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Today in Cubs history: The time Dickie Noles was traded for himself

It’s a quirky little bit of the history of our favorite team.


Dickie Noles was a run-of-the-mill Cubs pitcher from 1982-84 and again in 1987. He’d probably not be much remembered at all if not for this little quirky event near the end of the 1987 season that resulted in him being traded for himself.

First, a bit of background. When Dallas Green took over as Cubs GM in late 1981, he set out to create what many termed “Phillies West.” He brought over coaches and players and even the next Cubs manager, Lee Elia, from Philadelphia. (We should be eternally thankful that one of the men he insisted come to the Cubs was Ryne Sandberg.)

Noles was one of those players, acquired from the Phillies December 8, 1981 along with Keith Moreland, in a deal that sent Mike Krukow to Philadelphia.

He spent two and a half years of mostly uninspired time in the Cubs rotation from 1982 until mid-1984 (although he did throw a one-hitter against the Reds April 28, 1982), despite an incident where he was briefly jailed for assaulting a Cincinnati police officer in early 1983. Per Noles’ Wikipedia page, he “severely injured his left knee... spent 16 days in jail, was forced to enter alcohol rehabilitation, and was forced to pay a substantial amount of his baseball earnings in an ensuing civil suit.”

Yikes. The old days weren’t always “the good old days.” The Wikipedia page quotes Noles as saying he’s been sober since that incident.

In July 1984, Noles was traded to the Rangers for a pair of minor leaguers, neither of whom ever played in the major leagues.

Noles became a free agent after 1986 and then on Opening Day 1987 Green signed him back.

He pitched reasonably well for the Cubs in ‘87, 41 games, all but one in relief, posting a 3.50 ERA, 1.337 WHIP and 1.0 bWAR. The Cubs season ended in failure that year with a last-place finish in the NL East (but also resulted in an MVP award for Andre Dawson), so on September 21, Green sent Noles to the Tigers, who were involved a tight race in the AL East, for a player to be named later.

(Aside: Teams cannot do this now. The July 31 trade deadline is now absolute; only waiver transactions are permitted after that date.)

The Tigers did wind up winning the division title, but lost the ALCS to the Twins. Noles pitched in four games for Detroit but was ineligible for the postseason.

Here’s where things get interesting. On October 24, Ed Sherman of the Tribune reported:

In culmination of a deal that wasn’t, Dickie Noles has returned to the Cubs.

He was traded to the Tigers Sept. 21 for a player to be named, but the teams couldn’t agree on a player. Friday [Oct. 23], Tigers General Manager Bill Lajoie sent Noles back.

Why couldn’t they agree on a player in this deal? A Tribune article by Fred Mitchell dated October 30, 1987 says that the Blue Jays (who the Tigers beat out in the AL East race) had filed a complaint about the trade, claiming the Cubs had “indiscreetly loaned” Noles to the Tigers.

That’s laughable — it’s not like Noles was some superstar pitcher who would put Detroit over the top. In his four games for the Tigers, Noles posted a 4.50 ERA. He faced only nine hitters. He did post two saves, but the Blue Jays won the other two games Noles appeared in for Detroit.

What’s not laughable is this trade proposal that nearly went down to complete the Noles-to-the-Tigers deal, per Mitchell:

Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie gave his explanation Thursday.

‘’Whoever made the complaint did not consider that this could be a forerunner or the first part of a major transaction,’’ Lajoie said. ‘’There were several other players mentioned originally.

‘’Due to the time of the year-we were in a pennant race-we didn`t want to divulge the other part of the deal because the players were still playing. The Cubs and us are still working on the major portion of the trade.’’

Lajoie made his remarks before Cubs president Dallas Green resigned from his post Thursday.

The Tigers reportedly were prepared to trade reliever Willie Hernandez to the Cubs. The Philadelphia Phillies also were going to send infielder Rick Schu to the Cubs. First baseman Leon Durham would have gone to the Phillies. The Tigers would have received an unnamed player from the Phillies.

It is believed the deal fell through when the Phillies hired Woody Woodward to become general manager, and he said he did not want Durham.

Well, that would have been interesting. Willie Hernandez was near the end of his career, but he posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.197 WHIP and 1.1 bWAR for the Tigers in 1988. Rick Schu, once touted as “the next Mike Schmidt,” hit .246/.310/.384 in a nine-year MLB career. And Durham, a mainstay for the Cubs from ‘81 through ‘87, got off to a bad start in 1988 and on May 19 was traded to the Reds for lefthanded reliever Pat Perry. Perry posted a 2.57 ERA, 1.167 WHIP and 1.8 bWAR for the Cubs in 1988 and 1989, so that worked out all right, as Durham was basically done after he left the Cubs.

Noles never did pitch again for the Cubs. He was non-tendered in November 1987 and signed with the Orioles the next spring. He pitched in only two games for them and wound up finishing his career in 1990 with one appearance for his original team, the Phillies, for whom he currently runs their Employee Assistance Program.

The deal in which he was returned to the Cubs, essentially traded for himself, happened 34 years ago today, October 23, 1987.