Bob Kennedy had taken over as Cubs general manager in November 1976, and he went about re-making the franchise. A couple of minor deals were made in December ‘76, but his first trade of 1977 was a major success for the Cubs.
January 11: Acquired Bill Buckner and Ivan De Jesus from the Dodgers for Rick Monday and Mike Garman
Buckner was considered damaged goods from several knee and ankle injuries. He had been a good Dodgers left fielder for several years, even playing there in the 1974 World Series. By this time he was seen as only a first baseman.
And play there he did, and well enough for the Cubs for seven-plus seasons until he was supplanted by Leon Durham and traded away before he could be part of the 1984 division champions — he even shed tears at a news conference after the trade, that’s how much he loved being a Cub. You’ve probably seen this — Buckner wearing a Cubs wristband during the 1986 World Series with the Red Sox.
Here’s the tribute I wrote to Buckner here when he passed away, far too young at 69, in 2019.
De Jesus was blocked by Bill Russell at shortstop in L.A. and was productive for four years at short for the Cubs. He led the N.L. in runs in 1978 and when he stole 41 bases for the Cubs that year he became the first Cub to reach the 40-steal plateau in 49 (!) years, since Kiki Cuyler had 43 in 1929. De Jesus did it again in 1980, stealing 43 bases — only six Cubs have had 40+ steals in a year since then, including Nico Hoerner’s 43 in 2023.
Then De Jesus had a bad year in ‘81 and was ripe for trade so... well, you probably know about that one, we’ll cover it later in this series.
This was the rare deal that helped both teams. Monday played eight years for the Dodgers and while his production was down from his Cubs years, his home run in the 1981 NLCS put the Dodgers into the World Series. Then Monday became a beloved Dodgers broadcaster for more than 30 years.
(A minor leaguer named Jeff Albert, who never played in the majors, was also acquired in this deal.)
February 5: Acquired Gene Clines from the Rangers for Darold Knowles
Well, what do you know. Another deal that helped both teams. Knowles actually had a couple of useful years after the deal, one for Texas, another for the Expos.
But Clines was a useful spare-part outfielder for the Cubs in ‘77 and ‘78, stayed with the team on the coaching staff through 1981, and later coached for the Astros, Mariners, Brewers and Giants before returning to the Cubs from 2003-06 as part of Dusty Baker’s coaching staff.
February 11: Acquired Bobby Murcer and Steve Ontiveros from the Giants for Bill Madlock and Rob Sperring
Well, if you want to accuse the Cubs of racism, here’s your chance.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this deal was racially charged. Madlock hit .336 in three years with the Cubs, winning two batting titles. His .354 season in 1975 — accomplished in a lower-offense era, it was 22 points better than anyone else in the N.L. that year — was the highest BA for any qualified Cubs hitter since Phil Cavarretta hit .355 in 1945. No qualified Cubs hitter has come close to that since then — the best since Madlock was traded was Derrek Lee’s .335 in 2005.
Madlock wanted a multi-year deal in an era when Cubs ownership and management didn’t really want to give those out. It was right at the dawn of free agency, which the Cubs didn’t really participate in either.
The Cubs offered Madlock a $110,000 contract for 1977, far below his market value. The New York Times reported:
Madlock wanted a multiyear contract with an annual salary of about. $200,000.
So the Cubs traded him. And then gave Murcer a five-year deal for $1.6 million, by far the biggest contract in Cubs history at the time, and an AAV of $320,000 that was far more on an annual basis than Madlock had asked for.
Consider: At the time Madlock was 25, had been an All-Star and received MVP votes in both 1975 and 1976. Murcer was 30, a decent hitter but a poor defender and coming off a mediocre year. Even the addition of Ontiveros didn’t make up for the lopsidedness of this deal.
Madlock should have been the Cubs’ third baseman for a decade or longer. Instead, he eventually helped lead the Pirates to the 1979 World Series championship, won two more batting titles, had over 2,000 hits and posted 26.7 bWAR after leaving the Cubs.
Murcer — well, this is weird. He was actually having a good year in 1977, for a time. Through August 26 he’d played in 123 of the Cubs’ 127 games and was batting .280/.375/.489 with 24 home runs, 84 runs scored and 83 RBI. He seemed easily destined for a 30/100 season. The Cubs had fallen out of first place but were still marginally in contention at 71-56.
Then Murcer just stopped hitting. The rest of the way he batted just .204/.269/.315 in 31 games with three home runs. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Cubs went 10-25 the rest of the way.
Murcer had a mediocre 1978 and in mid-1979 was traded back to his original team, the Yankees.
Ontiveros had a pretty good 1977 season — .299/.390/.423 with 10 home runs — but no one with the Cubs noticed that OBP or the 81 walks or took advantage of it in any way. His performance declined over the next couple of years and he was released in June 1980.
This was one of the worst deals in franchise history and in my view, was clearly motivated by racism.
February 16: Acquired Dave Schneck from the Reds for Champ Summers
At the time of this deal, Schneck had not played in the major leagues since 1974. He’d put together some mediocre MLB time from 1972-74 (.560 OPS in 443 PA) and really wasn’t any better in the minors. He played one year in Triple-A for the Cubs and retired.
As noted in an earlier installment in this series, Summers went on to have a couple of decent years in Detroit, mainly as a DH. It’s an open question whether he could have helped the Cubs as a bench player in 1977 and subsequent years.
But he’d have given the Cubs more than Schneck did.
March 15: Acquired Jim Todd from the Athletics for Joe Coleman
Coleman was one of those Cubs acquisitions (a cash considerations deal so it wasn’t covered in this series) trying to regain past glory. Coleman had been a pretty good starter for the Senators and Tigers for several years, a two-time 20-game winner who’d been an All-Star in 1972.
He was mediocre in his year with the Cubs. Of course, once traded away, he had a couple of good years in Oakland.
Todd had originally been a Cub and was sent to the A’s in the 1975 deal that brought Summers to Chicago. He posted a 9.10 ERA for the Cubs in ‘77 and was sent away again. You’ll see that deal below.
March 15: Acquired Gaylen Pitts from the Athletics for Jim Tyrone
These deals are listed separately at baseball-reference even though they were with the same team and happened on the same day.
Pitts never played for the Cubs. Tyrone played one year for the A’s with a .640 OPS and after a year in the minors, played four years in Japan, including hitting 35 home runs for Seibu in 1980. His brother Wayne also played briefly for the Cubs in 1976.
April 25: Acquired Pete Broberg from the Mariners for a PTBNL
Broberg was actually a talent, having been a No. 1 pick of the Senators in 1971. He hadn’t had much success there or in Milwaukee and the Mariners took him in the expansion draft. The Cubs used him in 22 relief games with little success and then sent him to the A’s in a deal we’ll cover in the next installment.
The PTBNL turned out to be Jim Todd, sent to Seattle after the 1977 season ended.
May 28: Acquired Bobby Darwin from the Red Sox for Ramon Hernandez
Here’s yet another player who’d had some really good years a few years back. From 1972-74 Darwin had been the Twins’ regular right fielder and averaged 22 home runs and a .744 OPS. He declined a bit in ‘75 and was traded to the Brewers, then the Red Sox.
He played in 11 games for the Cubs, all but one as a pinch-hitter, and went 2-for-12 with one double and was released August 23.
Hernandez, who’d had some good years in Pittsburgh and pitched in three postseasons for them, pitched in only eight games for the Cubs in 1976 and 1977. Then he pitched in 12 games for the Red Sox after the trade with a 5.68 ERA and was released August 20.
I hereby nominate this as “Most Useless Trade of All Time.”
August 18: Acquired Larry Anderson from the White Sox for Steve Renko
Compounding the badness of the Andre Thornton deal, the Cubs discarded Renko. He made eight starts for the White Sox with a 3.54 ERA (and 1.3 bWAR, which isn’t easy in only eight starts!), then posted another 8.7 bWAR with the A’s, Red Sox, Angels and Royals from 1978-83.
It seems clear the Cubs just misused Renko.
Anderson never pitched for the Cubs and was included in a 1978 deal we’ll cover in the next installment.
October 25: Acquired Manny Seaone from the Phillies for Jose Cardenal
Yikes, they keep getting worse. While Cardenal’s performance had declined, he was still a useful bench player — and would continue to be so, even for the Royals in the 1980 World Series.
Seaone, a righthanded pitcher, pitched in seven games for the Cubs in 1978 with a 5.40 ERA. He pitched in the Cubs system through 1980, then a year in the Tigers minors, then retired.
Seaone and another former MLB pitcher, Mark Lemongello, were arrested in 1982 for robbing and kidnapping a couple of Lemongello’s cousins. They received a sentence of seven years’ probation and 200 hours of community service.
October 31: Acquired Woodie Fryman and Bill Caudill from the Reds for Bill Bonham
Bonham was that prospect who never panned out. He threw hard, but walked way too many guys (109 in both 1974 and 1975). He had two decent years and one bad one in Cincinnati and was released. He remains the last Cub to lose 20 games in a season (22 in 1974).
This would have been a decent deal if the Cubs had kept Fryman, who had pitched well in Montreal in 1976. The Cubs eventually sent him back to the Expos, who turned him into that era’s version of a closer. He posted 58 saves for them from 1979-82.
Caudill never reached his potential with the Cubs, and of course was better after he was traded away. He posted 103 saves for Seattle, Oakland and Toronto from 1982-85, made an All-Star team and got some Cy Young and MVP votes.
December 8: Acquired Hector Cruz and Dave Rader from the Cardinals for Jerry Morales and Steve Swisher
Cruz played in only 30 games for the Cubs in ‘78 before being traded away; we’ll cover that in the next installment. For some reason they liked him enough to reacquire him in ‘81. Rader was the Cubs’ regular catcher in ‘78 and posted a .576 OPS, worst of his career.
Neither Morales nor Swisher did much in St. Louis, so we’ll call this a wash.
The Buckner trade was good, but the rest of these ranged from “no impact” to “horrific,” so the grade for ‘77 has to be F.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1977 trades.
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