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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 1978

This year included some truly awful deals.

Rodney Scott
Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

The Cubs contended for a while in 1977 and so it was thought a few deals might improve the team. They also made their first (and only, under the Wrigley ownership) major free-agent signing by inking Dave Kingman to a three-year deal.

The trades, though... yikes.

March 29: Acquired Rodney Scott from the Athletics for Pete Broberg

Broberg, acquired in ‘77, did little for the Cubs. The Cubs sent Scott to Triple-A, where he stole 36 bases in 63 games. Called up in late June, he started all over the field, but mostly at third base (48 games). Again, the Cubs had a guy who could draw walks and get on base, but they largely ignored that. Scott hit .282/.403/.313 and stole 27 bases in 78 games.

That got him traded away; we’ll cover that later.

June 9: Acquired Jerry White from the Expos for Woodie Fryman

This would have been a very good deal if the Cubs had kept White, who was a good defensive center fielder. Again, the Cubs found a guy who could draw walks, but got little out of him. He batted .272/.373/.338 in 59 games. He was sent away in the same deal Scott was; more later.

June 10: Acquired Ken Holtzman from the Yankees for Ron Davis

OMG, no.

Somehow, Holtzman had totally lost it after the A’s traded him to Baltimore in a deal that brought future Cubs manager Don Baylor to Oakland. The O’s kept him only half a season before shipping him to the Yankees in a 10 (!) player trade.

The Yankees just buried him. He’d start irregularly, make some relief appearances and largely not know what his role was.

Reacquiring Holtzman six years after he was dealt away was supposed to rejuvenate him. His nemesis Leo Durocher was gone and he was only 32.

It didn’t work. Holtzman posted a 6.11 ERA in 23 games for the Cubs in ‘78. He was somewhat better in ‘79 when he was a rotation starter much of the year and had one game — a three-hit shutout of the Astros July 7 — which brought back memories of 1969.

So, a chance taken, it didn’t work, it happens... but it’s what they gave up that made this a terrible trade. Ron Davis was 22 at the time of the deal, a third-round pick of the Cubs in 1976 who never played for the team. He had a couple of decent years in New York, but it was when the Yankees traded him to the Twins that he blossomed into a closer who posted 106 saves for them from 1982-85.

In ‘86 the Cubs got him back, but he was done.

June 15: Acquired Lynn McGlothen from the Giants for Hector Cruz

This one worked. Cruz was a backup outfielder and McGlothen became a decent rotation starter for the Cubs in 1979 and 1980 before he was shipped to the South Side in a deal we’ll cover later.

McGlothen died tragically in a house fire in Louisiana in 1984, just 34 years old.

June 15: Acquired Mike Vail from the Indians for Joe Wallis

June 15 was the trade deadline until 1987, so you’ll see others on this date until then.

Wallis was a fan favorite who got the nickname “Tarzan Joe” for diving all over the field to make catches. But he didn’t hit much, and so was deemed expendable. He never played for Cleveland. The same day, they sent him to the A’s for Gary Alexander.

Vail was an interesting guy. He had burst onto the MLB scene in late 1975 with a 22-game hitting streak as a Mets callup. They soured on him and let him go to Cleveland on a waiver claim.

Vail hit well in a platoon role for the Cubs in 1979, batting .335/.379/.520 with seven home runs in 87 games. He really did need to be platooned — he had just a .680 OPS against RHP that year — and started complaining about playing time, clashing with manager Herman Franks. He didn’t hit as well in 1980 and was sent away in a deal we’ll cover later.

June 26: Acquired Dennis DeBarr from the Indians for Paul Reuschel

The Reuschel brothers are split up. Paul never did much in Cleveland and DeBarr never played for the Cubs, posting a 9.66 ERA in 23 games in Triple-A before the Cubs sent him off in a minor-league deal.

August 6: Acquired Davey Johnson from the Phillies for Larry Anderson

The Cubs got Anderson from the White Sox for Steve Renko the previous year, but he never pitched for the team. Johnson was seen, even several years after his peak in Atlanta, as a guy who might help the Cubs down the stretch in a year they were marginal contenders.

Johnson did what he was asked. In 24 games he batted .306/.393/.490 with two home runs. He retired after the season and went on to a long and successful managing career.

And now you have a good name you can use in Immaculate Grid.

December 14: Acquired Sam Mejias from the Expos for Rodney Scott and Jerry White

This, again, had hints of racism. Scott and White had both played well for the Cubs in 1978, but ... both were Black.

Mejias, to be charitable, was just not very good. He hadn’t hit for either the Cardinals or Expos and played just 31 games for the Cubs, mostly as a defensive replacement, going just 2-for-11 before being sent to the Reds in July 1979 for cash considerations.

Scott, meanwhile, had some good years in Montreal, leading the N.L. in triples (13) in 1980, when he stole 63 bases and got some downballot MVP votes. White was a decent backup outfielder for Montreal through 1983.

Totally inexplicable deal except through the lens of racism.

There’s just enough good here to grade this year’s trades a “D” instead of “F”.


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