Like 1982, the Pirates were very much in the race in 1983. The club was tied for first as late as September 17. The Buccos went just 6-8 over the final two weeks of the season while the Phillies caught fire and went 13-2 over the same stretch to win the division by a comfortable six games.
The team was dominated by outstanding pitching. The staff was fourth in the league in ERA and second in strikeouts. The offense was average. Jason Thompson slipped from his 1982 marks (and would continue to slip), though his OPS+ was still solid. The team finished third in the league in BA and fourth in OBP, but just seventh in runs scored.
So what happened next? Dave Parker left for his hometown as a free agent. The Pirates picked up aging former All-Star Amos Otis as a free agent hoping he’d be a suitable offensive stop gap in the wake of Parker’s not-so-amicable exit.
One day before Parker left town, the Pirates traded sweet swinging Mike Easler to the Red Sox for athletic lefty John Tudor.
Tough to argue with this trade in hindsight. But during the 1984 season, the Pirates offense tanked badly. The pitching was again spectacular. So, conventional wisdom at the time said the trade was a disaster. Easler’s bat would’ve been more valuable to the 1984 Pirates than Tudor’s arm
Easler wasn’t much of a fielder. Upon going to the AL, he was installed at his best position – hitter. He set career marks in homers and RBI with the Red Sox in 1984 and had a couple of more good years left in him. But he was old (33) at the time of the trade and would wind up finishing his playing career in Japan after a second tour with the Yankees in 1987.
John Tudor’s tenure with the Pirates is like a blur. It was short. It was pretty good. He was unloaded and then he blossomed. Not to dissimilar when compared to Jason Schmidt.
The Red Sox chose Tudor in the third round out of Georgia Southern University in 1976. Though he generally pitched well in the minors, he received little support apparently as his won-loss record was never particularly eye popping. He only hit double digits in wins once in the minors and that was in 1979 when he was 10-11 despite a 2.93 ERA.
He made his ML debut in 1979 as a 25 year old and pitched the next couple of seasons in a swing position for the Red Sox, starting 24 of the 34 contests he appeared in between 1980 and 1981. He moved into the rotation for good in July of 1982 and won 13 games both in 1982 and 1983.
After his trade to the Pirates, he continued to pitch well. But his record was rather plain. He was 12-11 in 1984 with the Buccos. His ERA was 3.27 as the Pirates led the league in team ERA but finished last in the division thanks (as noted earlier) almost entirely to an offense devoid of any punch. Less than two weeks after 2/3 of the Pirates starting outfield was gone (Parker and Easler), the Pirates had signed Otis. Neither Otis nor the rapidly declining Thompson provided much of a spark.
So, in an attempt to bring some life to the offense, the Pirates foolishly traded Tudor to St. Louis for George Hendrick and his attitude. The trade happened on 12/12/84 and it also sent Brian Harper to the Cardinals. The Pirates got career minor leaguer Steve Barnard.
In 1985, Tudor was second in the NL in wins and ERA and finished second to Dwight Gooden for the Cy Young. He recorded 10 shutouts that year. Only Bob Gibson with 13 in 1968 (the Year of the Pitcher) has recorded more shutouts in a single season over the past 40 years. Tudor pitched brilliantly in the 1985 post-season. He won two games in the World Series but was the loser in Game 7. After departing that game, he famously punched a fan (the rotating kind, not the cheering kind) and cut his hand.
Tudor would never reach that level of success again. He was effective (7th in ERA), but unspectacular (just a 13-7 record) in 1986. In 1987 he was injured when Mets catcher Barry Lyons came crashing into the dugout on April 19 trying to snare a foul ball. He wouldn’t pitch again until August of that year.
In August of 1988, the Dodgers acquired him from the Cards for problem child Pedro Guerrero. Tudor finished 4th in the NL in ERA, but was just 10-8. He did help the Dodgers beat the A’s in the World Series. His lone appearance in the World Series that year lasted just four outs as he injured his elbow. He missed most of 1989, pitching just six games.
He returned to St. Louis in 1990 as a free agent and was named Comeback Player of the Year after going 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 25 games (22 starts). Had he pitched enough innings to qualify, his ERA would’ve ranked second in the NL. Tudor elected to retire following that year.
Strangely enough, as the 1984 Pirates sunk toward oblivion, they made no trades during the season. After April 13, the Pirates spent just one day out of the cellar all season. 1984 was a very long summer.
As I said before, tough to argue with this trade. How well would Tudor have pitched for the Pirates in 1985? Hard to say. I do know I would have much rather have had him on the team than George Hendrick.