Astros Anniversary: The trade that tested my allegiance


Seventeen years ago today the Astros pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in MLB history. Astros G.M. Bob Watson sent Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Andujar Cedeno, Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams, and minor leaguer Sean Fesh to the San Diego Padres. In return Houston received Derek Bell, Ricky Gutierrez, Doug Brocail, Phil Plantier, Craig Shipley, and Pedro Martinez. No, not that Pedro Martinez. This Martinez appeared in 122 games over five seasons with four big league clubs.

For me, the trade was even bigger than it’s sheer size. Steve Finley was my favorite player. Not just my favorite player at the time, but my favorite player ever. But wait, there’s more! I grew up in Houston rooting for the Astros. In 1984, at the age of 21, I packed everything I owned into my 1971 Olds Cutlass and headed for the West Coast. I settled in San Diego and was still there in ’94 when the infamous trade went down. I immediately developed a serious distaste for the Padres. You might say I hated them. Yeah, that’s it. The kicker was the Padres appearance in the 1984 World Series. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the stands at a World Series game that didn’t include my Astros. After all, the Padres had never finished better than fourth place in the N.L. West. Conversely the Astros had come close in recent years but just couldn’t get over the hump.

As fate would have it the Astros opened the 1995 season in San Diego. I always attended the games when the Astros were in town and this time was no exception. It was a bit of a test for me. I still hated the Padres, but I had a definite man-crush on Finley. I wasn’t really sure how I would react. I arrived at the game wearing a customized hat that featured the logos of both teams. I had cut two hats in half and had a friend sew them together for me. Once the game started it didn’t take long to realize that the Astros were in my blood- even if they had traded away the greatest player of all time.

Okay. Maybe Finley wasn’t the greatest player of all time, but I’ve honestly never seen a better defensive centerfielder. But Finley didn’t reach his potential as a hitter until after the trade. Caminiti would also take his game to the next level while in San Diego, winning the MVP Award in 1996. That year the Padres won their division as Caminiti and Finley ranked 1 & 2 on the club in hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, slugging, and OPS. Finley finished tenth in the MVP voting and was the most productive outfielder on a team that included Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson.

The rest of the players that went to San Diego in the trade didn’t do very much. But Caminiti and Finley outperformed the players that the Astros received, making the deal a lopsided one. Derek Bell had a couple of good seasons in Houston and Gutierrez was a pretty good hitter for a SS. Phil Plantier and his exaggerated uppercut swing only lasted 22 games in Houston before being dealt back to San Diego. The Padres released him after the ’95 season and his career was over in 1997 at the age of 28. In 1998 the Astros won a franchise record 102 games but were ousted from the playoffs by the Padres. Oh the agony!

Drayton McLane had owned the Astros for only two years when the trade was consummated. Looking back now, one can’t help but wonder if the catastrophic results of McLane’s biggest trade forever influenced his trade strategy.