Long before Saturday night’s grand slam by Philadelphia’s Raul Ibanez off St. Louis Cardinals reliever Octavio Dotel clinched the 2011 National League Eastern Division crown for the home Phillies, the poor late-season results by the teams employing the right-handed pitcher had been a point of discussion, and often consternation.
Specifically, during a recent radio appearance on KXnO FOX Sports Radio in Des Moines, I was asked if I knew about the curse that has fallen upon every major league team that acquired Dotel via an in-season trade.
The view is that the reliever is the patron saint of deadline deals gone bad, a player to add if a club wants to create the appearance that it is trying to close the gap, but yet, it always ends up falling short.
I admitted that I was not aware of this. I had heard of the Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the Red Sox’ “Curse of the Bambino,” which the Cardinals unfortunately helped remove in 2004. Those are team curses, not ones following individual players. Though I do recall hearing about “The Ex-Cub Factor,” Dotel has never pitched for the Baby Bears.
Dotel’s curse isn’t exactly of that magnitude. It would be a supreme understatement to call the 37-year-old former closer, now set up man “well-traveled.” Tracking his every move, let alone his teams’ results, would require some motivation – perhaps driven by a healthy dose of past disappointment.
In a 13-season career that began with the 1999 New York Mets, Dotel has worn the uniform of 12 different clubs. Of course, his most recent and current organization is the St. Louis Cardinals, which acquired the right-hander from Toronto on July 27 as part of the Colby Rasmus trade.
Actually, Dotel has appeared in the post-season three different years. It did not go well in any of them as he allowed runs in five of eight appearances for a 7.88 playoff ERA. He pitched for the Mets in his rookie year, the Astros in 2001 (the year they tied the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central) and the 2008 White Sox. Needless to say, he does not own a championship ring.
What caught my eye even more than his post-season struggles is the sponsor message plastered across Dotel’s player page at Baseball-Reference.com. It states this:
Oakland Committee to Impeach Octavio Dotel sponsor(s) this page.
Our stance is that Octavio Dotel is the worst closer of alltime and a disgrace to the Green and Gold. September 23, 2004 – the day the 2004 season really ended for Oakland.
Now, that reads like it comes from someone who still feels the pain of The Curse of Dotel, and in fact may have witnessed its origin.
Dotel had previously been traded during the season four times in his career, with St. Louis being the fifth. Likely those clubs were hoping to add an experienced bullpen arm to help put them over the top.
Just as I was warned, it never worked out as planned. None of the four prior clubs that added Dotel actually reached the playoffs. The first was none other than the 2004 A’s.
I haven’t yet seen Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” and will be in no hurry to do so. However, I do know that the 2004 season was the last hurrah of Oakland’s Big Three – Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. In my humble opinion, Billy Beane’s fame has more to do with those three than any stat ever imagined.
Cardinals fans know all too well about the latter of the three hurlers, now dispensing commentary for ESPN. Zito is still active in MLB, but only because of an albatross of a contract bestowed upon him by the Giants. Hudson is the only productive one of the three, currently wearing the uniform of the Atlanta Braves.
The 2011 Cardinals are the only one of the five acquiring teams to have been in first place at the time of the acquisition.
Octavio Dotel’s in-season trades
|Year||From||To||Division standings at trade||Standings at end*||Impact||Final result||Playoffs|
|2004||Houston||Oakland||-1 game||-1||0||91 wins – 2nd place||no|
|2007||KC||Atlanta||-3.5||-5||-1.5||84 wins – 3rd place||no|
|2010||Pittsburgh||Dodgers||-7||-11.5||-4.5||80 wins – 4th place||no|
|2010||Dodgers||Colorado||-1||-9||-8||83 wins – 3rd place||no|
|2011||Toronto||St. Louis||+0.5||-6.5||-7||TBD||3.3% chance|
* Division standings at the end of the season, when Dotel was traded away, or in the case of 2011, as of September 18.
As the table indicates, not once did Dotel’s new club gain ground in the standings after he was acquired. The “best” case was in 2004, but that failure was obviously still very clear since the A’s fell short.
Last season may have provided the most interesting twist. On July 31, the Dodgers added Dotel from the Cardinals’ divisional opponent, the Pirates, at the price of promising young starter James McDonald. Six weeks later, LA had lost four games in the standings and at 11.5 out, was all but dead and buried. At that point, the Dodgers made the unusual move of flipping Dotel to an intradivision foe, the Colorado Rockies.
From September 18, when Dotel joined the Rockies, until the end of the season, Colorado stumbled mightily, dropping from just one game behind the Giants to their final resting place of nine games out.
Here in 2011, the Cardinals were holding onto a slim, half-game lead in the National League Central when Dotel was acquired. Today, they are still grasping onto playoff chances that are sitting at 3.3 percent as of Sunday.
Certainly the Cardinals’ loss of seven games in the standings, as in all the past cases, cannot be blamed directly on the arrival of just one reliever. In fact, in his first 18 innings with the club, Dotel had actually pitched very well (2.50 ERA, 22:4 strikeout to walk ratio), even dodging his personal kryptonite, left-handed hitters (6-for-26, .231).
That was before Saturday night’s grand slam, which serves as a good reminder that until the curse is broken, who can say it does not exist?
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