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On This Date in Sports July 31, 1997

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In one of the biggest deals ever at the trade deadline, the Oakland Athletics trade Mark McGwire who is leading the American League with 34 home runs to the St. Louis Cardinals. The A’s would receive little in return as T. J. Mathews, Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein never made an impact in Oakland. McGwire would hit 24 long balls over the last two months in St. Louis, and finish the season with 58 home runs.

The baseball trade deadline was first established in 1920 to prevent teams who were out of the race from trading or selling players to first division clubs on the way to the World Series. In the later part of teens, teams would often have a working relationship with other teams such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, which resulted in the sale of Babe Ruth. In 1923 Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis established June 15th as the non-waiver trade deadline, meaning any player traded had to pass through waivers where he could be claimed by any team before being traded during the end of the season. June 15th remained the trade deadline until 1986 when it was changed by a new collective bargaining agreement to July 31st. A later deadline, now made the trade deadline a red-letter date on the baseball calendar as teams in contention aggressively sought to add that final piece for a postseason run, while teams looking to rebuild sought prospects to replenish their farm system. It is also became an opportunity for teams with pending free agents to get nothing for a player they knew they were not going to resign. This created the concept of the rental player where a free agent had a chance to play for a World Series and then cash in on a big contract.

On the fringe of the playoff race before the Mark McGwire trade, the deal did little to improve the Cardinals playoff hopes. The Cardinals, in fact, struggled over the final two months and finished in fourth place in the Central Division with a record of 73-89. When the trade first was announced it was assumed the deal was just a rental. However, the Cardinals were able to work out a contract extension, with the slugging first baseman setting the stage for his historic 1998. Mark McGwire would create headlines in St. Louis with his record 70-home run season, though after it was revealed he used steroids it certainly tarnished the accomplishment. Mark McGwire would play with the Cardinals for the remainder of his career, retiring following the 2001 season with 583 career home runs.

The three prospects sent to the Oakland Athletics for Mark McGwire never had much of an impact. T.J. Mathews, compiled a 24-15 record with a 4.78 in parts of five seasons pitching out of the bullpen. Eric Ludwick finished the 1997 season with a 1-4 record with the A’s before being traded in the off-season to the Florida Marlins for Kurt Abbott. While, Blake Stein spent a year and a half with the Athletics, posting a record of 5-9 with an ERA of 6.60 before being traded to the Kansas City Royals for Kevin Appier.