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Thread: The Lee May Trade

  1. #1
    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    The Lee May Trade

    With Lee May being inducted into the Reds HOF this weekend, it got me thinking about the blockbuster trade between the Reds and Astros following the 1971 season. We all remember we got integral parts of the later Big Red Machine, but we sometimes overlook what we gave up. Frankly, it was a trade that was not as terribly unbalanced as some usually think.

    The Reds sent Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Astros in exchange for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, Jack Billingham and Ed Armbruster.

    In 1971 Lee Mayhad batted .278 with 85 Runs, 154 Hits, 17 Doubles, 39 Homers, and 98 RBI. IIRC, he was selected as the Reds team MVP that year. He had been a two time All Star and batted .389 with 2 HR's an 8 RBI in the 1970 Series. Tommy Helms, also a two time All Star, with 2 Gold Gloves had been the 1966Rookie of the Year. He had batted .258 with 26 Doubles and 52 RBI's. Jimmy Stewart was a journeyman utilityman who had averaged 100 games in his three years with the Reds playing 1B, 2B, 3B, OF and even caught in one game. As an aside, he went on in his post career to be a scout for the Reds. I think he even headed up the scouting department at one point.

    Up to 1971, Joe Morgan had appeared in 2 All Star games for the Astros, but had not been awarded any Gold Gloves. Cesar Geronimo was not an All Star and had no Gold Gloves with the Astros (surprisingly, Geronimo never played in an All Star game in his career - clearly his forte was not offense, but still, that did surprise me). Denis Menke had been an All Star in 1969 and 1970 and had played every infield position during his previous seasons with the Astros. Jack Billingham had a record of 32-31 in his four seasons with Houston. Ed Armbruster was a minor leaguer at the time, one of only five players in ML history from the Bahamas (the only Red) and would have his most famous moment laying down a bunt and colliding with Carlton Fisk, perhaps the second most famous play in what some consider the best Series ever.

    Lee May would hit 81 homers with 288 RBI's in his four seasons with Houston and would finish with a fairly decent career that compares with the likes of George Foster, Willie Horton, Joe Adcock and Don Baylor. Tommy Helms would have 70 Doubles in his four seasons there and had a career high batting average of .287 in 1973.

    Of course, Morgan would go on to win two MVP's, 5 Gold Gloves and play in three World Series with the Reds (and one more with Philly) and enter the HOF. Geronimo would win four Gold Gloves while playing in the same three WS as Morgan. Billingham won 19 games twice and finished 87-63 in his career with the Reds. Menke was a decent as a utility player with the Reds for two years before returning to the Astros for one final season (he was one of many former Braves to play for the Reds in the early 70's) and, Armbruster, of course played five years with the Reds and is known in Boston as "that ******* Armbruster".

    Clearly the Reds got the better end of the deal, but what Houston got was not shabby.

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  3. #2
    Member cumberlandreds's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    IIRC this was a very controversial trade. May and Helms were very popular players. May was the 1971 teams top slugger while Helms was a steady defensive player. Morgan had never done anything spectacular and was considered by some a malcontent. Billingham had been a non-descript pitcher and didn't look like a 19 game winner. Geronimo was unproven and not expected to be a contributor and Menke was considered a fill in to take 3rd base since Perez was moving to 1st to take May's place. Bob Howsam was widely criticized for this trade but proved to be his most shrewd move while GM of the Reds. I could only wonder the big meltdown of Redzone today if a trade like this would happen.
    Reds Fan Since 1971

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    Member Spitball's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Quote Originally Posted by redsmetz
    With Lee May being inducted into the Reds HOF this weekend, it got me thinking about the blockbuster trade between the Reds and Astros following the 1971 season. We all remember we got integral parts of the later Big Red Machine, but we sometimes overlook what we gave up. Frankly, it was a trade that was not as terribly unbalanced as some usually think.

    The Reds sent Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Astros in exchange for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Denis Menke, Jack Billingham and Ed Armbruster.
    For a "What were you doing when you found out about..." moment, this trade ranks with the Kennedy assasination and Elvis's death. I was a freshman in college and I'd always pick up a The Boston Globe first thing every morning. At the time, this trade sounded like pure insanity on the Reds part. I was wrong for the first time and last time in my life (Hey, I was a freshman).

    RedsMetz, I believe the Reds did give up alot, but this trade really shows Bob Howsam's genius. He should be in the Hall of Fame.
    "I am your child from the future. I'm sorry I didn't tell you this earlier." - Dylan Easton

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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Bob Howsam's legacy was set with this trade.
    If you think small, you'll go nowhere in life.

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    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Hindsight shows it was a very lopsided trade based on what these players did after the trade. At the time of the deal it looked equal but the production of those 3 players Houston received paled in comparison to the 5 players Cincinnati received. The reason being, in a nutshell, the Reds got players on the way up and Houston got players who had already peaked and were on the decline.

  7. #6
    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Lee May would hit 81 homers with 288 RBI's in his four seasons with Houston and would finish with a fairly decent career that compares with the likes of George Foster, Willie Horton, Joe Adcock and Don Baylor
    These stats support the notion that Houston got hosed. Joe Morgan equaled Lee May's HR production of 81 and he surpassed May's RBI total as little Joe amassed 316 in the first four years after the trade. This does not even take into account Joe's 5th year with the Reds, his MVP year of 1976 or his numerous Gold Gloves, SBs and other intangibles he contributed. This only takes into account one player for one player. Throw in a 19 game winner and you've got a hugely lopsided trade.

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    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    RedsMetz, I believe the Reds did give up alot, but this trade really shows Bob Howsam's genius. He should be in the Hall of Fame.
    Apparently I didn't state my post well enough. I was trying to say the Reds did give up some significant players. It's only retrospect that it's clear that Houston got "hosed" as one other poster stated. And, I think particularly May and Helms were decent players for the Astros. They Astros finished second to the Reds in 1972 (albeit 10.5 games back) and had the misfortune of playing in the NL West which had some stellar teams over those early 70's years.

    But, yes, we were giving up a lot. I didn't mention this, but we gave up three players and got four players back. One was the ROY five years prior, the other was our team MVP. And as others correctly noted, the trade was not initially accepted in Cincinnati.

    My purpose was to tip our hats to both Lee May and Tommy Helms, two very good players in their day. And obviously a hat should be tipped to Big Bob Howsam, perhaps his best trade.

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    Member chicoruiz's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Of course May's stats were hurt by the move (81 dingers in four years in the Dome is pretty darn good) and Billingham's won-lost record is aided just a wee bit by the offenses he had behind him. Still a heckuva deal; I always assumed Morgan must have expressed the wrong opinion to the wrong person and been labeled as "difficult".
    "In baseball, you don't know nothin'"...Yogi Berra

  10. #9
    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Quote Originally Posted by chicoruiz
    Of course May's stats were hurt by the move (81 dingers in four years in the Dome is pretty darn good) and Billingham's won-lost record is aided just a wee bit by the offenses he had behind him. Still a heckuva deal; I always assumed Morgan must have expressed the wrong opinion to the wrong person and been labeled as "difficult".
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    Be the ball Roy Tucker's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Helms was one of those scrappy players I loved as a kid. But when I went back and looked at his stats a few years back, I said "ugh". The guy couldn't buy a walk and had zero power. His Reds era BA/OBP/SLG numbers:

    1966 .284 .315 .380
    1967 .274 .305 .356
    1968 .288 .305 .363
    1969 .269 .296 .317
    1970 .237 .262 .282
    1971 .258 .289 .325

    And each year was ~500 ABs.

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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Quote Originally Posted by chicoruiz
    I always assumed Morgan must have expressed the wrong opinion to the wrong person and been labeled as "difficult".
    maybe the Houston GM enjoyed reading Moneyball?

  13. #12
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    I always assumed Morgan must have expressed the wrong opinion to the wrong person and been labeled as "difficult".
    Harry Walker's brother was Dixie Walker.. so yes there was some tension between Morgan and Walker on a generational and geographical plane.

    Especially considering that Joe also used "walks" to fuel his game and Harry came for the era that only mostly only big guys walked.

    Cesar was the guy that Howsam almost busted the deal if he didn't get, they loved his stride and with the Reds on carpet the need for team speed was greater then the need for power, Howsam saw into the future in the best way, he saw the Reds need for speed and the need for a true CF and he saw that the carpet would eat up Helms more then Morgan, moving Perez to 1st saved the defense and he fed this all by exploiting Houstons need for power.

  14. #13
    Redsmetz redsmetz's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    Westofyou wrote ...he fed this all by exploiting Houstons need for power.
    And May most certainly was hurt, I think, by the home run eating Astrodome.

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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    but May homered off Eddie Watt

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    Member RedsFan75's Avatar
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    Re: The Lee May Trade

    At the time I absolutely HATED this deal. Lee May was not only popular, but he was my favorite player. I could almost mimic his swing!

    In retrospect, it was a great trade but I was highly upset at the time. I just had to shift my allegience to Bench after that!


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