The Cubs continued a downward slide away from victory in 1974, winning only 66 games and creeping too close for comfort towards a 100-loss season. It would prove to be the end of the line for manager Whitey Lockman who was replaced by Jim Marshall mid-season. The leadership shift wasn’t enough to perk up the club, who ended the year 25-44 under Marshall.
Standing: 6th in the National League East
Managers: Whitey Lockman and Jim Marshall
The offseason leading up to 1974 was a veritable bloodbath of trades, as the Cubs bid farewell to some of the greatest Cubs players of all time. First was the October trade of Fergie Jenkins to the Texas Rangers, then in December the Cubs traded Ron Santo to the White Sox. Santo would play only a single season for the White Sox before retiring from baseball in September of 1974.
The Cubs, though they struggled, still had standout players in ‘74. Bill Madlock, acquired in the Jenkins deal, hit .313/.374/.442, and both Rick Monday (who led the team with 20 home runs) and Jose Cardenal had near-.300 seasons at the plate.
Rick Reuschel was the only Cubs pitcher to manage a winning record that year with 13-12, but a 4.30 ERA told the story of his season’s struggles.
And for one backup catcher, 1974 would be the end of his career as a player, but the beginning of a new journey in baseball.
For the duration of 1974, Chicago-area native (Mendel Catholic HS) Rick Stelmaszek appeared in only 25 games for the Cubs following his July 28 acquisition from the California Angels. He did a creditable job in those games hitting .227/.364/.341 with one home run. The home run might have been one of the more meaningless in Cubs history. A two-run shot, it came in the sixth inning of this game August 20, when the Cubs were trailing 18-2. Carmen Fanzone, previously profiled in this series, hit a grand slam later in that game to make the final score 18-8. Anyway, Stelmaszek ultimately he played his last major league game on September 25 at the age of 25. The 1974 season was the best of Stelmaszek’s entire major league career.
He bounced around the minors for the next four years before spending his last professional ball season in the Twins organization as a player-manager for their Single A Wisconsin Rapids team.
Coaching, it seemed, was Stelmaszek’s calling. As with many catchers who don’t make long-term pro playing careers, he was well suited to management. By 1980 he’d been named the Midwest League Manager of the Year for his work with the Rapids, and by 1981 he was part of the Twins’ major league coaching staff. He remained with the Twins primarily as a bullpen coach for a whopping 32 years, serving under five different managers, and being on the Twins staff for two World Series victories (the only two Twins World Series victories thus far).
Though he was fired from the club in 2012 following a disastrous 96-loss season (not unlike his season playing with the Cubs), Stelmaszek did not harbor any negative feelings towards the club. In 2017, while battling pancreatic cancer, he threw out the first pitch of the season in April. By November, he had passed away at the age of 69.
Stelmaszek’s 32-year run with the Twins made him the longest-tenured coach in Twins history.