Ask around baseball, and you'll hear a lot of people with plans over the week from Christmas to New Years that have nothing to do with the sport.
It's traditionally thought of as a dead time, one where it is safe for PR officials to see their families, and baseball writers to actually turn off their phones during movies.
Ah, but a closer look at baseball history will tell you that the Dec. 25 - Dec. 31 corridor is anything but eventless. I still remember when my beloved New York Mets traded Kevin Appier for Mo Vaughn, and I happily prepared for the possibility that the deal would help facilitate a world champion. (And so it did!)
No, it is not safe to assume the week to come will be some kind of baseball-free zone. The week, within baseball history, has produced vital trades, epic free agent signings. Hall of Famers have come and gone. A Boom-Boom was released. Babes were traded -- for other Babes! Let's take it day by day, shall we?
More than just gold, frankincense and myrrh have been acquired on Christmas Day. Back in 2005, the Angels signed Tim Salmon, whose return from a full year missed due to injury produced a 109 OPS+ for the 2006 Angels, and a feel-good story. Lesser successes from the day include the Royals signing Jose Lima in 2004, who then pitched to a 6.99 ERA, and Mark Corey, signed by the Pirates on Christmas Day 2002, who pitched to a 5.34 ERA in 2003. But the tradition of Christmas acquiring dates all the way back to 1880, when the Buffalo Bisons signed Hall of Fame outfielder Jim O'Rourke.
No, your favorite team isn't out at a white sale. They're doing things like signing Stephen Drew, as the Red Sox did in 2012, adding a starting shortstop to a World Series team. (Hey, they could do it again this Dec.26!) The Red Sox also completed a six-player trade with the Pirates last year on this date, giving the Pirates Mark Melancon and his 1.39 ERA in 2013.
It's been a big day for trades, actually, not just signings. David Wells went from the Reds to the Orioles in 1995 for Curtis Goodwin. The Milwaukee Braves traded six players and $100,000 in 1953 for outfielder Danny O'Connell. The Dodgers sent two players and cash to Sacramento for Frenchy Bordagaray in 1934. And in the biggest haul of the day, in 1917, the Phillies traded Dode Paskert to the Cubs for Cy Williams, who went on to lead the National League in homers three times over the next 12 seasons for Philadelphia. Sure, it was in the Baker Bowl, but it's still impressive.
An extremely high-volume day. Why, just in 2005 alone, the Mets found a critical bullpen component to their 2006 NL East championship team in Chad Bradford, and the D-backs found their star second baseman on the 2007 NL West winners in Orlando Hudson, acquired from Toronto in a four-player deal for Troy Glaus.
It was the Appier-for-Vaughn day, back in 2001. It's the day the Yankees signed Ed Whitson, back in 1984. (Maybe New York teams should sit out December 27.)
And if you're looking to make a big, quasi-legal move, just follow in the footsteps of Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown, who jumped his contract with the Cincinnati Reds and joined the Federal League's St. Louis Terriers, while Joe Tinker, of Franklin P. Adams fame, jumped from the Reds to the Chicago Chi-Feds, later the Chicago Whales, because of... all the whales... in Chicago. That happened 100 years ago this week.
Sure, this was the magical day back in 2004 the Yankees signed Jaret Wright. But wait, there's more! So much more. The Mets purchased Gary Matthews Jr. from the Pirates back on this date in 2001, but traded him to the Orioles after a single plate appearance in 2002. (By contrast, the 65 plate appearances he collected after they re-acquired him in 2010 make him a virtual Ed Kranepool!)
Back in 1998, the D-backs traded outfielder Karim Garcia to the Tigers for outfielder Luis Gonzalez. That worked out pretty well for Arizona, with Gonzalez averaging better than 33 home runs per year over the next five, including 57 in 2001. Gregg Jefferies, one month younger than Gonzalez, signed by the Tigers that same day... hit eight more in his career.
The Yankees acquired Tim Raines from the White Sox on this date in 1995, and Raines, freed from the odd interregnum when he was called "Rock" on his baseball cards, contributed to three straight Yankee playoff teams.
And let us not forget one of the largest trades in baseball history took place during this supposedly dead period! Back in 1994, the Padres and Astros traded a total of 12 players. To the Astros: Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez (no, not that one, this one), Phil Plaintier, Craig Shipley. To the Padres: Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Steve Finley, Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams, Sean Fesh. The trade worked out pretty well for the Padres on Caminiti alone: he won a Gold Glove his first year, the MVP his second year, and made the All-Star team while winning another Gold Glove his third year.
And this isn't some new tradition. Witness Kip Selbach, always on the move, purchased by the Reds from the Senators in 1898 on Christmas Day, signed back with the Senators on this date in 1902. Kip liked to know where he stood by New Year's Eve, it seems.
The Mets made the Jason Bay signing official on this date in 2009. That, well, didn't work out. The same can be said, to a certain extent, about the Giants and Barry Zito, a marriage completed on this date in 2006. (Although don't tell Giants fans that.)
But the day is not a total loss. The Cardinals, on this date in 1981, signed Joaquin Andujar as a free agent. He won Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, 20 games in 1984, 21 games in 1985. Ah, free agents. If you had to describe them in one word, it would have to be "Youneverknow."
But it's not a great day for key additions. Al Simmons, purchased by the Boston Bees (before and after, the Braves) from the Washington Senators for $3,000 in 1938, never regained his Hall of Fame form. Six years earlier, a costlier purchase by the Braves, $25,000 for Shanty Hogan from the New York Giants, provided a similarly meager payout to Simmons.
The penultimate day of the year has given us some truly memorable transactions. How about Kelly Johnson, who signed with the D-backs on this day in 2009, and hit 26 home runs in 2010 at second base?
The Yankees signed Roger Clemens in 2002, who managed to win 17 games for the 2003 Yankees. Less successful was their 1995 signing on this date of Kenny Rogers. Two years of 5.11 ERA pitching followed.
But one of my favorite challenge trades in baseball history happened on this date in 1943. The Pirates traded Babe Phelps, a catcher, to the Phillies for Babe Dahlgren, a first baseman. Only one of the Babes stood up to scrutiny, with Dahlgren driving in 101 runs in 1944 and finishing 12th in the MVP voting. Phelps never played in the major leagues again. You've seen one Babe, you've seen them all? Hardly.
Just two New Year's Eves ago, the Padres brought in Carlos Quentin, trading pitching prospects Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez for the right to see Quentin hit when he occasionally stays healthy. The Indians traded three players to the Cubs for Mark DeRosa in 2008, while the Orioles signed Mark Hendrickson the same day, making Hendrickson the tallest player to ever sign a free agent deal on New Year's Eve.
Back in 1966, the Braves forgot old acquaintance Eddie Mathews, trading him, along with Sandy Alomar Sr. and Arnold Umbach, to the Astros for Dave Nicholson and Bob Bruce.
But the biggest moment in New Year's Eve baseball history, for my money, was the acquisition of Catfish Hunter, via free agency, by the New York Yankees. Five years, $3.35 million. Sure, it's roughly 20 percent of what the Phillies just guaranteed Marlon Byrd, but it was the start of the modern free agent signing.
It's also a day for players with excellent B nicknames to be on the move. There was Braggo Roth, 1915 home run champ, dealt by the Senators to the Yankees for Duffy Lewis and George Mogridge, back in 1920. (He'd been traded on December 29 the year before.) The New York Giants purchased Bump Hadley in 1940 from the Yankees. And in 1945, the Pirates decided to release Boom-Boom Beck, despite a 6-1 record and 2.14 ERA at age 40. The war was over, but Boom-Boom's career wasn't.
He toiled right through 1950 in the minor leagues.
So beware, baseball. This final week is nothing to sleep through. If you don't believe me, just ask Braggo, Bump and Boom-Boom.