Photo courtesy of ChicagoCubsFan Diana
Profile by BCB reader Chris
Put yourself in a nostalgic mood and turn back the clock to 1986. Flipping through your official Cubs yearbook, you find an ad for Eastern Airlines and plenty of pictures of Jim Frey. ("[T]hough he was disappointed with the club's fourth place finish a year ago, Jim understands there were several things which contributed to the demise of the 1984 Eastern Division championship club. Frey lost his entire five-man pitching rotation to injuries....")
On the last page is a photo of the distinguished veteran Manny Trillo, accompanied by this capsule:
"Who says you can never come home? Well, second baseman Manny Trillo is back in Cubs pinstripes for his second tour after joining the club in an off-season trade with the San Francisco Giants. Manny is one of the best-fielding Cubs second basemen in the club's history but will more than likely be used as a fill-in at third base and spot starter. The native of Venezuela holds the Major League record for consecutive errorless games (89) and errorless chances (479) by a second sacker, previously held by former Cubs second baseman Kenny Hubbs." (Both records have since been broken - by Ryne Sandberg.)
Trillo first came to the Cubs from Oakland in 1974, in a multi-player deal for Billy Williams near the end of his career. Bill James used him to illustrate that "Of the 50 top second basemen of all time, eight were basically given away by teams which had no idea of how good a player they had," essentially because of a tendency to view second basemen as failed shortstops. Initially the beneficiary of such good fortune, the Cubs ultimately made the same mistake themselves by trading Trillo to the Phillies in 1979 for no one particularly memorable. After that trade, Manny had three more All-Star seasons, and was the MVP of the 1980 National League Championship Series.
While Trillo always posted decent offensive numbers for a second baseman (at least in the era in which he played -- looking at them now, you'd probably see him as a utility player), he is mostly remembered for his defense, and it was with Chicago that he first began to demonstrate his skills. In 1977, he had his best season as a Cub, making the All-Star team while batting .280. For the sabermetrically inclined, the Baseball Encyclopedia notes that he led the league in estimated fielding range (based on assists per inning) in 1978 (with the Cubs) and in 1979 (with the Phillies).
Despite these demonstrable skills, the Rodney Dangerfield-like lack of respect apparently continued to the very end of his career. In 1983, after he was traded from the Phillies to the Indians (as part of the famous five-players-for-Von Hayes deal), Dan Coughlin wrote in (now-defunct) Inside Sports magazine that "Trillo turned out to be such a dog he couldn't pass a fireplug without lifting a leg." After a tour through the major leagues in Cleveland, Montreal and San Francisco, he eventually came home to the Cubs for three more seasons as a serviceable utility player. It is in this role that I personally remember his play, mainly through vague warblings by Harry Caray in the late innings that he was entering the game. In that role, on June 8, 1987, he beat the Mets on a two out, two-run walk-off homer. Trillo finished his career with the Reds early in the 1989 season.
Since retirement Trillo has occasionally been a hitting coach in the minor leagues, including a year in the Cub system with the team's then Midwest League affiliate Rockford Cubbies in 1998. In 2004 and 2005 he was the hitting coach for the White Sox' Double-A team at Birmingham.
Notes from Al: Trillo was one of the most popular Cubs during his first incarnation with the team in the 1970's. Always smiling, he seemed to almost stop and read the words "Offical Ball - National League" on each ground ball he scooped up before throwing it on to first base. And in the bleachers, some of the regulars made up a silly chant that you'd hear loud and clear each time he came to bat: "One-O! Two-O! Trillo!"
Well, I said it was silly.