This was to become a familiar story for decades: a Cubs team starts out well, flirts with first place for a month or two, then descends into the basement.
1951: no exception. Through most of April and May, the Cubs were over .500, and just 2½ games out of first place after defeating the Pirates at Wrigley May 26 to get to 18-16.
That was followed by a 4-12 stretch that panicked management into "doing something", and the something became one of the worst trades of the era. After a loss to the Dodgers at Wrigley June 15 -- which was then the trading deadline -- they sent Andy Pafko, Johnny Schmitz, Wayne Terwilliger and Rube Walker to the visitors from Brooklyn for Bruce Edwards, Joe Hatten, Gene Hermanski and Eddie Miksis.
Pafko wasn't just popular, he was probably the Cubs' second-best player (behind Hank Sauer). He'd gotten off to a bit of a slower start in '51 than his fine 1950 season. The deal was consummated after talks involving Cubs manager Frank Frisch and general manager Wid Matthews, and Dodgers vice president Buzzy Bavasi and manager Chuck Dressen. In those days managers still had some authority over, or at least input into, trades like that.
The Tribune's Edward Prell quoted Frisch on the deal:
Frisch defended the sacrifice of Pafko on the grounds that no major deal could have been made without the veteran outfielder being involved. "We had to do something," said Frisch, obviously referring to the sinking state of the club, which has lost eight of its last nine games, dropping out of early season contention to seventh place. "We hated to lose Andy -- I was crazy about him. I liked Walker, too, and that delayed the deal. To get something, you have to give up something. We needed more strength behind the plate and at second base. This Edwards will hit. I'm sure of that. Maybe we're taking a chance on Miksis, but after all he hasn't had a chance to play regularly at Brooklyn."
Frisch couldn't have been more wrong. Edwards hit .235/.313/.366 in two-plus seasons with the Cubs and was eventually sold to the Washington Senators. Gene Hermanski hit .258/.347/.335 as a part-time player; eventually he was part of a multi-player deal that landed the Cubs Ralph Kiner, so he was of some use. Joe Hatten posted a 5.51 ERA in 36 games as a Cub and was done after 1952. And Miksis was the Cubs' more-or-less regular second baseman for the next four-plus seasons, but hit just .243/.291/.334.
Meanwhile, Pafko helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series in 1952, eventually played in two more World Series for the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and 1958, and was missed by Cubs fans everywhere. The Cubs beat the Dodgers in Pafko's first game for them, 6-4 at Wrigley (Pafko homered for the Dodgers), and Pafko's comments on the deal were reported in the Tribune:
"Sure, it's all right," he said. "There's nothing wrong with going from seventh place to first place." Pafko first learned of the deal while having dinner with his wife Friday night. Andy accepted the news philosophically, but his wife broke into tears and Pafko had to spend most of the time from the hour of announcement until he reported to the Dodgers in Wrigley field yesterday trying to comfort his wife. The Pafkos insist they will continue to make their home in Chicago. Reporters with the Dodgers insist that Pafko's acquisition alone would have compensated for the four players the Cubs received. The crowd yesterday gave Pafko a big cheer when he appeared wearing No. 22 on the back of his traveling gray uniform, as the radio announcers say. Cheers mingled with boos when the Cubs took the field.
So fans booed Cubs players for making what they considered was a bad deal by management. In those days, it was likely the only way they could express such dissatisfaction. The Cubs wound up losing 92 games; it was the third time in four years they'd cracked the 90-loss mark, and the first time in franchise history they'd had five straight losing seasons.
Here's the full image of the 1951 scorecard; click on it to open a larger version in a new browser window.