Having returned to contention in 1967, you’d think the Cubs would have tried to make some significant deals to improve the ballclub.
Most of what they did was minor, but there was one trade that brought two key players to the North Side.
February 9: Traded Lee Thomas to the Astros for two minor leaguers
I mention this only because the Cubs shipped Ted Abernathy to the Braves for Thomas in 1966, and Thomas was pretty useless for the Cubs. Outfielder Lee Brown never played at all for the Cubs — not even in the minors. Infielder/outfielder Tommy Murray hit .245/.292/.318 in 78 games in the Cubs system split between Double-A and Triple-A and then I’m guessing the Cubs released him, because he wound up back with the Braves in 1969 — in A ball.
March 30: Acquired Bobby Tiefenauer from the Indians for Rob Gardner
Gardner had been acquired from the Mets in the Bob Hendley deal the previous year.
But this was another “recapture youth” deal. Tiefenauer had been a decent reliever for Houston and Milwaukee — from 1962-64. At this point he was 38 and... well, why bother doing this? Why not just give Gardner a chance?
This was the way the Cubs often did things back in the day. Tiefenauer pitched in seven games in April, one in May and one in September, the latter giving him enough service time for a pension. Then he pitched in Triple-A in 1969 and retired.
April 22: Acquired Jack Lamabe and Ron Piche from the Cardinals for Dave Dowling and Pete Mikkelsen.
Dowling is a one-game Cub, making just one start in 1966. He never pitched in the majors again. Mikkelsen, who had been a decent reliever for the Yankees and Pirates, even pitching in the 1964 World Series for New York, had been acquired by the Cubs on waivers the previous August from Pittsburgh. He didn’t pitch much for either the Cubs or Cardinals in 1968, Leo Durocher apparently souring on him after he allowed a walkoff two-run homer to Felipe Alou April 18. Durocher could be vindictive that way — one bad pitch and you’re traded!
Eventually he wound up on the Dodgers, where he posted four pretty good years from 1969-72. Again, there’s a guy who could have helped the Cubs pen in 1969-70.
Lamabe pitched in 42 games for the Cubs in 1968, not well, and was traded the following year. More on that in the next installment.
Piche was another “recapture” guy — had been good for the Braves in the early 1960s. He never made a MLB pitch for the Cubs.
April 23: Acquired Jim Hickman and Phil Regan from the Dodgers for Jim Ellis and Ted Savage
The Cubs had lost seven of their first 10 in 1968 after their good year in 1967 and these two deals were obviously overreactions to a bad stretch of games that could happen to any team.
This deal, though, wound up a very good one. Hickman had been a good player for the expansion Mets for a few years, but by the time he got to LA in 1967, he had slumped to a .513 OPS. He wasn’t much better for the Cubs in 1968 or in early 1969 — he had a .432 OPS in his first 83 PA — but then suddenly got hot, batting .261/.353/.542 (69-for-264) with 20 home runs in 100 games the rest of the way. That presaged his great 1970 season, where he hit 32 home runs, scored 102 runs, had 115 RBI and made the N.L. All-Star team. To this day his 97 HR as a Cub rank tied for 28th in franchise history. “Gentleman Jim” was one of the most popular Cubs of his time. Sadly, he died June 25, 2016, just a few months short of seeing his beloved Cubs win the World Series.
Regan was a solid reliever for the Cubs in 1968 (led MLB with 25 saves) and most of 1969 until overuse had him failing at the end of the season and we don’t have to re-hash that. He was bad again in 1970 and, well, if the Cubs had just kept some of the other relievers they traded away, they might have had guys to back him up in the pen. As it was, he became one of the biggest scapegoats for the Cubs’ failures of the era.
He returned later to be the Cubs’ pitching coach in 1997 and 1998.
The Cubs got 14.9 bWAR from Hickman and Regan. Ellis never pitched for the Dodgers and Savage produced -0.7 bWAR in LA and was traded to the Reds before the 1969 season — for former Cub Jimmie Schaffer.
June 28: Acquired Willie Smith from the Indians for Lou Johnson
Johnson’s second stint in Chicago didn’t work out well, but Smith proved to be an effective bench player and pinch-hitter for the Cubs from 1968-70. His Opening Day walkoff home run against the Phillies in 1969 is one of the signature moments in franchise history:
A couple of nothing deals, but acquiring Hickman, Regan and Smith give the Cubs a solid B for the trades in 1968.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1968 trades.
This poll is closed