After two decades of stumbling around the National League, the Cubs hired Leo Durocher to manage the team in October 1965. Famously, after the “College of Coaches” era, Durocher had to remind everyone that he wasn’t a “coach.” He said, at his introductory news conference:
If no announcement has been made about what my title is, I’m making it here and now. I’m the manager. I’m not a head coach. I’m the manager.
And Durocher got right to re-making his team. At the time, nearly 60 years ago, the field manager had a lot more influence over who was acquired and traded for the team.
In the last installment of this series, we covered the deal in which the Cubs acquired Randy Hundley and Bill Hands from the Giants in December 1965. When the calendar turned to 1966, the team wasn’t done dealing.
January 10: Acquired Wes Covington from the Phillies for Doug Clemens
Clemens was acquired in the Lou Brock deal in 1964 but never did much for the Cubs. Neither did Covington, who had been a pretty good player for the Phillies from 1963-65. He played in just nine games for the Cubs before he was released May 11. This happened to quite a number of players in the early Durocher era — if Durocher didn’t like you, you were gone.
March 30: Acquired Carl Warwick from the Orioles for Vic Roznovsky
Roznovsky had been a decent backup catcher for a couple of years. Warwick had played well in Houston and Baltimore in 1962 and 1963 but by this time was pretty much done, even though he was just 29. He played in just 16 games for the Cubs, the rest in the Cubs minor leagues in 1966, and he opted to retire after that season.
April 21: Acquired Fergie Jenkins, Adolfo Phillips and John Herrnstein from the Phillies for Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson
This was the sort of deal the Cubs used to do in the other direction through much of the 1950s and 1960s — acquire veteran guys way past their sell-by dates for good prospects.
I don’t have to tell you about Jenkins, his Cubs career was magnificent, he’s in the Hall of Fame and continues to make appearances at Wrigley Field as a beloved elder statesman.
Phillips was ruined by Leo Durocher. He played well in 1966, batting .262/.348/.452 with 16 home runs and 32 stolen bases. It was the most steals in a season by any Cub in 36 years — since Kiki Cuyler had 37 in 1930. Phillips did a bit better in 1967, batting .268/.384/.458 with 17 home runs, 24 steals and 80 walks, and in a memorable doubleheader sweep of the Mets in June, went 6-for-9 with four home runs.
Fans loved him. But in 1968 his BA dropped — but then, so did everyone’s in the “Year of the Pitcher.” Then he started out 1969 batting just .224 in 28 games — but with a .424 OBP! He walked 16 times in 66 PA. Baseball folks didn’t pay attention to OBP back then so Phillips wound up benched, then traded to the Expos for Paul Popovich.
Popovich was useful, but a Phillips not knocked down by Durocher would have been better — in particular in center field in 1969, where Don Young was pretty much awful.
Still, from 1966-73 (after which Jenkins was traded), the two produced 60.5 bWAR for the Cubs. Buhl and Jackson combined for 10.8 bWAR for the Phillies. It was a fantastically good trade.
April 28: Acquired Billy Cowan from the Braves for Bobby Cox
Yes, THAT Bobby Cox, the one who later managed the Braves to many playoff appearances. Cox had spent a couple years in the Cubs system after being selected by them from the Dodgers in a minor league draft in 1964. He later played a couple years for the Yankees before his coaching/managing career began.
Cowan has appeared in this series before; after the Cubs sent him to the Mets for George Altman in January 1965, they traded him to the Braves in August of that year. He never played for the Cubs after this second acquisition. Instead... well, you’ll read about that below.
May 28: Acquired Lee Thomas from the Braves for Ted Abernathy
This was a colossal mistake. For some reason Durocher didn’t like Abernathy and didn’t use him much after his huge 1965 season when he set a franchise record for appearances with 84 (it still stands) and posted 31 saves, the first MLB pitcher to have a 30-save season.
Abernathy had a decent enough year for the Braves, later they traded him to the Reds where he was one of the best relievers in the league in 1967 (finished 20th in MVP voting) and had a good year in 1968. The Cubs got him back in 1969, barely used him even when Phil Regan was imploding, and eventually traded him away a second time.
Thomas played in 152 games as a spare-part outfielder/first baseman in 1966 and 1967, batting .229/.300/.285 with three home runs. The Cubs traded him to the Astros in early 1968 for two minor leaguers who never made the majors.
May 29: Acquired Arnold Earley and Marty Keough from the Braves for John Herrnstein
This is the third trade with the Braves in five weeks. Herrnstein was the third guy acquired in the Jenkins deal and played in just nine games for the Cubs. He didn’t play much in Atlanta either and they traded him to the Red Sox in December 1966, at which time he retired.
Keough played in 33 games for the Cubs with pretty much zero impact and was released after the season. His son Matt had some good years for the A’s in the early 1980s and pitched briefly (19 games) for the Cubs in 1986. Earley pitched in 13 games for the Cubs in 1966 and was traded to the Red Sox the following year.
June 22: Acquired Norm Gigon from the Phillies for Billy Cowan
Gigon was 28 and not really a prospect when the Cubs got him. He played in 34 games for them the following year, 1967, and batted .171/.234/.286. He left professional baseball after that year to become the baseball coach at Lafayette College, where he spent 15 years. That’s where he made his biggest contribution to the Cubs, because one of his players there was Joe Maddon. From Gigon’s SABR biography:
Gigon received national attention as Maddon’s inspiration. “He has the old blue-collar American spirit,” Gigon told a sportswriter after the Devil Rays fell short of winning that World Series. Using his academic background in history, Gigon added, “He’s got all the attributes you admire about the World War II generation.” When Maddon won the World Series with the Cubs in 2016, Gigon was elevated from teaching mentor to spiritual guru. Under the tutelage of an academic like Gigon and “buoyed by his liberal arts curriculum at Lafayette, where he discovered James Michener and became a voracious reader of books, Maddon brought his own philosophy to baseball,” a nouveau one filled with positive attitude and ideas that were not “by the book.”
Sadly, Gigon did not see Maddon lead the Cubs to the World Series win in 2016, as he died aged 74 in April 2013.
December 7: Acquired Ray Culp from the Phillies for Dick Ellsworth
This was a really good trade. Ellsworth, who had looked so good in 1963, had fallen on hard times, and was probably injured by the time he had a 22-loss season with a MLB-leading 321 (!) hits allowed in 1966.
Culp, who was just 25 when this deal was made, had a decent year for the Cubs in 1967, but they traded him to the Red Sox after the season, where he had four very good years, including being named an A.L. All-Star in 1969. He’d have looked real good in the Cubs’ 1969 rotation.
The Jenkins deal would ordinarily grade this an “A,” but some of the minor deals that failed and not keeping Culp knock this down to a B.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1966 trades.
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