Ryne Sandberg was expendable in January of 1982.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Phillies trade of Sandberg and Larry Bowa to the Cubs for Ivan DeJesus was awful. But a deep dive into what was going on with the Phillies at the time provides a fascinating look at a team desperately trying to hold on to glory. That doesn’t justify trading a future Hall of Famer, but it helps put the deal in perspective. It was an offseason of trades and turmoil at The Vet that culminated in the Phillies making one of the worst trades in franchise history. Here’s how it all went down:
At the conclusion of the 1980 season, Ryne Sandberg was coming off a season in which he had hit .310 with 11 homers and 72 RBI along with 32 stolen bases for the Phillies AA team in Reading. He’d also made 79 errors at shortstop over three minor-league seasons. The manager Dallas Green’s end-of-year scouting report read, “Offensively, one of the better years in the organization. Good kid, works hard. A shortstop now who may move to another position.”
The Phillies had Bowa at shortstop at the major league level and they had another young SS prospect named Julio Franco, who was right behind Sandberg, as well as Luis Aguayo, whom they also liked. They didn’t need a shortstop, but they did need pitching. After a disappointing 1981 season, the Phillies needed to make some changes. A Philadelphia Daily News headline trumpeted, “Phillies Must Trade Youth for Pitching.”
The team was coming off a postseason ouster courtesy of the Montreal Expos, but there was still hope that a top of the rotation arm could give them the boost they needed to get back to the World Series.
The youth they had to entice such a deal included Keith Morland, Len Matuszek, Lonnie Smith, Bob Dernier, Franco, Sandberg, and Aguayo. The winter meetings were coming and general manager Paul “Pope” Owens would be a busy man.
November 20, 1981
The first domino fell because, in addition to starting pitching, the Phillies also needed a strong defensive catcher. Bob Boone was nearing the end of his career (so thought the Phillies brass) and opponents had run wild on the Phillies in 1981. Teams attempted 165 stolen bases and were caught just 45 times, roughly a third of which were Steve Carlton pickoffs.
Owens wanted Pittsburgh catcher Ed Ott, but his price tag was too high, so he got in touch with the Cleveland Indians and dangled the speedy outfielder Smith. Unfortunately for Owens, Cleveland general manager Gabe Paul contacted Whitey Herzog in St. Louis and arranged a three-way deal. Philadelphia got Bo Diaz, the defense-first catcher they needed, but instead of trading Smith to the American League East, where he wouldn’t bother them, he stayed in the division, where he most certainly would.
“(Smith is) a flat-out gamer who comes to play,” wrote Bill Conlin in the Philadelphia Daily News. “A kid who breaks up the double play with the reckless abandon of an Enos Slaughter.”
Owens knew the move wasn’t popular, but he also assured Phillis fans he wasn’t finished. One only needed to look at the fact that the Phillies catching depth chart went 5-deep to realize there were more moves coming. Gordon Smith’s column in the Allentown Morning Call said the Phillies were set up for a good old-fashioned blockbuster deal.
“Keith Moreland becomes the central figure,” wrote Smith on November 21st. “He’s as good as gone. If there’s one commodity for which teams thirst, it’s a catcher who can hit… Keith Moreland can certainly hit.
“Houston Seattle and Toronto are the most likely candidates for “The Pope’s” blockbuster. The guys on the other end are the Astros’ Bob Knepper, the Mariners’ Floyd Bannister, and Toronto’s Dave Stieb or Jim Clancy.”
He was half right.
December 6, 1981
A few weeks after acquiring a fifth catcher, the Phillies began to shed them. On December 6th, Owens sold Bob Boone, who had squatted behind home plate at The Vet since 1972, to the California Angels for $250,000. Boone’s production had slipped across the board in 1980 and ’81, but his new manager, Gene Mauch, wasn’t concerned, especially about his defense.
“What’s the difference?” he asked. “Who’s going to throw out Rickey Henderson anyway? I just want Mickey Klutts thrown out .”
For the record: Klutts attempted just one stolen base once Boone came over to the American League and Milwaukee’s Ted Simmons threw him out. Mauch got his wish.
December 8, 1981
Two days later, the Moreland deal finally went down. Owens had talked to Seattle about a package for Bannister that included Moreland, Sandberg, pitcher (and future Cy Young winner) Mark Davis and one other player. The Phillies countered and the two teams parted ways to “think about it overnight.” The next morning, Seattle awoke to the news that Owens had sent Moreland, along with pitchers Dan Larsen and Dickie Noles, to the Cubs for Mike Krukow, who had led the NL in starts in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Krukow was thrilled with the deal. He welcomed the chance to join a winning ballclub and Owens predicted he could win as many as 18 games in 1982. Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia press and the fans were less than pleased.
“Phils’ Wisdom is in Question” read the headline for Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Editor Frank Dolson’s column on the deal. But Owens was happy with the Phillies return.
“Before we came to the Winter Meetings we listed in order the 10 pitchers we felt could help us,” he said. “Stieb was No. 1 and Krukow was No. 2. We are convinced we’ve gotten a solid third starter to go with Steve Carlton and Dick Ruthven.”
“Some of the most unpopular deals I’ve made have been my best,” he added. “Willie Montanez for Garry Maddox, Ken Brett for Dave Cash. Nobody liked those trades, but look what they did for the Phillies.”
More to Come
After two deals and selling a franchise staple, Owens still didn’t appear to be finished. A rumored deal sending Maddox to the Astros for Vern Ruhle looked to be dead, but a deal for Bannister was still a possibility if the Phillies were willing to part with Dernier or Franco plus Davis and Matuszak, who was coming off a .315 season in AAA with 21 homers. That was unlikely.
There was also a chance that if Owens couldn’t get Stieb, he could still pry Jim Clancy away from Toronto. Other rumors had the Phillies and Brewers swinging a deal with Owens acquiring either Mike Caldwell or Moose Haas. Then the Mets came calling.
Meet The Mets
On the surface, a deal between the Phillies and Mets didn’t seem to make sense since both teams were looking for pitching. But Owens told the Inquirer’s Jayson Stark that the Mets were in “win now” mode after years in ineptitude and might be willing to part with two prized pitching prospects if the price was right.
The price appeared to be Ryne Sandberg and Dick Ruthven but the Phillies would receive young righty Mike Scott and a lefty named Jesse Orosco. That deal ultimately fell through and Owens returned home. That’s when things got really bad.
Once the Winter Meetings concluded, the Phillies returned home to announce that they had signed Mike Schmidt to a new six-year contract, one that would hopefully keep in in Philadelphia for the rest of his career. It was a big money deal and, according to Giles, would force the team to make some tough decisions in the near future.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to get very tough on some other players because of it,” he said. “My philosophy is the four or five key guys – like Rose, Schmitty, Carlton and (Gary) Matthews – you have to take care of them. But we’re going to have to have tougher negotiations with some of those other people down the road or we just can’t make it financially.”
There was a name that was very conspicuous in its absence from Giles list of key guys and that was Larry Bowa. He’d been in the organization since 1966, won two Gold Gloves, made five All-Star appearances and had helped the Phillies win a World Series. Now, instead of being a “key guy,” he was part of “those other people.” It didn’t sit well.
Bowa wanted a three-year deal to stay with the Phillies and said he had a verbal agreement with former team owner Ruly Carpenter that he would either get a new contract or the team would trade him. Once Giles bought the team, he didn’t feel he was obligated to honor verbal agreements made by the previous owners.
“I told (Bowa) there were two options – give him a three-year contract or trade him,” Carpenter told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I told him if I still owned the ballclub that’s what I would do. But I don’t own the Phillies anymore and Larry has to understand that.”
Giles expressed hope that something could be worked out, but that didn’t seem likely.
“I don’t think it can be smoothed over,” said Bowa. “I’ve been with an organization that’s always been dead honest with me. Now all of a sudden, all I get is deceit, lies. To me, the class went out of this organization when Ruly Carpenter stepped down.”
The Die is Cast
Once Bowa called Giles a liar, there wasn’t much doubt that a trade was imminent and the Cubs were the best fit. Dallas Green had left the Phillies to become the Chicago general manager and after making the Krukow deal, he and Owens began to talk again. According to the Chicago Tribune, Green wanted Bowa and Sandberg in exchange for Ivan deJesus but the deal could possibly expand to include Cubs left-handed reliever, Bill Caudill.
Four days later Jayson Stark reported more names flying back and forth between the two teams. The Phillies were interested in a young relief pitcher named Lee Smith, but the Cubs weren’t biting on the Phillies offer of Sparky Lyle, Del Unser or catcher Don McCormack in return. If the Cubs were going to part with Smith, they wanted outfielder George Vukovich in return and Philadelphia balked at including him.
Finally; A Deal
At long last, a deal finally came together between the two clubs on January 27th. There was no Lee Smith, or Bill Caudill or Sparky Lyle or George Vukovich. It was the base deal, with no add-ons. Ivan deJesus came to Philadelphia for Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg.
Once again, Phillies fans weren’t happy, especially considering deJesus was coming off a season in which he won a reverse triple crown of sorts. In 1981, Ivan deJesus finished last in batting average (.194), home runs (0) and RBI (13) among batters with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title.
“It’s a trade we thought we had to make,” said Owens. He was right. Once Bowa began taking shots at the organization, they had little choice but to move him and he didn’t stop talking once the deal was done, either.
“That’s me,” Bowa said. “I’ve got to shoot from the hip. Bill Giles is on the job a month and 12 days and he’s had a lot of problems.”
“He comes out with a statement that he’s got four players on the team. You might believe it, you might think it, but you don’t say it out loud. How do you think the other 21 guys feel?”
Bowa also weighed in on the “throw in” portion of the shortstop swap, saying “I’m surprised they got Sandberg, too. He’s a good looking prospect. An athlete.”
Cubs manager Lee Elia, a former Phillies coach, agreed. While some saw Ryne Sandberg as a man without a position, Elia saw him differently.
“I look at it this way, Sandberg can ay any one of three positions for us – second base, third base or center field,” Elia said.
There was talk in spring training of Sandberg becoming the Cubs starting centerfielder, but Gary Woods ultimately filled that position. Chicago acquired Bump Wills late in spring training to man second base, which left Sandberg at 3rd, replacing the departed Ken Reitz, who was released right before the season began.
After being the starting shortstop for five years, Ivan deJesus was unsure how to feel at the time of the trade.
“I really don’t know why (the Cubs) traded me,” he said. I suppose the only way they feel they can have a winning team is to make changes. So they changed me and Krukow, but maybe they made a mistake.”
Turns out, it was the Phillies who made the mistake. They paid for it until 1997 when Ryne Sandberg retired after playing more than 2,100 games in a Chicago uniform and sporting a Cubs hat on his plaque in Cooperstown.