I get a lot of questions about getting traded to Philadelphia in 1990, sometimes from Braves fans who tell me they were upset with the Braves just trading me away like that. Although I really appreciate the sentiment, I’ve always felt like I should kind of clarify exactly what happened. So, without getting into too many details, here’s how it went.
It was the summer of 1990, and things weren’t going that well. The previous two years (1988, 1989) hadn’t been that great either, honestly. The team was struggling, I was struggling. I saw some potential in a few of our young pitchers (like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine), but other than that I didn’t have much of a sense for where the Braves were heading. I talked to Nancy a lot about how frustrated I was and started to realize it might be time for me to move on. There had been trade rumors off and on through the mid-80’s (and even up through ’88 or so—the Mets were one team that always seemed to be mentioned) but I never paid much attention to them because, quite honestly, I could never see myself leaving the Braves. But by the end of the decade, that had changed. I started feeling kind of excited at the prospects of going to a new team. I wondered whether a change of scenery would rejuvenate me, and my career. At the same time, I was aware of what can happen when a long-time player has some success with one team and sticks around longer than he should: production eventually falls off and the team is left with the uncomfortable task of figuring out whether to renew his contract (even though his best years may well be behind him) or release him (usually against popular opinion.) The Braves had done so much for me through the years that I just didn’t want to put them in that position. And it can be equally awkward for the player himself, not knowing whether he can contribute enough to make it really worth keeping him. I sure didn’t want to wait around to find out what that felt like, so I decided it was time to get the ball rolling.
So I went in and talked to Bobby Cox that August. I told him that, with free agency coming up in a few months, I was thinking it might be time for me to move on. More specifically, I told him I was planning to leave as a free agent that winter but that if they wanted to try to trade me immediately I’d consider it (I had the right to either accept or reject any proposed trade since I’d been in the league for awhile with the same team.) I wanted the Braves to explore the possibility of getting something out of the situation, instead of me just leaving them as a free agent.
Soon after this discussion with Bobby, my agent called and told me the Phillies were interested. They had made a trade offer the Braves were willing to accept, and they would renew my contract with an additional two years guaranteed. Nancy and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to transition our eight children to a new city, but going to Philadelphia looked like a great option for us. Not only were the Phillies headed in a strong direction (in just three years, they would go to the World Series, in fact), but accepting a trade would also make it possible for me to avoid all the uncertainty of the free-agent process. So, with that, I accepted the trade.
The basic point I want to make here is that I actually initiated the trade—not the Braves. I hope this clarifies the issue for some folks who, occasionally even today, tell me they’re upset with Bobby and/or with the Braves for sending me to Philadelphia. What most people don’t know is that, even without the trade, I would have become a free-agent that winter and ended up somewhere besides Atlanta. It definitely wasn’t easy to make the move to the Phillies and the fact that the Braves went to the World Series the next year didn’t make it any easier. Still, I was glad I did it. It was time. I had a great experience with the Phillies. And as demanding as the Philadelphia fans could sometimes be, I really enjoyed playing for them and wish I could have performed better. My family and I were always treated well by the Phillies organization and we’ll always appreciate the friendships we made while we were there.
On a side note, I can’t tell you how weird it was to put on a new uniform after so many years wearing Braves blue. I’ll never forget stepping into the batter’s box for the first time at Veteran’s Stadium. I started getting into my stance, and then looked down to tap the plate to find RED shoes and RED stirrups staring back at me. Those new colors definitely took some getting used to.
I can’t leave this subject without saying one more thing. No matter where the years have taken Nancy and I and our kids, no matter how much we have enjoyed other places we have lived and the people we have known, there’s no two ways about it: Atlanta will always feel like home and I’ll always be a Brave.