John Tudor Pedro Guerrero

August 16, 1988: Cards trade John Tudor for Pedro Guerrero

On August 16, 1988, the Cardinals’ quest for Jack Clark’s replacement led them to deal John Tudor, the left-handed pitcher who won 21 games in 1985, to the Dodgers in exchange for four-time all-star first baseman Pedro Guerrero.

Clark had anchored the Cardinals’ lineups from 1985 through 1987, but in January 1988, he signed a two-year contract with the New York Yankees for a guaranteed $3 million. In response, the Cardinals signed Bob Horner, the former Braves slugger who hit 215 home runs in nine major league seasons before spending the 1987 season with the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese League.

It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to realize that Horner wasn’t the answer. Signed to a one-year, $950,000 contract, shoulder surgery limited Horner to just 60 games in what proved to be his final major-league season. Concerned that the free-agent market may not offer an affordable alternative, the Cardinals made their move for the veteran Guerrero, who had hit .309 with 171 homers and 585 RBIs in 11 years in Los Angeles. At age 32, however, the Dodgers believed the 1981 World Series MVP’s best years were behind him.

Earlier that season, Guerrero was sidelined with a pinched nerve in his neck, and Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe told Guerrero that the condition couldn’t be improved or made worse, so he would have to learn to play through the pain. Perhaps more important was the tendinitis in both Guerrero’s knees, which required ice treatments after every game. He also battled a lingering injury to his left wrist. [1]

“Not that Guerrero was a cancer on the team. That’s pretty harsh terminology. But at this stage of his career, let’s just say Pedro was at least an inflamed appendix,” wrote Scott Ostler in the Los Angeles Times. “On defense, Guerrero was OK unless someone hit or threw the ball to him.”[2]

The Cardinals, meanwhile, were focused on Guerrero’s bat and the damage he could do in the middle of their lineup. Despite his injuries, in his last full season with the Dodgers in 1987, Guerrero hit .338 with 27 homers, 89 RBIs, and nine stolen bases, earning MVP votes and an all-star appearance. At the time of the trade, he was batting .298 with five homers and 35 RBIs in 215 at-bats.

“He’s got power in any yard, and not only does he hit for power, but he hits for average,” Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox said. “He’s capable of hitting the ball in the gap and driving in some runs. A single here and a single there isn’t going to score many runs, but a single here and a ball in the gap will. If you make a mistake, he’s going to make you pay for it. He’s clutch.”[3]

“He’s a dead lowball hitter,” said left-hander Greg Mathews, noting that Guerrero once hit a monstrous home run against him in Los Angeles. “He could fill the power deficit that we have. I think he can hit just as many homers as Jack (Clark) did.”[4]

Whitey Herzog, however, emphasized that he wasn’t looking for Guerrero to fill Clark’s shoes.

“I don’t think he’ll hit 35 home runs like Jack and I don’t expect him to, but I think he’ll hit 20 to 25 homers,” Herzog said.

Maxvill agreed with Herzog’s prediction while comparing Guerrero to Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy, and George Bell.

“All those guys seem to hit 25 to 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs,” he said. “In Guerrero’s case, I look at him for 20 to 25 home runs and, depending if the rabbits get on in front of him, he’s got a threat to drive in 90 runs.”[5]

Before the trade could be completed, the Cardinals and Guerrero agreed to a three-year, $6 million contract. The term was one year longer than the Cardinals were willing to offer Clark, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that it was unlikely Guerrero would have accepted two years.[6]

“Times have changed in the last four or five months,” Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said. “Several clubs have signed guys to three-year contracts. Several teams have signed guys to contracts of this magnitude. It’s a different set of circumstances.”[7]

That set of circumstances may well have been the simple realization that they needed a middle-of-the-order bat.

“Pedro’s needed here. We need Pedro,” Herzog said. “I said, ‘Pedro, I’m the happiest guy in the world.’ He said, ‘Whitey, I want to play for you.’ I thought it was Joaquin (Andujar) on the phone.”[8]

To get that middle-of-the-order bat, however, the Cardinals had to give up a pitcher who had proven key to their National League championships in 1985 and 1987. Obtained in the December 1984 trade that sent George Hendrick to the Pirates, Tudor enjoyed the best season of his career in 1985.

After winning just one of his first eight decisions, Tudor’s former high school catcher mentioned that Tudor’s mechanics had developed a hitch that wasn’t there during his high school days. Tudor made an adjustment and won 20 of his final 21 decisions on his way to a 21-8 record. He finished second to Dwight Gooden in that year’s Cy Young Award voting and his 10 shutouts led the majors. In the postseason, he won two of his three World Series starts against the Royals, though he suffered the loss in a forgettable Game 7 performance.

“With the possible exception of Brian Sutter of the Blues, I’ve never seen an athlete who wanted to win more than John Tudor does,” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Kevin Horrigan. “He was magnificent, a surgeon in double-knit rompers, even when pitching in pain.”[9]

In 1986, Tudor went 13-7 with a 2.92 ERA. The following year, Mets catcher Barry Lyons broke Tudor’s leg when he spilled into the Cardinals’ dugout while attempting to catch a foul ball. In just 96 innings, Tudor went 10-2 with a 3.84 ERA. In the postseason, he won Game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants and Game 3 of the World Series against the Twins, though he suffered the loss in Game 6 of the World Series.

At the time of the trade, Tudor was 6-5 and his 2.29 ERA was the lowest in the National League.

“He’s been a great pitcher and a great competitor for the Cardinals,” said St. Louis hitting coach Johnny Lewis. “I’m happy that he’s going to a club that can win. You look at our stats, and we’re definitely in dire need of a hitter. Tudor went out there and pitched a heck of a lot better than his record.”[10]

Magrane said Tudor was the only person he went to when he wanted to discuss opposing hitters.

“I learned a lot from him about how to approach a hitter’s weaknesses,” Magrane said. “If you solicited information, he was happy to provide it. Every time he threw, it was a constant reaffirmation about what a quality pitcher was. His stuff was not superlative, but day in and day out, through almost every start, he was constantly in control.”[11]

The Dodgers prized that consistency as they looked to hold off the Giants and Astros in the National League West.

“We need this to compete with teams in the league,” said Dodgers infielder Dave Anderson, noting that Fernando Valenzuela’s injury had left the Dodgers without a left-hander in the rotation.[12]

The Dodgers did more than just compete with the rest of the league. With Tudor going 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA in nine starts, the Dodgers won the NL West with a 94-67-1 record. He allowed four earned runs in five innings during the Dodgers’ Game 4 win over the Mets in the NLCS, then threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings before leaving with an elbow injury in Game 3 of the World Series.

Though Tudor earned the only World Series championship ring of his career that season, the elbow injury limited him to just 14 1/3 innings for the Dodgers in 1989. After the season, he re-signed with St. Louis and enjoyed a resurgent final season, going 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 146 1/3 innings.

Tudor retired after the 1990 campaign with 117 career wins and a 3.12 ERA over 12 seasons.

Though Guerrero missed out on the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series run, in 1989 he enjoyed his fifth and final all-star season, batting .311 with 17 homers, 117 RBIs, and a league-leading 42 doubles. He finished third in the NL MVP voting behind the Giants’ Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark.

Guerrero remained productive in 1990, batting .281 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs, but his power declined in 1991 as he slugged just .361 while hitting eight homers and driving in 70 runs. In 1992, injuries limited Guerrero to just 43 games. He hit .219 with one home run and 16 RBIs in his final major league season, then spent the next three years in the Mexican League, independent baseball, and a brief stay with the Angels’ Double-A.

Over 15 major league seasons, Guerrero finished with a .300 career batting average, 215 homers, and 898 RBIs.   

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[1] Jeff Gordon, “Guerrero Medical Report: Long History of Injuries,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[2] Scott Ostler, “It’s Hard Not to Get Excited About Trade,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1988.

[3] Tom Wheatley,” “Cardinals Welcome Guerrero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[4] Tom Wheatley,” “Cardinals Welcome Guerrero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Fear Sparked Guerrero Deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Fear Sparked Guerrero Deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Fear Sparked Guerrero Deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Fear Sparked Guerrero Deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[9] Kevin Horrigan, “Sullen Tudor One Of Best Ever For Birds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[10] Tom Wheatley, “Cards Roll Out Welcome Mat For Guerrero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[11] Tom Wheatley, “Cards Roll Out Welcome Mat For Guerrero,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 17, 1988.

[12] Sam McManis, “Dodgers Give Up Guerrero to Get Insurance,” Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1988.