February 9, 1988: Cardinals trade Horton and Johnson for DeLeon

For years, Cardinals scouts had believed in Jose DeLeon’s potential. On February 9, 1988, the team gambled on that potential, trading center fielder Lance Johnson, left-handed pitcher Ricky Horton, and an estimated $100,000 to the White Sox to obtain the 27-year-old right-hander.

Negotiations for the right-hander had begun back in back in November, but Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill refused to include catcher Tom Pagnozzi in the trade.[1]

“I didn’t want to drag it out, but I didn’t want to make the deal with Pagnozzi in it,” Maxvill said. “Maybe I’m hard-headed, but that’s the way I wanted it.”[2]

“It’s finally over,” White Sox general manager Larry Himes said. “It was a long time coming.”[3]

In DeLeon, the Cardinals acquired a 6-foot-3 right-hander with flashes of brilliance but also a maddening inconsistency to that point in his career. Armed with a 90-mph fastball that he mixed with a curveball, the native of Rancho Viejo, Dominican Republic, had been drafted by the Pirates in the third round of the 1979 draft.

He made his major-league debut as a 22-year-old in 1983, going 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 108 innings. DeLeon slumped in his sophomore season, going 7-13 with a 3.74 ERA over 192 1/3 innings, and in 1985 he led the league in losses with a 2-19 record and 4.70 ERA.

“When I came up in ’83, Pittsburgh had a good team and I pitched great,” DeLeon said. “The next year, I figured that with the same team, it would be easy. It wasn’t as easy. You learn from your mistakes.”[4]

In July 1986, the Pirates traded him to the White Sox for rookie Bobby Bonilla. In his only full season in Chicago, DeLeon went 11-12 with a 4.02 ERA, walking 97 and striking out 153 in 206 innings. He spent most of the season as a starter but spent time in the bullpen late in the season after he was in an auto accident.[5]

“All the people in the Cardinals organization have liked DeLeon for a number of years now,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said. “I know they think he’s got potential. I think he might be ready to come into his own. He’s got some stats that are good and some that are bad. When you’re 2-19 like he was, it’s tough to have good stats.”[6]

DeLeon was set to earn $375,000 with a chance to make an additional $70,000 if he reached an innings pitched milestone.[7] The Cardinals sent the White Sox $100,000 as part of the trade to make up for the difference in salaries.

“There are not many pitchers who can throw 90 miles an hour consistently,” Maxvill said. “DeLeon won 11 games last year and we would like to think that in a bigger ballpark, with our defense, that he can improve on that number.”[8]

Herzog said he planned to insert DeLeon into the starting rotation alongside John Tudor, Joe Magrane, Danny Cox, and Greg Mathews.[9] Bob Forsch, an 11-game winner in 1987, was slated to go to the bullpen.[10]

“I think this has got a chance to be the best pitching staff I’ve ever had,” Herzog said. “I’ve said that before, but we always had injuries. Now I think that every day, we’ve got a chance to win.”[11]

The 28-year-old Horton had been a fourth-round pick of the Cardinals in 1980 out of the University of Virginia. Pitching primarily out of the bullpen throughout his Cardinals career, Horton had gone 24-12 in four seasons in St. Louis and was coming off an 8-3 campaign in 1987 in which he threw 125 innings for the National League champions.

Horton was scheduled to go to arbitration on February 15 to determine his salary for the 1988 season, but he and the White Sox expected to finalize a salary of $525,000 in advance of the hearing.[12]

“I think we had to do this,” Herzog said. “I’m really sorry to trade Horton because Rick’s been a very good pitcher for us any way we used him. I was sorry it was strung out for so long. I’m sure it was tough on Rick and his wife, Ann.”[13]

In Chicago, the White Sox planned to use Horton as part of their starting rotation.

“He was a key pitcher for the Cardinals with the way they used him,” Himes said. “Now he gets the opportunity to take the ball every five days for us. We wouldn’t have made this trade if we hadn’t gotten a pitcher in return.”[14]

In Johnson, the White Sox believed they had found their new center fielder and leadoff hitter. In St. Louis, Johnson was blocked by Willie McGee and Vince Coleman and wasn’t expected to make the Cardinals’ major league roster in 1988.[15]

“Lance has got the kind of defense we’re looking for in a big ballpark like ours,” said White Sox manager Jim Fregosi, who managed Johnson and Horton in the Cardinals’ farm system.[16]

Johnson was named the American Association MVP in 1987 after hitting .333 with 42 stolen bases at Triple-A Louisville. In a cup of coffee with the major league club, he hit .220 with seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 59 at-bats.

“He gives us something we’ve lacked for a long time – a true leadoff hitter,” Himes said. “He’s a good contact hitter (only 45 strikeouts in 477 at-bats at Louisville) and he can run. We haven’t had the whole machine together. Now with Johnson at the top, I think we’ll have a good lineup.”[17]

“I’m really excited,” Johnson said. “I just want to play, whether it’s in St. Louis or Chicago.”[18]

Johnson certainly got that opportunity in Chicago. In eight seasons with the White Sox, he hit .286/.325/.373 with 483 runs scored and 226 stolen bases. In 1995, his final season with the White Sox, his 186 hits led the American League, as he hit .306 with 40 stolen bases.

With the Mets in 1996, he enjoyed the best season of his career, batting .333/.362/.425 with nine homers, 69 RBIs, and 50 stolen bases. His 227 hits and 21 triples each led the National League and he was named to the lone all-star game of his career. His final big-league appearance came in 2000 with the Yankees, and he retired with 1,447 games played across 14 seasons. For his career, he hit .291 with 767 runs scored and 327 stolen bases.

Horton pitched less than one season with the White Sox, going 6-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 109 1/3 innings in 1988 before he was dealt to the White Sox for Shawn Hillegas that August. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Dodgers in the NLCS against the Mets and received a World Series ring when the Dodgers topped the Athletics in the World Series.

Horton appeared in 23 games with the Dodgers in 1989 before they released him and he signed back with the Cardinals. He started eight of his 11 appearances for the Cardinals that year, going 0-3 with a 4.73 ERA, then pitched entirely out of the bullpen in 1990.

Horton pitched in the Indians’ minor-league system in 1991 before retiring. Over seven major league seasons, he went 32-27 with a 3.76 ERA.

DeLeon pitched well in his first two seasons in St. Louis. In 1988, he led the club with 13 wins, 225 1/3 innings pitched, and 208 strikeouts. In 1989, he again led the team in strikeouts and innings pitched, whiffing a league-high 201 batters in 244 2/3 innings. He finished the season with a 16-12 record and a 3.05 ERA.

After the 1989 season, DeLeon signed a three-year contract worth a little more than $6.6 million.[19] In the first year of his new deal, the 29-year-old led the league in losses for the second time in his career, as he went 7-19 with a 4.43 ERA. In 1991, he posted a 2.71 ERA in 162 2/3 innings but was the only member of the Cardinals’ starting rotation to fail to reach double digits in wins, finishing the year 5-9.

DeLeon was 2-7 with a 4.57 ERA at the end of August 1992 when the Cardinals released him. Over four-plus seasons in St. Louis, he went 43-57 with a 3.59 ERA.

“Little things would crop up,” Cardinals pitching coach Joe Coleman said. “A walk here or there would be a hit by somebody who maybe shouldn’t get a hit. If we didn’t score any runs, he got right back to being defeated mentally. I don’t think it was anything physical.”[20]

DeLeon spent the rest of his career primarily as a bullpen arm. He pitched briefly for the Phillies before they traded him back to the White Sox for Bobby Thigpen in 1993. In August 1995, the Sox traded him to the Expos for Jeff Shaw.

In 1997 and 1998, DeLeon pitched in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over 13 major-league seasons, he went 86-119 with a 3.76 ERA.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.


[1] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[2] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[3] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[4] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[5] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[6] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[7] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[8] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[9] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[10] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[11] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[12] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[13] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[14] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[15] Rick Hummel, “DeLeon Trade ‘Good Gamble,’ Herzog Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[16] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[17] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[18] Ed Sherman, “Finally, Sox get Cards’ Johnson, Horton,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 10, 1988.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Waivers End Frustrating Saga For Jose DeLeon,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1992.

[20] Rick Hummel, “Waivers End Frustrating Saga For Jose DeLeon,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1992.

Leave a Comment