June 13, 1997: Cardinals get Fernando Valenzuela in trade with Padres

On June 13, 1997, Fernandomania came to St. Louis.

On the same day that the Chicago Bulls won their fifth NBA championship in seven years, the Cardinals and Padres agreed to a trade that brought former Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela, infielder Scott Livingstone, and outfielder Phil Plantier to St. Louis in exchange for pitcher Danny Jackson, outfielder Mark Sweeney, and pitcher Rich Batchelor.

In the deal, the Cardinals essentially exchanged one veteran left-hander for another (Jackson for Valenzuela), one left-handed bat off the bench for another (Sweeney for Livingstone), and traded an expendable minor league reliever (Batchelor) for a former power-hitting prospect who was now 28 years old (Plantier). The Cardinals also agreed to assume a “significant portion” of Jackson’s $4 million salary, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.[1]

Desperate for pitching, the Padres had sought right-hander Mark Petkovsek, but in exchange the Cardinals wanted Tim Worrell, the brother of former Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell.[2]

“The trade isn’t as major as it would have been had it been made about a decade ago, when Valenzuela and Jackson were among the top lefthanders in the National League,” Rick Hummel wrote for the Post-Dispatch. “In effect, the Cardinals gave up nobody they really wanted and perhaps the Padres can say the same thing.”[3]

Sixteen years earlier, in 1981, Valenzuela emerged from obscurity to take the baseball world by storm, winning his first eight starts, including five shutouts. Relying on a screwball, Valenzuela went 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA, becoming the only pitcher in history to win Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.

From 1981 through 1986, Valenzuela was a force in the National League, making six consecutive all-star appearances and placing in the top five of the Cy Young voting four times. However, shoulder injuries began to affect Valenzuela’s performance in 1987, and he never regained the same heights. Though he threw a no-hitter against the Cardinals in June 1990, the Dodgers released him after the season.

Valenzuela briefly played with the Angels, Orioles, and Phillies, and spent the 1992 season in the Mexican League.

Prior to the 1995 season, he signed with the Padres. Splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, Valenzuela won eight games that season, and followed it up with a 13-8 record and 3.62 ERA in 1996.

Valenzuela hadn’t enjoyed the same success in the opening months of the 1997 season, going 2-8 with a 4.75 ERA prior to the trade.

“I was very happy there,” Valenzuela said. “They treated me good, the fans treated me good. We won, and we had fun. I hope Danny Jackson helps them a little more than me and I help St. Louis win the Central Division.” [4]

The Cardinals planned to use Valenzuela in the rotation in place of the injured Donovan Osborne. He would then move to the bullpen once Osborne returned, Jocketty said.

“Fernando was an important part of this,” Jocketty said, noting that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa “really liked the idea of getting him. He’s a fierce competitor. He’s pitched in the postseason and he’s pitched in the bullpen before.”[5]

Livingstone, 31, was a former sixth-round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 1984. Though he never exceeded 354 at-bats in a season, Livingstone had shown the ability to play first, second, and third base and right field while batting .286 in four seasons with the Tigers and .296 in four seasons with the Padres. After batting .297 and leading the National League in pinch hits in 1996, Livingstone was off to a slow start in 1997, batting just .154 at the time of the trade.

Plantier enjoyed a breakout season in 1993 with 34 home runs and 100 RBIs. In 1994, he hit 18 homers but failed to reach double digits in either of the next two seasons. At the time of the trade, he’d only received eight at-bats with the Padres. The Cardinals assigned him to Triple-A Louisville, where Jocketty predicted, “with that short right-field porch there, he might hit 40 homers.”[6]

Meanwhile, the Padres were getting their own former Cy Young candidate. A 15-year veteran, Jackson won 23 games and pitched a league-high 15 complete games for the Reds in 1988, placing second in the Cy Young Award voting. In 1994, Jackson enjoyed another big year, this time winning 14 games with a 3.26 ERA for the Phillies.

After the season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Cardinals, but was unable to emulate his previous success as he battled thyroid cancer, ankle surgery, and a rib-cage strain. He went just 2-12 with a 5.90 ERA in 1995, then started just four games in 1996. At the time of the trade, he was 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA in 18 2/3 innings.

“Danny came up and apologized to me,” Jocketty said. “I said, ‘Danny, there was nothing you could do about it.’ There was always something. … Once the season started and we saw what Matt Morris could do, it was going to be difficult to get Danny any more time to work things out.”[7]

Despite Jackson’s recent struggles, Padres special assistant to the general manager Dave Stewart, a former all-star pitcher himself, advocated for the trade.

“This makes us better in all areas,” he said. “Danny Jackson has a history of winning and being on winning ballclubs.”[8]

The 27-year-old Sweeney had just completed a rookie season in 1996 in which he hit .265 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 170 at-bats. With Ron Gant, Ray Lankford, John Mabry, Willie McGee, and Brian Jordan in the mix in 1997, however, the Cardinals’ outfield was too crowded for Sweeney to get at-bats.

“Sweeney is well-liked and fit in well here,” Jocketty said. “He was a big part of this ball club, but we needed an infielder.”[9]

Batchelor, 30, was acquired from the Yankees in exchange for Lee Smith in 1993. Since then, he had spent most of his time in the minors, pitching just 41 major league innings for the Cardinals.

“He certainly can help us,” Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s a guy who throws 90-91 with a good splitter.”[10]

Despite the optimism expressed by Bochy and Stewart, Padres star Tony Gwynn was less enthused.

“Oh, no,” he said when asked to discuss the trade. “I might get traded if I talk about this one.”[11]

With the exception of Sweeney, none of the players exchanged in the trade were destined to play in the majors much longer. Valenzuela started five games for the Cardinals, going 0-4 with a 5.56 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. He retired following the season, ending a 17-year major league career.

Livingstone hit .171 with three RBIs in 41 at-bats for the Cardinals in 1997. He signed a free-agent deal with the Expos in 1998, batting .209 in his final season in the majors.

Plantier appeared in 42 games for the Cardinals in 1997, batting .257 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 113 at-bats. After the season, he signed with the Blue Jays but never again appeared in the majors.

In San Diego, Jackson went just 1-7 with a 7.53 ERA over 49 innings. He retired following the season. Batchelor pitched 12 2/3 innings for the Padres in 1997, winning two games despite a 7.82 ERA. He was released following the season and played the rest of his career in the Japanese and minor leagues.

Of the six players in the trade, Sweeney had the most success ahead of him as a reserve and pinch-hit specialist. He hit .320 with two homers and 19 RBIs in 103 at-bats for the Padres in 1997, then hit .234 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 192 at-bats in 1998.

After the 1998 season, the Padres traded him to the Reds, one of five trades he would be included in during a 14-year career that included stints with the Brewers, Rockies, Giants, and Dodgers. Sweeney retired in 2009, and in 2012 began a career as an analyst for Padres telecasts.


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[1] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals Get Valenzuela, Send Jackson To San Diego,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 1997.

[2] Rick Hummel, “.154 Hitter May Be Key Player For Cards In Deal With Padres,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 1997.

[3] Rick Hummel, “.154 Hitter May Be Key Player For Cards In Deal With Padres,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 1997.

[4] Shaun O’Neill, “Padres acquire Jackson,” North County Times, June 14, 1997.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals Get Valenzuela, Send Jackson To San Diego,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 1997.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals Get Valenzuela, Send Jackson To San Diego,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 1997.

[7] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals Get Valenzuela, Send Jackson To San Diego,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 1997.

[8] Shaun O’Neill, “Padres acquire Jackson,” North County Times, June 14, 1997.

[9] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals Get Valenzuela, Send Jackson To San Diego,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 14, 1997.

[10] Shaun O’Neill, “Padres acquire Jackson,” North County Times, June 14, 1997.

[11] Shaun O’Neill, “Padres acquire Jackson,” North County Times, June 14, 1997.

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