Grading the General Managers: Paul Richards (1967-’72)

It’s a good thing Paul Richards wasn’t a very active GM, as most of his trades were busts. One of his first deals, in December 1967, sent Bobby Cox to the Yanks for Bob Tillman and Dale Roberts.

A few months earlier, Richards made an inexplicable trade with the Astros, swapping SS Denis Menke and P Denny LeMaster for SS Sonny Jackson and a young first baseman, Chuck Harrison, who never played for the Braves. Jackson was a decent fielder but compiled only a .606 OPS in 7 years in Atlanta; Menke was a two-time All-Star who drove in 182 runs from 1969-70. LeMaster had two above-average seasons in Houston’s rotation.

In June ’68, Richards dealt stud reliever Clay Carroll to the Reds (along with Tony Cloninger and Woody Woodward) for Milt Pappas and a couple of afterthoughts. Pappas was effective down the stretch in ’68 but mediocre thereafter. Carroll made two All-Star teams with the Reds and retired in ’78 with a 2.94 ERA and 143 saves.

Prior to the ’69 season, Richards engineered a blockbuster, sending Joe Torre to the Cards for Orlando Cepeda. Slight edge to St. Louis here, as Torre was named MVP in ’71, batting .363 with 24 HR and 137 RBI. Cha Cha was no slouch in Atlanta, hitting .305 with 34 homers and 111 RBI for the ’70 Bravos, but Torre put up better numbers over a longer period in St. Louis.

Richards also swapped Mickey Rivers for 47-year-old reliever Hoyt Wilhelm. The knuckleballer helped the ’69 division winners down the stretch and was solid in ’70, but Mick the Quick hit .295 and stole 267 bases over a 15-year career spent mostly with the Yankees.

Richards’ made perhaps his biggest blunder in 1971, releasing Luis Tiant, whom he had signed to a minor league deal one month earlier. The former Cleveland ace was then claimed off the waiver wire by Boston, where he’d win 122 games through 1978.

Clete Boyer was also released in ’71 after feuding with Richards and manager Luman Harris. In his last 9 games as a Brave, the slick-fielding third sacker clubbed 5 HRs and 14 RBIs.

Richards’ last big move, acquiring Denny McLain for Cepeda, was another head-scratcher. The Baby Bull would go on to post one last solid season, for the ’73 BoSox, while McLain had a 6.50 ERA in Atlanta, where his  career would come to  an end.

Though he had a respectable managerial run (923 wins with the Orioles and White Sox), Richards’ impatience with young talent cost the team through much of the 1970s. So did poor drafts; only one of Richards’ first-round draft picks made the majors (Taylor Duncan), though not with the Braves.

Grade: D+

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4 thoughts on “Grading the General Managers: Paul Richards (1967-’72)

  1. Have to dispute Sonny Jackson was a good fielder.
    My main memory of his was throwing the ball over the first base
    dugout frequently.

  2. When Eddie Mathews got traded, he found out about it from a reporter. Then Richards sent him a letter of apology, in which he misspelled Eddie’s name several times. When Billy Hitchcock got fired, he found out the same way.

    Richards was not exactly a class act.

  3. As I recall, the reasoning for the Jackson trade was to get a speedy, slick-fielding shortstop who could bat at the top of the lineup for several years. The trade didn’t look as awful when it was made as it turned out to be. (And don’t forget Menke — whose name I can’t say without thinking of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clousseau — was subsequently part of the package the Astros sent to the Reds, along with Jack Billingham, César Gerónimo, Ed Armbrister and some guy named Morgan for Tommy Helms, Lee May and fading leading man Jimmy Stewart.) As for the Pappas trade, I don’t think Richards appreciated what he had in Clay Carroll, because he expected starting pitchers to throw complete games, but Cloninger was pretty much done a couple of years before the Braves moved him, and Woodward was pretty much the same good-field, no-hit middle infielder he’d been with the Braves.
    I will defend Richards’ acquisition of Hoyt Wilhelm though. Yeah, Mickey Rivers went on to have a nice career, but the Braves probably don’t win the division in 1969 without picking up Wilhelm, and to get a key player for the stretch run, you often have to sacrifice talent. The Braves realized their short-term goal, and the Angels achieved a longer-term one, so I’d call it a good trade for both sides.

  4. Widely known throughout Baseball as a real dildo. The Mathews story is one of many such tales.

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