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Today’s obscure Cub: Bill Sweeney

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Here’s one who’s REALLY obscure.

Corbis via Getty Images

These Obscure Cubs articles are a bit scattered for two reasons. Other writers on the site, including my editor, write articles on players with a limited historical footprint. I don't particularly want to re-invent the wheel on a player with 47 career Cubs at-bats and 10 others across MLB, particularly if someone else already did. Unless I have a realistic reason to write, I'll wait until I have an article with a reason to write it. Some players aren't especially obscure. Occasionally, a player is obscure, has a back-story that rocks, and I have an article write itself. This discusses Bill Sweeney.

Sweeney had two tenures with the Cubs. The first was rather brief, and the luster on his future was displayed rather early. His first game with the Cubs was in June 1907. That squad was loaded. On the 14th, shortstop Joe Tinker was injured for the 37-10 Cubs. (That record is not a misprint.) Sweeney was 0-for-3, but managed to drive in two runs in a 4-2 win. Sweeney started the next two days, and Solly Hofman filled in at short until Tinker returned. (Hofman was the Ben Zobrist or Mark DeRosa for the dynasty Cubs.) Two weeks later, Sweeney was dealt to Boston with Newt Randall, an outfielder the Cubs were trying to work into heavy rotation. The player coming back was Del Howard, who was useful enough as a fourth or fifth outfielder to get two World Series titles with the Cubs. With Boston, Sweeney carved out a niche as a quality second baseman, in the top 21 of the MVP voting for three years in a row. Which leads to his return to the Cubs.

Before I go any further, Boston's National League franchise had traditionally been bad. Really bad. In 1909-1912, they finished eighth of eight. In 1913, they vaulted to fifth. Their manager at the time, George Stallings, was too "old-school" for players of the early 19-teens. About the time Sweeney hit peak value, the Cubs’ patience had (likely) worn thin with Johnny Evers. Good baseball fans know Evers as a Hall of Famer. Good Cubs fans know he was at odds with keystone partner Joe Tinker. In reality, Evers was at odds with just about everyone and the Cubs sent him to Boston and reacquired Sweeney. In the disarray, Evers had a fantastic season with Stallings' 1914 Braves. Evers won the MVP in 1914. The Cubs finished fourth, as Sweeney had an OBP of .298, which was better than his slugging. 1913, as it turned out, was Sweeney’s last good year.

This is the point where I'm supposed to say it was a bad trade, because the player dealt had a good season, and the player acquired played his way out of the league. I'm not going to. Evers was a really good player, but he was a nuisance. Five minutes of decent research will teach you that. Evers' last good season was 1914 and the Cubs were likely done with him, regardless. When it's time to trade a player, it is. A player I remember having worn out his welcome was Carlos Zambrano. Sometimes, you trade a player to the team that makes the most sense. The ragtag Braves were unlikely to contend, even though they did.

To adequately assess a transaction, load up on any applicable information as it's happening. Was one side disgruntled? Was one of the players injured? Were one or more of the players involved considering retirement?

Would it have been useful for the Cubs to have gotten a more useful piece than Sweeney? Certainly. Did anyone in the national media expect Stallings to turn the Braves into champions? Probably not. That the trade worked out poorly in reality doesn't mean it was a "bad trade" until you can show the Cubs ignored some rather obvious red flags from Sweeney. He didn't play well with the Cubs, but that didn't show the logic in advance was wrong.

The next time I run into an educational story on a rather obscure Cub, I'll send along another article. Sweeney is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where his best baseball was played, as opposed to the Covington/Cincinnati area, where he grew up. It seems the Cubs helped him by trading him. He got two titles, then had a place to settle down. That works. The trade flopped, but the logic behind it seemed fine.