This series resumes after taking a couple of days off for the Cubs’ big news of signing Craig Counsell to manage.
I’ll be giving this series breaks from time to time (during the holidays, during the Winter Meetings) so it fills as much of the offseason as possible.
John Holland had been named Cubs general manager in 1956, replacing Wid Matthews. He made some very good deals (particularly the one acquiring Fergie Jenkins) but some truly awful ones as well. The Brock-for-Broglio swap was his, and will always be part of his legacy.
The game had passed Holland by at this point; he turned 65 in 1975 and, as was the case for many of that age in that time, he retired after the 1975 season.
February 25: Acquired Milt Wilcox from the Indians for Brock Davis and Dave LaRoche
Now, this could have been a really good trade for the Cubs if they had just kept Wilcox. Davis never did much in the big leagues and while LaRoche pitched better after he left the Cubs, he didn’t have as good a career as Wilcox.
Wilcox made 25 relief appearances for the Cubs in 1975 with a 5.63 ERA. He was just 25 years old and had previously been decent enough in Cleveland.
But the Cubs did nothing, really, to help him along, They buried him in Triple-A for a couple of months in ‘76 and then sent him to the Tigers for cash considerations. The Cubs couldn’t fix him. Per Wilcox’ SABR biography, the Tigers figured things out:
Manager Ralph Houk offered the following scouting report:
“He was scattery. … he wasn’t getting his breaking ball over consistently, but he still looked pretty good. I figured then he’d be the guy we’d call up if we needed someone. We just sent him out to make sure his arm was sound.” At Evansville, Wilcox blossomed under manager Les Moss. He tossed six complete games in 14 starts, striking out 69 hitters, and posted an impressive American Association ERA of 2.44.
Wilcox spent nine years with the Tigers, posting a 3.91 ERA and 14.1 bWAR, came within one out of a perfect game in 1983 and pitched well for the Tigers in the 1984 ALCS and World Series.
The Cubs just had no idea what they were doing in those days.
April 6: Traded Jim Todd to the Athletics for a PTBNL (April 29, Champ Summers)
Todd pitched two years in Oakland, including the 1975 ALCS, and then the Cubs got him back (more on this in a later installment).
Summers was the kind of guy a team needed to have the DH for, and the Cubs obviously didn’t have that back then. Summers hit four home runs in 215 at-bats for the Cubs in ‘75 and ‘76 and then they traded him (more, again, later). Finally on a team with the DH available, Summers had two pretty good years in Detroit in 1979 and 1980, especially ‘79, when he hit 20 home runs and had a .614 SLG in just 246 at-bats.
“Champ Summers” is an awesome baseball name.
May 2: Acquired Geoff Zahn and Eddie Solomon from the Dodgers for Burt Hooton
Oh, man. One last bad zinger from John Holland.
Hooton, a No. 1 pick of the Cubs who’d thrown a no-hitter in ‘72 and had good years then and ‘73, had a rough year in ‘74 and so when he had three bad starts to begin ‘75 it was, again, “Begone!” even though Leo Durocher was no longer manager. Hooton was only 25! Why give up on him?
Solomon wasn’t even that good a prospect, and he pitched in only six games for the Cubs before they sent him away (see below).
Zahn... now, this would have at least not been a terrible deal if the Cubs had just kept Zahn, who posted a 3.77 ERA in nine years and 247 starts for the Twins and Angels through 1985, including a postseason start for the Angels in ‘82.
But no. Not only did the Cubs not keep Zahn after some mediocre outings in ‘75 and ‘76, but they outright released him in January 1977.
Hooton, of course, went on to stardom with the Dodgers, posting a 3.14 ERA with 112 wins in 10 seasons there. He finished second in Cy Young voting in 1978 and pitched in three World Series for L.A., as well as being NLCS MVP in 1980.
Hooton posted 26.1 bWAR after he left the Cubs. The Cubs got -0.5 bWAR combined from Solomon and Zahn.
This was one of the worst, if not THE worst, Cubs trades of the entire 1970s.
July 22: Acquired Ken Crosby from the Cardinals for Eddie Solomon
Crosby pitched in nine games for the Cubs in ‘75 and seven in ‘76 and his MLB stat line shows a career ERA of 8.10 with 15 walks and three home runs allowed in 20⅓ innings.
Solomon lasted less than three months with the Cubs. His baseball odyssey then took him from St. Louis to Atlanta to Pittsburgh to the South Side of Chicago, and he had a couple of decent years for the Braves and Pirates.
October 28: Acquired Mike Garman from the Cardinals for Don Kessinger
Kessinger was the last of the ‘69 star players to be dealt. Garman had put together two good relief years for St. Louis in ‘74 and ‘75 but he was just bad for the Cubs in ‘76 (47 games, 4.95 ERA, -0.9 bWAR) and wound up included in a very important deal we’ll cover later in this series.
Kessinger had a decent year in St. Louis and the following year was traded to the White Sox, where he played through mid-1979, named the manager in ‘79. Fired mid-season and replaced by Tony La Russa, Kessinger never again coached or managed in MLB, though he was the baseball coach for many years at his alma mater, Ole Miss.
His grandson, Grae Kessinger, made his MLB debut for the Astros this year. Don Kessinger also had a baseball-playing son, Keith, who played briefly for the Reds in 1993. Keith is Grae’s uncle.
December 22: Acquired Mick Kelleher from the Cardinals for Vic Harris
Harris, who had come over from Texas in the Bill Madlock deal, never became the player everyone hoped he would. He played several more MLB seasons with the Cardinals, Giants and Brewers and then played three years in Japan from 1981-83.
Mick Kelleher could not hit, even by the standards of the time, when utility infielders were not expected to hit much. His .540 OPS in 433 games as a Cub is the worst in franchise history for any position player who played at least 400 games for the North Siders.
But he was a fine defender and as you likely recall from this past season when Dansby Swanson approached it, Kelleher holds the Cubs franchise record for most consecutive errorless games at shortstop, 60. This was recorded over several seasons and he did make at least one error at another position during that time, though.
Kelleher coached for the Pirates in 1986, for the Tigers from 2003-05 and was the Yankees’ first-base coach from 2009-15, so he’s got a World Series ring. He also managed briefly in the Cubs minor-league system — he was the guy who took over at Iowa when Jim Essian was promoted to manage the Cubs in 1991.
One last note about Kelleher: On August 7, 1977, Mick started the second game of a doubleheader against the Padres. The Cubs had lost the first game 8-6, which dropped them out of first place for the first time since late May. They desperately needed a win to keep up any thoughts of playoffs.
In the top of the second inning, Steve Renko hit Dave Kingman with a pitch. The next hitter, George Hendrick, hit a ground ball to shortstop Ivan De Jesus, who flipped to Kelleher for the force play. Kingman slid in hard to break up the double play. It was then that the fun started.
Kelleher took exception to the hard slide and took Kingman down. This was a clear mismatch: Kingman stood 6-6 and weighed 210, and Kelleher was listed as 5-9, 176 (and that was probably generous). Still, Mick held his own. Both players were ejected and the Cubs won the game 9-4.
Some of these deals were benign, but the Hooton trade gives the ‘75 swaps a grade of D.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 1975 trades.
This poll is closed