How the Crew landed 2 HOFers in 1 trade

Brewers, Cardinals pulled off a blockbuster at 1980 Winter Meetings

December 11th, 2021

A version of this story originally ran in December 2017.

MILWAUKEE -- Before the Brewers and Cardinals met in the 1982 World Series, they met at the '80 Winter Meetings.

On Dec. 12, 1980 (41 years ago Sunday), Brewers general manager Harry Dalton sent Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorensen, Dave LaPoint and David Green to the Cardinals for a future Hall of Fame catcher (Ted Simmons) and the next two American League Cy Young Award winners (future Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers and starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich) in a swap that sent Milwaukee on a path to its only American League pennant.

A Sports Illustrated headline the following March called it "The Trade That Made Milwaukee Famous."

"In my book, that was the best trade we ever made," said unofficial Brewers historian Mario Ziino, who worked in the club's public relations department at the time. "When we landed those three guys, we were now major contenders."

It almost didn't happen.

So wrote longtime Wisconsin sportswriter Dennis Punzel for Madison's Capital Times newspaper in 2008, when the Brewers were nearing another notable trade for CC Sabathia. The story tapped the memory of the Crew's public relations director at the time, Tom Skibosh, who was in Dallas for those Winter Meetings and remembers a heated debate in the Brewers' suite between Crew scouts Ray Poitevint and Ray Scarborough.

The holdup was Green, a 21-year-old outfielder discovered by Poitevint in Nicaragua. Green was considered one of baseball's best prospects at the time.

"It got so heated that Ray Poitevint and Ray Scarborough almost came to fisticuffs in a meeting," Skibosh told the Cap Times. "Poitevint was saying, 'David Green is the future of this organization,' and Scarborough was saying, 'Forget the future. We have a chance to get these guys; we want to win now.'

"They almost went at it. They had to separate them."

The men might never had been at odds had a series of unexpected events fallen perfectly into place on the St. Louis side for Cardinals manager-GM Whitey Herzog, who made one free-agent signing and four trades involving 23 total players in that single week. His first move was to sign free-agent catcher Darrell Porter, the former Brewers first-round Draft pick and a four-time All-Star. With Simmons, the Cards suddenly had two frontline catchers.

The next day, Herzog swapped with San Diego for all-time saves leader Fingers, a player Dalton and the Brewers went into the offseason coveting. Dalton had built an offensive powerhouse with homegrown talents like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and outside acquisitions like Cooper and Oglivie, but the Crew had trouble closing out victories, losing 22 games in 1980 in which they led or were tied at the start of the eighth inning.

Dalton's disappointment with seeing Fingers go to St. Louis was short-lived. The very next day, Dec. 9, Herzog sent Cards top prospect Leon Durham to the Cubs in a trade for another future Hall of Famer, Bruce Sutter. Now St. Louis had baseball's two best closers.

So, the pieces were in place for a blockbuster. Once Dalton resigned to giving up Green and provided enough in financial incentives for Simmons to waive a no-trade clause, the swap was complete.

"I remember getting a call from Dan Duquette the night that the trade was made," Ziino said. "Danny was Harry's right-hand man in the scouting department, and he called me beaming about how this was going to put us over the top. Danny was excited."

In hindsight, it was a one-sided deal. Fingers won the AL Most Valuable Player Award and AL Cy Young Award the following season and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1992. Vuckovich tied for the Major League lead with 14 wins in '81 and was the '82 AL Cy Young Award winner. Simmons made two All-Star teams as a Brewer and earned a belated Hall induction in 2020.

Meanwhile, Lezcano and Sorensen never came close to matching the production they'd posted in Milwaukee, pitching prospect LaPoint was a journeyman for 12 Major League seasons, and injuries and off-field troubles contributed to Green never making a significant impact.

The Cardinals, however, won what matters most. They beat the Brewers in seven games in the 1982 World Series.