The Cubs began a slow decline after their 1945 National League pennant. By 1951 they had four consecutive losing seasons for the first time in a decade.
The 1951 Cubs, though, got off to a good start. After sweeping a doubleheader from the Braves May 20 they were 17-14, in second place and just a game out of first. A glimmer of hope came across Wrigley Field, and fans had started to return — that doubleheader drew a sellout of 42,088.
As often happened in that era, though, the team went downhill from there. By June 14, when they suffered a dispiriting 11-3 loss to the Phillies, they were on a 5-13 skid and 10½ games out of first place.
The good start had GM Wid Matthews thinking the Cubs could get back into the race. At the time, the trading deadline was June 15, so just before that day’s deadline Matthews traded Andy Pafko, Johnny Schmitz, Wayne Terwilliger and Rube Walker to the Dodgers for Bruce Edwards, Joe Hatten, Gene Hermanski and Eddie Miksis. Manager Frank Frisch was quoted in the Tribune as saying, “We had to do something,” but in this case doing nothing might have been better.
The deal was extremely unpopular with Cubs fans, and Pafko’s wife supposedly “burst into tears” when she learned of the deal. The Tribune reported that the Pafkos said they’d continue to make their home in Chicago.
Beyond the popularity issue, the players the Cubs received, apart from Miksis, were pretty much useless. Edwards, a backup catcher, didn’t do much in Chicago and was sold to the Washington Senators in 1954. Hatten posted a 5.51 ERA in 36 games (14 starts) in 1951 and 1952 and then was done. Hermanski hit .258/.347/.335 in 192 games as a Cub until he was sent to the Pirates in mid-1953 in one of those nine-player trades that were popular among teams in that era.
Not only did the deal not help the Cubs, they were 40-65 from the day of the trade to the end of the season, the worst record in the National League.
Meanwhile, Pafko fit right into Brooklyn’s outfield, hitting .249/.350/.484 with 18 home runs in 84 games. The Dodgers, of course, lost the first-place playoff series to the Giants on Bobby Thomson’s famous home run, this after blowing a 13½-game lead.
Pafko played for the Dodgers in the 1952 World Series and then was traded to the Braves before the 1953 season. The team had moved to Milwaukee that year. Pafko was productive that year and the next, but lost his starting job in 1955 to some kid named Aaron. But he still was a useful bench player for the Braves in the 1957 and 1958 World Series.
So what if this trade doesn’t happen?
Pafko posted 1.8 bWAR for the Dodgers after the deal, not that anyone knew what WAR was in 1951. Thus it probably doesn’t do anything to the Dodgers’ failure to win the pennant, though it might have allowed the Giants to pass Brooklyn and avoid having to play off the N.L. title that year. In that case, Thomson’s home run doesn’t happen.
However, if Pafko is a Cub in 1952, here’s where things might have gotten interesting. Pafko hit .287/.366/.439 with 19 home runs for the Dodgers that year, posting 3.1 bWAR. If the Cubs have Pafko in the outfield that year instead of guys like Hermanski and Hal Jeffcoat, maybe they score more than 628 runs, which ranked fifth in the National League.
Why is that important? Because in 1952, the Cubs got an MVP season out of Hank Sauer and posted the only non-losing record they had between 1947 and 1962, a .500 year at 77-77. They didn’t finish particularly close to first place; the 77-77 record was good for fifth place, 19½ games out of first and 10 games out of fourth place.
But that team also played fairly well until mid-June. On June 14 they were 34-19 (!) and in second place, just four games behind. A nine-game losing streak followed and put any thoughts of contention out of the minds of Cubs fans and management.
If Pafko is playing for the ‘52 Cubs, maybe they score a few more runs and win a few more games and at least stay in contention for another month or so. It could have been a building block looking toward the later part of the decade when Ernie Banks came to the Cubs and became a star.
We often look back at the Lou Brock trade as the worst in Cubs history, and it is. Andy Pafko wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he was a very good player for a long time. He played more than eight seasons after the trade and was useful almost till the end, finishing his career with 36.7 bWAR. His 27.1 bWAR as a Cub ranks 22nd in franchise history.
The Cubs should not have made that trade.