Lou Brock For Ernie Broglio: 50 Years Ago

Lou Brock poses at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1962 - Getty Images

It's the golden anniversary of a trade that was golden for the Cardinals... not so much for the Cubs.

Lou Brock was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio (several other players were involved, but those were the principals) on June 15, 1964. The actual 50th anniversary of this deal comes up Sunday, but I wanted to post this today, as more of you are likely here on a Friday than on a weekend.

You already know "Brock for Broglio" -- it's become almost code in modern baseball for a trade that's about as lopsided as one can be. Here's a look at this trade, why it was made at the time it was made, and how it appeared to players and media of the time.

First, note that the major-league trading deadline in 1964 was the very day they made this swap, June 15. The reason the deadline was so early in the season -- the Cubs had played just 54 games at the time -- is lost to history. I'm not 100 percent sure when it was extended to July 31, either; the Rick Sutcliffe deal in 1984 was also made at that time of year (June 13), so the June 15 date was in effect at least that long. Thus, the Cubs, thinking that getting one more starting pitcher would put them "over the top" in 1964, pulled the trigger on the Brock deal on the last day they could possibly do so.

Richard Dozer of the Tribune reported about three weeks before the deal, in the May 26 edition of the paper, that the Cubs and Cardinals were talking about swapping Brock for a pitcher... but not Broglio:

The Tribune has learned that the Cubs and Cardinals are close to making a deal, possibly involving Lou Brock, Chicago's powerful, fast and sometimes erratic right fielder. 

General Manager John Holland of the Cubs admitted yesterday that the Cubs are closer to dealing with the Cardinals than anyone, despite the fact that they would like to obtain Cincinnati's Joey Jay. The asking price for Jay is likely more than the Cubs can give up -- probably Lindy McDaniel.

It was learned that the Cubs have sought Ray Sadecki, but a proposed deal involving Brock and this Cardinal southpaw was stalled by the reluctance of someone in the St. Louis front office. Sadecki, in whom the Cardinals invested a big bonus, won 10 and lost 10 last year.

Well then. Jay, who was almost exactly the same age as Broglio, had pitched in two World Series (1958 with the Braves, 1961 with the Reds) and had finished fifth in MVP voting in 1961. He had gotten off to a mediocre start in 1963 and appears to have had similar arm troubles to Broglio, as his career began to go downhill in 1964. Like Broglio, he was out of the major leagues after 1966.

Ray Sadecki? Well... that would have been a much better deal for the Cubs. Sadecki, who, as noted, had been signed to a big bonus in that pre-draft era, was in the Cardinals' rotation and pitching reasonably well at age 19, in 1959. By 1964 he was a mainstay there, and had been off to a decent start. This game, in which Sadecki threw a complete-game win over the Cubs, might have piqued Holland's interest. Remember, the Cubs were pretty cheap in those days and didn't do much scouting, so it might have taken a game against the Cubs for management to notice an opposing player.

Sadecki won 20 games (back when 20 wins really meant something) in 1964, helping the Cardinals to the pennant, and had several more good years for the Giants and Mets, pitching until 1977. Clearly, he would have been a better choice in the Brock deal than Broglio. Holland should have held out for him.

Here's one more reason the Cubs made this trade, beyond the fact that they were frustrated witb Brock's "erratic" outfield play, as noted by Dozer. The Cubs had briefly contended in 1963, for the first time in years, and finished over .500 for the first time since 1946. Young players Ron Santo and Billy Williams were beginning to come into their prime years, and Dick Ellsworth had posted a monster season in 1963, winning 22 games with a 2.10 ERA. Management obviously felt that one more starting pitcher, to add to a rotation that included solid starters Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, could put them into serious contention.

But the Cubs got off to a poor start in 1964. On May 26 -- the very day Dozer's scoop appeared in the Tribune -- the Cubs were demolished 19-1 by the Mets at Wrigley Field. Remember that the Mets were still a laughingstock in those days, on their way to what would be the third of four straight years of 109 or more losses. It was the most runs the Mets had scored in a game to that date in their franchise history -- by five. It would take them seven more years to break that mark.

That embarrassing loss dropped the Cubs to a 14-21 record in a year they had hoped to be real pennant contenders. Under the Wrigleys, management had previously overreacted when those kinds of things happened, and it appears that's exactly what sent John Holland to the phones to try to trade someone -- anyone, really -- to try to right the ship. It's somewhat akin to the bizarre trade of Andy Pafko in 1951, a year when the Cubs actually got off to a decent 17-14 start, then lost 14 of their next 19. Pafko, popular and productive, was shipped in an eight-player deal to the Dodgers for no one of consequence. I wrote more about the Pafko deal in the BCB Cubs history series in 2012.

The Brock deal is similar in that the Cubs were even more panicked in 1964 than in 1951 about trying to do something, anything, to contend. It's different in that they clearly didn't realize what they had in Brock. He was leading the team in stolen bases at the time of the deal, but Cubs management hadn't gotten on the stolen-base train that was revolutionizing the game in the 1960s. If not for outfielder Billy Cowan stealing a couple of bases in consecutive games in August, Brock's 10 steals would have led the Cubs in 1964. Brock would go on to steal 70 or more bases three times in his career; the Cubs didn't steal more than 78 bases as a team until 1978.

Anyway, the Cubs had more or less righted the ship by June 15, 1964. The previous day, they had defeated the Pirates 5-2 to even their record at 27-27 -- meaning they'd won 13 of 19, a pretty good run. Brock homered in that game, in what would turn out to be his final official at-bat for the Cubs. (I say "official," because that was supposed to be the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, Brock homered again, in his first at-bat, but the game was rained out after two innings, so no stats from the contest counted.)

After that win, the Cubs stood in sixth place in the National League, but just 5½ games out of first place. Brock had begun to hit a bit better: .298/.327/.383 in the last 11 games he'd play as a Cub (14-for-47 with five stolen bases). The slugging percentage is one of the clues to the trade. Cubs management was always trying to mess with Brock's swing, to turn him into a power hitter like his teammate Billy Williams. It didn't help that Brock hit a home run into the center field bleachers at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1962, one of just four players (Hank Aaron was one of the others) to accomplish that feat. Cubs management salivated over the possibility of another lefty power hitter to join Williams. But homers weren't Brock's primary skillset -- he hit just 149 home runs in his career.

Most of the writers of the time praised this deal -- for the Cubs. So did Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who was quoted (and called "outspoken", a precursor of things to come) in a Tribune article that said he was "jubilant," quoted him as saying, "I just couldn't believe it," when hearing about the deal, and:

Santo's comment reflected a general feeling among the Cubs that Chicago definitely got the best end of the deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, which involved five other players.

"I've been with this club for five years now, and I've never had the feeling before that we could go all the way. With our pitching staff now, we can win the pennant."

Whether the Cardinals knew that Broglio was "damaged goods" at the time of the trade is still an open question. According to an article by George Castle at the Chicago Baseball Museum, Broglio's elbow didn't show signs of trouble until after the trade:

The first physical manifestation of Broglio’s elbow problems took place Aug. 23, 1964, more than two months after the trade, in New York. Broglio woke up in his hotel room complaining his elbow had "locked up." In response, roommate Joey Amalfitano decided to play comedian by tossing Broglio the room key. Broglio flew back to Chicago to be examined. He did not pitch again until Sept. 1. 

A few days before the elbow locked, Broglio was handled in barbaric fashion by Cubs head coach Bob Kennedy. In an Aug. 17 start, Broglio was routed in a 2 2/3-inning start in Philadelphia. The next night, faced with a spent pitching staff in a long game, Kennedy summoned Broglio to finish the game with a one-inning outing in the 16th inning. The back-to-back outings could not have helped whatever deterioration was going on in Broglio’s elbow.

It's pretty clear, from our viewpoint 50 years later, that Broglio likely had a UCL tear -- the injury that in modern baseball sends pitchers to have Tommy John surgery. But that surgery wouldn't be invented until 10 years later, and medicine didn't even have a proper way to diagnose such injuries in 1964.

The 1964 Cubs were reeling after the offseason death of Ken Hubbs in a plane crash. Hubbs was supposed to be another of the group of young players that included Santo, Williams and Brock, who could have been a "core four" that would help lead the team to pennants in the 1960s. Instead, Brock was shipped off to a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis and the Cubs would finish 76-86 in 1964, six games worse than their 1963 performance.

Thus it was panic, bad judgment about a player on their own roster and the wrong choice of player in return that doomed this trade for the Cubs. Had Holland held out for Ray Sadecki, he'd still have swapped a Hall of Fame player to the Cardinals, but at least would likely have gotten a better pitcher in return. Not only would the Cubs' pitching staff actually have been better in 1964, but the Cardinals' would have been worse, and remember, St. Louis won the pennant that year on the season's final day, after an epic collapse by the Phillies. Footnote: had the Mets been able to defeat the Cardinals on the last day of the 1964 season, it would have produced baseball's first three-way tie for a postseason spot, as the Phillies and Reds wound up tied for second place, one game behind St. Louis. But the Cardinals won the game 11-5, clinching the pennant.

And 50 years later, the Cubs are still waiting for what Santo thought they had locked up when instead they had made the worst trade in franchise history.

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