If you recognize that name, congratulations. You know your Twins! If not, you’re either too young to have watched the team in the ‘70s, or else you’re a bandwagon Twins fan (hahaha, just kidding about the last part – after a 99 loss season there are no bandwagon Twins fans left). Twins expert or not, though, all baseball fans should take some time to appreciate the Goltz saga, because he’s a perfect example of a blockbuster free agent gone bad.
In baseball, one team’s treasure is often another team’s trash, and Dave Goltz is a perfect example of this mixed up cliché. Fansided’s Dodger site, Lasorda’s Lair, has named Goltz the 8th biggest “L.A. Dodger Bum” of all time. I recommend that you check it out, because it’s worth a chuckle. Before I read that post I did not know that the Pelican Rapids native Goltz cost the Dodgers a playoff berth in 1980 when he lost Game 163 for them. I’ll consider that partial payback for the travesty of 1965.
Goltz was a pretty good pitcher in the 1970s for Minnesota. He claimed a spot with the team as a 23 year old in 1972, pitching alongside Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven and near Hall of Famer Jim Kaat (Retire #36!). Something must’ve rubbed off on Goltz, because after those guys left he became the best pitcher by far on some shaky Twins staffs. His best years were 1977, when he won 20 games to complement Rod Carew’s monster year at the plate, and 1978, when he went 15-10 with a shiny 2.49 ERA.
Looking at his numbers, Goltz was positively Buehrle-esque. He won double digits pretty much every year for the Twins, and his ERAs usually stayed under 4.00, despite underwhelming strikeout totals. While with the Twins, Goltz never had a K/9 rate above 5.5 (it was a different era back then; in 1972, for example, AL pitchers averaged 5.5 strikeouts per nine as opposed to 6.9 today). But he could eat up the innings, and he topped 300 in that 20 win season in ’77.
I guess that wasn’t enough to satisfy Goltz, though, and in 1980 he departed to sunny Southern California, presumably to begin his second career as a movie star. Hollywood didn’t return his calls, but the Dodgers did. They signed him to a cool $3 million, six year contract (coincidentally, the same amount the Red Sox just offered to Nick Punto for a third as many years). That really was a lot of money to pay a baseball player back then.
Goltz’s career was over four years and about 400 innings later. He apparently hit a wall in his 30s, and he never had the success on the mound that he had enjoyed in the Gopher State. But in addition to a fatter wallet and a nicer tan, he got a World Series ring out of the deal, thanks to the 1981 Dodgers. Goltz went 2-7 for that team. His 4.09 ERA wasn’t horrible by modern standards, but again, it was a different era. He reunited with Carew in 1982, when he signed with the Angels after the Dodgers dropped him less than a month into the season. One of those two played four more productive seasons and earned a Hall of Fame induction. The other was out of baseball after 1983.
We can all learn a lesson from the Dave Goltz story. The one I take away is that signing free agents to big contracts isn’t always such a wonderful idea. The Dodgers paid Goltz for his past performance, not his future ability. He was 30 years old when they signed him, which isn’t old, but it’s an age where most baseball players don’t get markedly better. And 1979 had been his worst year as a Twin (14-13, 4.16 ERA), so there might have been some sign that he was on a downslope.
Learning from Goltz’s example, perhaps teams should value youth and ability over experience and win totals when evaluating expensive free agents. Have they learned that lesson in the past 32 years? Outlook not so good. The Marlins just dumped $58 million on the nearly 33 year old Mark Buehrle (enough to sign Goltz 19 times over), while 28 year old flamethrower Edwin Jackson remains jobless.
Sure, those are just individual examples, and not necessarily any sort of trend. I would definitely not advise using Goltz as the basis of an overarching theory of free agency. But it’s something to think about.