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Strange but true: Astros’ trade war with Montreal over Donn Clendenon

It was Jan. 22, 1969, when the Astros and the newly formed Montreal Expos made a major deal. What happened after that is hard to believe.

HOUSTON — What’s better than playing for the Astros? Almost anything, apparently, according to guys named Donn and Rusty.

It was Jan. 22, 1969, when the Astros and the newly formed Montreal Expos made a major deal. The Expos sent first baseman Donn Clendenon and another player to Houston for Rusty Staub.

But a month later, Clendenon, who was 32, decided to retire to become an executive at Scipto, a pen company. He also believed Astros manager Harry Walker was a racist.

After Clendenon's retirement, the Astros demanded that Staub be returned, but Staub said at the time that he’d rather quit than play for Houston again.

The Astros protested to MLB.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that the trade stands. Staub stayed in Montreal and the teams could rework the deal.

The Astros were furious. Owner Roy Hofnheiz allegedly threatened to buy the pen company just so he could fire Clendenon. The team also filed a federal lawsuit to void the trade.

“You don’t go to an auto dealer and settle for half a car,” Walker said.

Three weeks later, Clendenon decided to play. Montreal again offered him to Houston but the Astros didn't want him, instead, settling for two pitchers. The team also dropped the lawsuit.

The eventual winner of this trade war was Clendenon. He was later dealt to New York, where he helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series.

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