatty said. “I flew back to Orlando and had to drive 14 hours back with the club that night. So that was kind of stupid.”
Once the dust cleared, McCatty spent the rest of the season between Chattanooga and Class AAA Tuscon. He would not make his major league debut for more than a year, when the Athletics called him up in September 1977.
McCatty won 63 games over a nine-year career. He would have great moments (he finished second in the 1981 Cy Young vote) and bad moments (he pitched through various injuries). But he never had a moment quite like the time he became in a footnote in the trade that wasn’t in the best interests baseball.