The Greatest Outfield That Almost Was

In the mid-1980s, the Montreal Expos were in danger of losing two-thirds of their outfield. Both Andre Dawson and Tim Raines were free agents after the 1986 season. They were All-Stars, two of the best players in the National League, with speed, power, and defense. They should have been the darlings of the free agent season, but neither got an offer. We now know the reason: collusion.

Peter Ueberroth was the worst commissioner baseball has ever had, which is saying something considering the collection of boobs and racists who have held that position. At any rate, Ueberroth presided over an infamous meeting after the 1986 season, where he suggested to owners that they should stop paying outrageous sums of money for ballplayers. Ueberroth convinced the owners that they were hurting each other by driving up salaries. He outlined a strategy that demanded 100 percent participation. Urged by Pesky Pete, the owners agreed to not bid on free agents from other teams.

Dawson and Raines discussed the possibility of signing with the same team. Dawson wanted to go to a team that played on grass, Raines wanted to get paid like one of baseball’s superstars, which he was. Their agents had conversations with the Braves’ owner Ted Turner, and a tentative deal was drawn up that would have resulted in both players signing with Atlanta. The Braves were broadcast across the country via superstation TBS, and the prospect of both Dawson and Raines on TV almost every night prompted Turner to drool all over his bushy mustache. But then Ueberroth stepped in with his plan. The Braves stopped talking to Dawson and Raines, and the deal died.

Had the Braves signed the two Expos’ outfielders, their outfield would have been Raines in left, Dale Murphy in center, and Dawson in right. They would have played together in a tiny home run friendly ballpark. All three were still under 32 years of age, all three had several years ahead of them. They were all great defensive outfielders, all three could run and hit for power. They could have been the greatest outfield in baseball history. That’s what Peter Ueberroth took from us: the chance to see three great players, two future Hall of Famers and another who probably should be, play together in the same outfield.

Instead, Dawson gave the Cubs a blank check and asked them to write a number on it, just so he could play somewhere with grass under his feet. Raines withered on the vine, failing to get an offer from anyone. The winter passed, spring training passed, and the season started with Raines in civilian clothes. The rules dictated that he had to wait a month and could only negotiate with Montreal. He came back and batted .330 with 18 home runs, 50 stolen bases, 90 walks, and 123 runs. One of his best seasons. The owners colluded again in 1987, but eventually they got caught and paid nearly half a billion to the players as a penalty.

4 thoughts on “The Greatest Outfield That Almost Was”

  1. Hey Dan – I always enjoy your writing, especially at VintageDetroit.com. You highlight a lot of history that others have forgotten, like the recent article on Donnie Bush. I thought I would share something I researched out recently… kind of an odd topic, but it’s baseball related and was interesting to me. After Al Kaline died, a lot was made of the fact that he played for one team his whole career. As you know, it’s fairly rare… even players who are highly identified with one team often played for another at the beginning of their career (Ryne Sandberg had six at-bats for the Philles in 1981 before spending 15 years with the Cubs) or finished with another team (Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Hank Greenberg pop to mind). You’ve done a number of all-time teams… so I wondered what an All-Time, always a Tiger team would look like. This is what I got: Best all time Tigers team of players who played for Detroit their whole careers.
    1B Mickey Stanley
    2B Charlie Gehringer
    SS Alan Trammell
    3B Lou Whitaker
    LF Pat Mullin
    CF Bobby Higginson
    RF Al Kaline
    C Bill Freehan
    DH Gates Brown
    Starting Pitcher – Tommy Bridges
    Starting Pitcher –Fred Hutchinson
    Starting Pitcher – Hooks Dauss
    Relief – Vic Sorrell
    Closer John Hiller
    Reserve – Larry Woodall

    As I looked into it further, I realized there aren’t a lot of teams who could field a whole team like this. I thought you might find it interesting… maybe even worth a mention in a future article. Keep up the good writing!

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for dropping a note. I appreciate your faithful readership.

      Your idea for an all-time team is interesting. I haven’t examined it, but I imagine it IS difficult to construct a team this way. On your team I may flip Kaline to center, since he actually played there for a few seasons, and I don’t think Higgy did. On third basemen, is there anyone who could fit in there? I know Sweet Lou could have handled it, that’s for sure. But I am drawing a blank on anyone in Tigers history who was primarily a third baseman and spent their entire career wearing the Old English D.

      How about the Yankees?

      C: Thurman Munson
      1B: Lou Gehrig
      2B: Bobby Richardson
      SS: Derek Jeter
      3B: Gil McDougald
      LF: Roy White
      CF: Joe DiMaggio
      RF: Mickey Mantle
      DH: Don Mattingly

      SP: Ron Guidry
      SP: Whitey Ford
      SP: Mel Stottlemyre
      SP: Spud Chandler
      RP: Mariano Rivera

      Not too shabby.

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