You surely know the story of the last gasp of the great Cubs teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s that never won anything. This team roared out to a great start, then at one point went on an 8-31 run that took them out of contention. Later they struggled back and still had a chance to win the N.L. East, but a bad final weekend had them finish fifth, under .500 for the first time since 1966.
That called for some major trades, and indeed they were made. But first...
May 18: Acquired Andre Thornton from the Braves for Joe Pepitone
Pepitone, who had been a breath of fresh air for a team that desperately needed it in 1970 and 1971, had worn out his welcome by this time. He played only three games for the Braves before retiring. Lured out of retirement by an offer in Japan, he played just 14 games there and quit again.
Thornton was sent to Triple-A Wichita, where he demolished minor league pitching (.289/.464/.682 with 17 home runs in 40 games). Called up to the Cubs in early August, he barely played — 17 games, 42 plate appearances. The old guard simply would not let young guys contribute. It can be argued that if the Cubs had just played Thornton at first base the rest of the year after the trade, they might have won the division. Instead, a combination of Billy Williams, Jim Hickman, Pat Bourque (!) and Gonzalo Marquez (!!) manned the position.
What an utterly mismanaged team. You will hear more about Thornton in a future installment.
Speaking of Bourque and Marquez...
August 29: Acquired Gonzalo Marquez from the Athletics for Pat Bourque
Bourque had been a pretty good prospect. In 35 Triple-A games in 1973 he batted .347/.484/.669 with 11 doubles and nine home runs.
So just play the guy! The Cubs would not do that. He’d have a bad game or two and then sit again.
Marquez had hit reasonably well in the A’s chain, but had no power and was seven years older than Bourque. He hit .224/.270/.310 in 19 games for the Cubs in ‘73, played in 11 more in ‘74 and then played four years in the Mexican League.
The A’s didn’t give Bourque much of a chance — and probably didn’t need to, as they were busy winning division titles without him. The next year they traded him to the Twins, and reacquired him over the subsequent offseason. They tried to option him back to Triple-A in 1975 and he refused to report and was released. He, too, played several years in Mexico after that.
August 31: Acquired Mike Paul from the Rangers for a PTBNL
This is gonna be another “what were you thinking?” deal.
Paul was a middling swingman who started and relieved and the Cubs were just desperate for an arm.
How desperate? After the season (November 14) they sent Larry Gura to the Rangers as the PTBNL.
Oh, no, John Holland, please tell me you didn’t. (NARRATOR: “He did it.”)
Gura was another one of those young lefties who never got a chance with the Cubs — 138⅓ innings in 59 games (14 starts) over four seasons. He never did pitch for the Rangers; they traded him to the Yankees before the 1974 season and he had two okay seasons there before they sent him to the Royals.
Well. That was Gura’s chance. He had nine good-to-excellent seasons in Kansas City, making the A.L. All-Star team in 1980. He had three top-10 Cy Young finishes and pitched in five postseasons for K.C. All told, 21.6 bWAR with the Royals and Yankees, while Paul pitched in 11 games for the Cubs in 1973 and two in 1974 before being released. Total bWAR: Zero.
To wrap this up in the ugliest way possible, the Cubs reacquired Gura in May 1985 at age 37 when all their starters were going down with injuries. He appeared in five games (four starts) with an 8.41 ERA and four home runs allowed before being released in August.
This was typical of the bad deals the Cubs made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: Give up on a young player, get nothing in return, then acquire an old player trying to recapture past glory, except in this case it was their own former player.
Yuck, yuck, yuck.
In addition to all the trades, the acquisition of Rico Carty from the Rangers (August 13) should be noted. Carty had been a fine hitter for the Braves from 1964-70 but injuries ruined his career. At this stage of his career he really couldn’t play the field anymore so the Cubs could really only use him as a pinch-hitter and let him go after the season.
This is another place where a DH in the N.L. would have helped. Carty eventually wound up in the A.L., where he had five really good years as a DH for Cleveland, Oakland and Toronto, batting .287/.357/.453 with 89 home runs, and some downballot MVP votes in 1976.
The season ended and then GM John Holland began making trades.
October 25: Acquired Bill Madlock and Vic Harris from the Rangers for Fergie Jenkins
It’s hard to believe now with Jenkins a beloved Cubs elder statesman, but at the time of this deal a lot of Cubs fans were saying, “Good riddance.” Jenkins had a bad 1973 season and in August he threw bats on the field during a game, a shocking incident for the time.
Madlock and Harris were both considered good prospects at the time. Madlock had hit .338/.406/.546 with 22 home runs in Triple-A in ‘73 and Harris had been the Rangers’ fulltime second baseman that year. He didn’t hit much, but at age 22 it was thought he’d get better.
Harris didn’t; installed as the Cubs’ second baseman in 1974 he hit just .195/.294/.255 in 62 games and his season ended with knee surgery in July after a collision at second base. He hit even worse in ‘75 and was traded to the Cardinals; more on that in the next installment.
Madlock, you know about. He was a hitting machine and won two batting titles while a Cub. I’ll deal with the trade that sent him away in a future installment. His .336 BA in 1,481 at-bats with the Cubs is tied with Riggs Stephenson for the franchise record for anyone with at least 1,000 Cubs at-bats.
November 3: Acquired Horacio Pina from the Athletics for Bob Locker
Compounding the awful deal in which the Cubs sent Bill North to the A’s for Locker, the team made it worse by acquiring Pina, who had been a nothing-special reliever in Oakland for a few years. Pitching with an undiagnosed sore shoulder, he appeared in 34 games for the Cubs with a 3.99 ERA but was traded away before the ‘74 season ended.
November 7: Acquired Jerry Morales from the Padres for Glenn Beckert and Bobby Fenwick
You know, this was actually a pretty good trade and might have been better if Morales hadn’t been nailed on the knee by Sparky Lyle in the 1977 All-Star Game. He was having a fantastic season — .331/.391/.502 with 24 doubles at the break.
You can see the HBP here (at :30):
It doesn’t look all that bad there but the sore knee affected his performance. Morales tried to grit his way through the injury the rest of the way, batting just .218/.269/.352 in 50 games and finally was shut down September 15.
Beckert’s performance had begun to decline in 1973 anyway and he played just 64 games in San Diego in ‘74 and nine more in ‘75 before retiring. Fenwick had been acquired mid-1973 by the Cubs but never played a game for them, or the Padres either — he played 52 Triple-A games in ‘74, then retired. He’d been a first-round pick of the Giants, too, in 1967.
Morales had a decent Cubs career and was a fan favorite, even though he wasn’t a very good outfielder — his negative defensive WAR brought his overall WAR level below zero for the Cubs. They reacquired him in February 1981 as a free agent and he played three more years for the team before retiring.
December 6: Acquired George Mitterwald from the Twins for Randy Hundley
I’ve written a lot about how Leo Durocher ruined Hundley from overuse. His knee injuries were likely an effect of that overuse, and by the end of ‘73 he was in decline. He played sparingly for the Twins in ‘74 and he was released at the end of the year. He played one year in San Diego in ‘75 and the Cubs reacquired him before the ‘76 season. He played in just 13 games before being injured again, this time a shoulder which required surgery that forced him to miss the rest of the year. He was signed as a coach/emergency catcher for ‘77 and played in just two games before retiring.
Mitterwald... well, you know, he wasn’t a bad player. He had hit .259/.326/.405 with 16 home runs for the Twins in ‘73 and in just his fifth game for the Cubs, April 17, 1974, he went 4-for-4 with three home runs and eight RBI in an 18-9 win over the Pirates.
But the hitting stopped and he was benched for Steve Swisher. In all, Mitterwald would play four seasons for the Cubs and bat .231/.283/.347 with 26 home runs in 373 games.
December 11: Acquired Steve Stone, Steve Swisher, Ken Frailing and Jim Kremmel from the White Sox for Ron Santo
This one turned out to be a huge big deal because Santo was supposed to have been traded to the Angels for two pitching prospects, Andy Hassler and Bruce Heinbechner. But he vetoed the deal, becoming the first player to exercise his 10-and-5 rights under the labor deal signed the year before. Given the season, some wags nicknamed it the “Santo Clause.”
Santo made it clear he wanted to stay in Chicago, so John Holland worked out this deal with the Sox. And truth be told, it was a win for the Cubs. Stone had three decent years for the Cubs, totaling 6.1 bWAR, before leaving via free agency — and returning to the Sox. Swisher was okay enough. He made the All-Star team in 1976, which honestly was a joke, they needed a catcher and he was kind of next on the list. Overall Swisher posted negative WAR for the Cubs. Kremmel pitched in 23 games for the Cubs in ‘74 and two more in the Cubs minor leagues and Frailing had three mediocre years for the Cubs, largely due to arm trouble.
Santo’s year on the South Side was a disaster. The Sox already had a pretty good third baseman, Bill Melton, so they used Santo as a DH, which he hated. So after that, Chuck Tanner tried Santo at second base, a position he’d played just a couple of times for the Cubs in 1972. Predictably, he was awful. He didn’t hit for the Sox — .221/.293/.299 with five home runs in 117 games — and retired after the season.
Much as was the case with Jenkins, many Cubs fans were fed up with Santo by the time he was traded. Those of you who remember him only as the radio voice of the team from 1990-2010 likely see him as a jovial figure who lived and died with the Cubs on the air. And indeed, he was that — when he was hired by WGN radio, he came right out and said he hoped that would help him get into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, that had to wait for a posthumous induction in 2012.
There’s one thing about Ron Santo that can be said without a doubt: He absolutely LOVED the Chicago Cubs. As much, or more, than any of us here. You could hear it in his voice on the air every single day. It’s tremendously sad that he didn’t live long enough to see them win in 2016. Oh, how he would have loved that.
There were a couple of decent deals here, but also some bad ones. Overall this is a C-.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1973 trades.
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