In baseball, describing anything as “the worst” isn’t an easy moniker. In some cases it’s easy to define “the worst,” like the 1988 Orioles and 1961 Philadelphia Phillies, who each hold the modern record for consecutive losses in a season in their respective leagues, with 21 and 23, respectively.
But with trades, it is harder because there are many variables that go into play to determine what might have happened for certain players had they stayed with one team versus another.
But the monstrosity known as the 1990 Glenn Davis-to-the-Orioles trade has stood the test of time. It has been named by ESPN’s Page 2, and many other media outlets, as the worst trade in baseball history – not just Orioles history – and that dates back to the beginning of the decade.
The history is of course that Davis, a slugging first-baseman for the Houston Astros who played on their 1986 NLCS runner-up team, was brought to the Orioles by General Manager Roland Hemond to provide some power for a team that had been deficient in that area. He was traded for OF Steve Finley, and pitchers Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch.
Finley won a World Series with Arizona, was a two-time All Star and won five Gold Glove Awards. Schilling became a certifiable star, winning three World Series titles (including the 2004 title while with Boston) and was a six-time All-Star. Harnisch’s career was a bit of a Ping-Ponger but he was also an All-Star (in 1991) and had a respectable career.
In 2002, Baltimore’s City Paper named Davis the “worst” first baseman in Orioles history as part of its “Zeroes” feature on the worst Orioles ever. The publication cited the fact the fact that then-Arizona’s World Series win made Davis’ trade especially glaring.
That was in 2002. In 2013, as Schilling is on the way to potential Hall of Fame consideration, it looks even worse.
Davis, expected to hit 40 HR during his time in Baltimore, hit 13 in his best Orioles season in 1992. He missed much of the 1993 season after his jaw was broken during a bar fight, and then missed another month after being hit in the head by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout.
Days after an argument with manager Johnny Oates about not being in the starting lineup upon his return in September, Davis was sent packing, never to play in the Majors again.
Interestingly, Hemond, the author of the disastrous trade, had just before (in 1989) won MLB Executive of the Year honors (as he had also done twice before). On paper, the trade would be bringing a proven slugger to the Orioles. But, as the Orioles since have learned at the expense of the Seattle Mariners (in their own disastrous trade that brought Adam Jones to the Orioles) sometimes it is best to stay young and play the waiting game.
To add insult to injury, Davis’ contract at the time was an Orioles record. So the team overpaid, lost three future All-Stars, and three more years and Hemond’s resignation from the team before Pat Gillick took over and righted the ship in 1996.
Davis is now a City Councilman in Columbus, GA, where he lives. Schilling is out of baseball but serves as a commentator on baseball networks; Harnisch is an instructor with the Los Angeles Angels organization. Finley last played baseball in 2007 but played until past the age of 41.
Hemond is retired, as is Gillick, who later led the Philadelphia Phillies to the 2008 World Series title.