Deadspin puts the biggest 'gift' deals in sports history under your tree (Aww, we shouldn't have!)

Deadspin puts the biggest 'gift' deals in sports history under your tree (Aww, we shouldn't have!)

It’s the season of giving, and keeping with the holiday spirit, let’s look at the most generous teams in sports history. What teams gave up the biggest gifts?

Here are some gifts that made honorable mention:

Cardinals trade Ernie Broglio to the Cubs for Lou Brock

Phillies trade Rick Wise to the Cardinals for Steve Carlton

Falcons trade Brett Favre to the Packers for a first-round pick

Sixers trade Charles Barkley to the Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang

Flames trade Brett Hull to the Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley

Astros trade Joe Morgan, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, César Gerónimo and Denis Menke to the Reds for Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart

Managing editor. Former N.Y. Daily Newser. Former broke poker player.

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10. Rickey Henderson for Eric Plunk (again!), Greg Cadaret and Luis Polonia

10. Rickey Henderson for Eric Plunk (again!), Greg Cadaret and Luis Polonia

Illustration for article titled Deadspin puts the biggest 'gift' deals in sports history under your tree (Aww, we shouldn't have!)
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In what is something of a pattern for the baseball players in this list, Rickey Henderson was traded twice for terrible packages. The A’s traded him to the Yankees in 1984 for Tim Birtsas, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk and Jose Rijo. Rijo would go on to be a star pitcher, but for the Cincinnati Reds. Henderson played at an MVP level for four and a half seasons in New York before the Yankees reversed the trade in 1989. Eric Plunk got traded for Henderson a second time, along with journeyman Greg Caderet and outfielder Luis Polonia, who was later convicted of sexaul assault.

Back in Oakland, Henderson was the MVP of the 1989 ALCS and helped the A’s to their first World Series title in 15 years. The next season, he won the AL MVP. Henderson would play an astonishing 14 seasons after being traded by the Yankees and set major league records for most stolen bases and runs scored.

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9. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson

9. Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson

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The 1990 Red Sox were in a tight race with the Blue Jays for the AL East division, and decided to play Santa Claus. To shore up their bullpen, Boston traded for 37-year-old reliever Larry Andersen. They gave up their top prospect, Jeff Bagwell. They could have rationalized this at the time by thinking Bagwell, a third baseman, wasn’t going to displace future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs at third.

Andersen pitched well for the Sox in the regular season, with a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings as they won the division. But they got swept in the playoffs by the Oakland A’s, and Andersen took a loss, giving up 2 runs in 3 innings. Andersen signed with the Padres that winter and pitched just three more seasons in the majors.

The Astros also had an established third baseman, Ken Caminiti, but they simply shifted Bagwell to first base and immediately slapped him into the lineup, where he remained for 15 years. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1991, won the MVP in 1994, and put up stellar numbers in a Hall of Fame career.

Judging this trade by WAR, it’s one of the most lopsided deals in history. Andersen put up 1.2 WAR for the Red Sox, while Bagwell put up a staggering 79.9 WAR.

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8. Oilers trade Wayne Gretzky to Kings

8. Oilers trade Wayne Gretzky to Kings

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As this list illustrates, you can never really win when you’re forced to trade the best player in the league. You really can’t win when you trade the best player in your sport’s history, and the Oilers did not do so. The Kings sent high-scoring young center Jimmy Carson, young forward Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks and $15 million in cash for the Great One, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski. Carson had a 100-point season for Edmonton in 1989, but he was unable to live up to the unbelievable expectations of having to replace Gretzky. He was traded the next year, and was never again a top point producer. Gelinas was solid but unspectacular, and the Oilers got very little value out of the three picks.

Meanwhile, Gretzky continued to be great in LA, winning a Hart Trophy in 1989 and three scoring titles. He got to live in Southern California with his wife, actress Janet Jones. More importantly, he put LA on the map, and made hockey in California cool. The only reason this trade doesn’t rank higher is the Oilers actually won a Stanley Cup without Gretzky in 1990.

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7. Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields

7. Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields

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Pedro was gifted twice in his career. We’ll highlight this one because it’s a good ol’ fashioned baseball trade. Martinez was a highly touted prospect, the younger and shorter brother of Dodgers star pitcher Ramon Martinez. Ramon was overworked by the Dodgers and had already suffered arm problems, so perhaps the Dodgers felt that the skinny brother would also have problems.

DeShields was a young star for the Expos. He hit .289 with 42 steals and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 1990. He was coming off back-to-back seasons of hitting over .290 with 40+ steals at the time of the trade, and he was only 24. It’s not hard to see a Hall of Fame path for DeShields: looking at them through age 24, he’s in the same neighborhood as Roberto Alomar or Joe Morgan. But that was as good as DeShields would ever be. Although he played nine more seasons, he was miserable for the Dodgers, hitting .241 in three seasons before recovering to have more .290, 30-55 steal seasons for the Cardinals and Orioles.

But Pedro Martinez of course went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. He went 55-33 with a 3.06 ERA in four seasons with Montreal, winning the Cy Young Award with a dominant 17-8, 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeout season in 1997.

Martinez was scheduled to hit free agency soon after that, so the Expos traded him to the Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, another gift. His seasons with the Red Sox make him a solid contender for the greatest pitcher in baseball history, as he lapped the field in ERA four times in five seasons, winning two Cy Young Awards. He also gave some zany quotes, such as his infamous:”Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.”

Martinez helped Boston end the Curse of the Bambino in 2004.

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6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters

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The Lakers have benefited from lopsided trades featuring the best player in the league twice in their history, first getting Wilt Chamberlain from the 76ers for Darrell Imhoff, Archie Clark, and Jerry Chambers in 1968. While that trade was a disaster for the 76ers, who quickly became a laughingstock while the Lakers made three Finals and had a 72-win title season in 1971-72, that trade pales in comparison to the one they made with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975. No one could have predicted that Abdul-Jabbar, 28 at the time of the deal, would play 14 seasons with the Lakers, becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer and teaming with Magic Johnson to form one of the league’s greatest dynasties. The Showtime Lakers won five titles in the 1980s.

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5. Patrick Roy traded to the Avalanche

5. Patrick Roy traded to the Avalanche

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On Dec. 2, 1995, Patrick Roy was in net for the Montreal Canadiens, the team he had won two Stanley Cups with. Roy was left in to allow nine goals before being pulled. Roy considered it humiliating and he said he had played his last game for Montreal.

Four days later, he was traded, along with captain Mike Keane, for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault. Roy was the Habs’ franchise player, he gave them identity.

Roy joined a star-studded Avalanche team that was just a goalie away from being a powerhouse. He played eight seasons with Colorado, winning Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001, and taking home the Conn Smythe award in 2001.

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4. St. Louis sends Bill Russell to the Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan

4. St. Louis sends Bill Russell to the Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan

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There’s a lot involved in this trade, including the fabled Ice Capades rumor. First, Red Auerbach, who coveted Russell, traded Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to the St. Louis Hawks for the second pick in the draft. Then, to ensure the Rochester Royals didn’t take Russell with the first pick, from Boston.com:

As the story goes, Auerbach got Celtics owner Walter Brown to guarantee Rochester owner Les Harrison a lucrative series of shows performed by the Ice Capade dancers (whom Brown was a part owner of). In exchange for bringing him a cash windfall via the Ice Capades, Harrison and Rochester wouldn’t take Russell with the first pick.

Whether the story is true is hard to tell. Another rumor going around was that the Royals were afraid Russell would sign with the Harlem Globetrotters, so the Royals went with Si Green instead.

Passing up Russell would be one of the worst mistakes any professional sports team ever made. Russell and the Celtics won 11 championships in 13 seasons. He won fiveMVP awards, and got the better of rival Wilt Chamberlain heads-up, winning 85 games to Wilt’s 57.

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3. Trail Blazers go Bowie over Jordan in 1984 NBA Draft

3. Trail Blazers go Bowie over Jordan in 1984 NBA Draft

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This one wasn’t a trade, but it was certainly a gift. You all know this story. The Houston Rockets can be excused for not taking Michael Jordan, because they took Hakeem Olaujuwon and got two titles out of it. But taking Sam Bowie over His Airness is inexcusable. The rationale was they already had Clyde Drexler, a future Hall of Fame shooting guard in his own right. But it wasn’t just Jordan they passed up. The 1984 draft also featured first-ballot Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and John Stockton.

The Trail Blazers lost two Finals in Drexler’s time there, including one to Jordan’s Bulls. Bowie played just 139 games in an injury-shortened career. Decades later, history repeated itself in a draft decision almost as disastrous, as Portland selected Greg Ogden with the top pick in the 2007 draft over Kevin Durant. (Sorry, Jon Helmkamp.)

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2. Herschel Walker traded to Vikings for five players, six picks

2. Herschel Walker traded to Vikings for five players, six picks

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Herschel Walker was a stud. He won the Heisman Trophy with Georgia, and rushed for 5,562 yards in three seasons as running back for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals. In the NFL, Walker led the league in combined yards in 1987 and had a better year in 1988, rushing for 1,514 yards and adding on another 503 yards receiving. The problem was his Dallas Cowboys were terrible. The team had new ownership in Jerry Jones and a new coach in Jimmy Johnson. They needed to rebuild.

“My offensive coaches said, ‘Sheesh, if you trade Herschel, we won’t ever score a point,’” Johnson told the Dallas Morning News on the 30th anniversary of the trade. “I said, ‘Well, I’m not really concerned with scoring points this year. I’m concerned with getting good here in a couple of years. “

The Minnesota Vikings felt they were just one running back away from competing. So they sent the Cowboys five players:

Jesse Solomon, Issiac Holt, RB Darrin Nelson, David Howard and Alex Stewart. None of them had much of an impact. But the Vikings also included six draft picks.

One of those picks became Emmitt Smith, who alone would have made the trade lopsided, as he became the league’s all-time rushing leader. Smith led the league in rushing four times and was named Super Bowl MVP twice.

But another pick became safety Darren Woodson, who played 12 years for the Cowboys and made five Pro Bowls. Other players drafted with those picks included multi-year starters CB Kevin Smith and DT Russell Maryland.

Walker was mediocre in Minnesota, rushing for just 2,284 yards in 42 games. They lost their only playoff game with Walker.

The Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls in four years.

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1. Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000

1. Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000

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You knew it had to be this one, right?

Try as we might, it was impossible to justify saying a professional sports team gave another team a gift quite as large as Babe Ruth.

To recap: Ruth had been a dominating pitcher for the Red Sox, winning 89 games while losing just 46 with a 2.19 ERA. He set a record for most consecutive shutout innings in a World Series, at 29.2. He led the Sox to three World Series titles before they figured out he was better as a hitter than a pitcher. He led the AL in home runs with 11 in 1918 before becoming a sensation with a then-record 29 homers in 1919.

Then Boston owner Harry Frazeee sold Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000. There is a myth that he did this to finance a Broadway show called “No, No, Nanette.” That simply isn’t true.

Nonetheless, it changed the destiny of two of America’s greatest franchises and forever revolutionized the way its national pastime was played. Ruth hit 54 home runs in his first year with the Yankees, a mark he would break twice more in his Yankees career as he rewrote baseball’s record books.

The Red Sox went from being a perennial power to a second-division team that took 88 years to win another World Series. The Yankees went from second fiddle to the Giants in New York City to becoming the most iconic franchise in North American sports.

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Managing editor. Former N.Y. Daily Newser. Former broke poker player.