The Cubs’ winning season of 1963 turned out to be more of a blip than a turn of the tides, as they returned to their unfortunate losing ways in 1964.
Standing: 8th in the National League
Manager: Bob Kennedy
Likely the most memorable thing from then 1964 season was the ill-fated trade between the Cubs and the Cardinals, in which the Cubs traded (among others) outfielder Lou Brock to the Cards for pitcher Ernie Broglio. Broglio had a decent enough 1964 season, with a 4.04 ERA and an unfortunate losing record, but of course Brock went on to become a Hall of Famer with the Cardinals. If you have any older Cubs fans in your life (or are one) the sting of this trade is probably still lingering.
If we want to look at the positives of the year, Ernie Banks bounced back from a down season, and Ron Santo and Billy Williams both had averages over .300. There were definitely glimmers of positivity in an otherwise dour season.
For a 26-year-old catcher from Albany, Georgia, however, it wasn’t precisely a season for the memory books.
Merritt Ranew, a catcher by trade, got his chance in the majors mainly owing to the 1962 expansion. He spent most of his playing time in the minors with the Milwaukee Braves, where he was a dynamite bat in their system, hitting over .300 three years in a row. It wasn’t until 1962, with the introduction of the Houston Colt .45s, that Ranew got his chance in the big leagues as part of the expansion draft.
It wasn’t until he joined the Cubs in 1963 that he really lived up to the expectations he’d set in the minors, though. He hit .338/.380/.461 in his first 78 games with the Cubs, and while he was primarily a pinch hitter, it was obvious it was a darned useful one. Unfortunately 1963 was Ranew’s only standout season in the majors. By 1964 he appeared in a mere 16 games for the Cubs and was well under the Mendoza line, hitting .091/.167/.091., and ultimately the Cubs traded him back to the Braves.
He would spend the remainder of his career moving around with various teams, playing for the California Angels and the Seattle Pilots, and wound up missing several seasons in the majors either playing for the farm team or in one case owing to a very bad injury.
It was during a game with the Angels Triple-A club in Seattle in 1966 that Ranew sustained a season-ending injury when he got in the middle of a fight. Angels pitcher Jim Coates — thought to be throwing beanballs — was charged by a Vancouver Mounties batter, and when Ranew tried to intervene he was hit in the head with a bat by on-deck batter Santiago Rosario.
Ultimately, Ranew was able to finish his career in the majors with the Seattle Pilots in 1969, hitting .247/.330/.272.
According to his obituary, after leaving professional baseball at age 31, he went on to become a professional horse trainer. He married his wife Juanita, and together they had three children: Robin, Ryan, and Rebecca. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 73.