Behind the Scenes of the Worst Trade in Phillies History, and How Larry Bowa Got Back at the Phils

sandberg1In 1980, the fiery Dallas Green led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first ever World Series title. Just over a year later, Green was taken from the Phils, as the Chicago Cubs hired him to be their GM. He immediately went to work, firing Chicago fan favorites and bringing in Phillies players such as Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles, and Dan Larsen. But it was on January 27th, 1982, that the most memorable trade between the Phillies and the Cubs took place. The end result was the worst trade ever in a long Phillies history of terrible trades.

As soon as he ascended to the GM position, Green recognized that the Cubs needed some veteran leadership, and called his old friend Bill Giles in the Phillies front office. Phillies President Giles and Bowa were locked in a tense contract dispute, with Bowa wanting a 3-year extension and Giles (and GM Paul Owen) loathe to give so many years to a shortstop who was already 36-years old. Furthermore, the Phillies had two young shortstops waiting in the wings who were expected to take over at short in the near future. They were Luis Aguayo and Ryne Sandberg (above left).

By early January, rumors of an impending deal began to appear in the papers. In an interview on Philadelphia radio on January 7th, an angry Bowa said that the trade with the Cubs then being discussed by the two front offices would send him, Dick Davis, and Luis Aguayo to the Cubs for the all-glove no-bat Ivan DeJesus and a pitcher named Bill Caudill. DeJesus would essentially be a cheaper and slightly younger placeholder than Bowa until Sandberg came up, while also shoring up the defense.

But though the trade seemed imminent at that time, it wouldn’t be completed for another three weeks. Why? Because Dallas Green didn’t want Aguayo. He wanted the other young Phillies shortstop. The following comes from an interview with Green in the book Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies:

larry_bowa82“Ivan DeJesus was a proven-and marketable-shortstop. At first the Phillies tried to keep Ryne Sandberg from us. But I insisted on him if I was to make the deal. I think the Phillies knew Ryne was a good athlete. They just had no place to play him for two or three years. They were going for a pennant and there was some skepticism that he could play shortstop in the majors. Schmidt was at third. I always thought Ryne could play center field, but Maddox was there. The Phillies never really thought of him as a second baseman and besides Trillo was already there.”

On January 27th, Green finally convinced the Phillies to part with Sandberg instead of Aguayo, and the trade went through. The papers paid little attention to Sandberg. After all, the young shortstop had hit a paltry .167 in 1981 in 13 games played for the Phils. He was good, but most people saw him as a throw in on the deal. Bowa (right) realized his potential, however. When told that the “throw-in” was Sandberg, Bowa responded, “Well then, I was the guy they threw in because Sandberg is going to be a great player.” Those were the only kind words Bowa had to say about the deal, as he lashed out at the Phillies front office, telling the Daily News that the Phillies had once been like a family, but “That all changed when Giles took over. It’s all corporate now. No more family.”

Furious at the Phils, Bowa decided to get back at them by helping to groom Sandberg into a star. Again from the excellent book above, Cubs teammate Dickie Noles talks about Bowa and Sandberg.

“Ryne and Bowa were inseperable. They were at the ballpark before anyone else, working their tails off, taking ground balls, hitting, working the double play. I think Bowa also loosened him up a bit. Ryne was a real quiet guy. But Bowa got him to come out of his shell, to talk a little trash. He gave him a little cockiness, but in a good way.” 

By 1984, Ryne Sandberg was the best 2nd baseman in baseball, and was named NL MVP that year. He would go to the All-Star game 10 times and win the Gold Glove 9 times. His career .989 fielding percentage is the best ever for an MLB 2nd baseman. He is universally acknowledged as one of the best 10 2nd baseman in MLB history.

Ivan DeJesus turned out to be OK. He played for the Phils for three years, and it must be noted that his excellent defense did help the team make the 1983 World Series. And Luis Aguayo, the shortstop the Cubs didn’t want? He turned out to be…adequate is perhaps the kindest term, a utility player for the Phils for 9 years. As Whitey succinctly put it during one game during Aguayo’s tenure in Philadelphia: “Luis Aguayo is on deck. Aguayo hasn’t exactly been reminding anybody of Rogers Hornsby lately.”

Remarkably, most of these men’s futures would all also be tied in somehow to the Phillies. Sandberg has of course become manager of the team. Bowa was their manager from 2001-2004, and was just named bench coach. Green would later return to the Phils’ front office as a senior advisor. And Luis Aguayo was the New York Mets third base coach in 2008, the year they collapsed in September and blew it against the Philadelphia Phillies.

TO PURCHASE AN AUTHENTIC 1981 PHILLIES CAP, CLICK HERE. WE’LL TAKE $4 OFF OF THE INITIAL PRICE.

PREVIOUSLY: The Phillies trade Ferguson Jenkins to the Cubs for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl.


Stargell’s Legendary Blast

You can get a 1971 Pirates cap here.

Remarkably, the longest home run ever hit at Veterans Stadium came just 3 months into its 33 year history. Others came close (Thome missed it by a few feet), but no-one ever went further at the Vet than Willie Stargell did on June 25th, 1971.

The Phils were on their way to a last place finish in 1971, while the Pirates were on their way to a World Series championship. So nobody was surprised by the 14-4 drubbing the Pirates laid on the Phils on that hot June day. But the final score was a mere footnote to the blast Willie Stargell hit off of Jim Bunning. The left-hander launched one into the right field seats, and over 30 years later, the Phils on the field that day remembered it clearly. Said Bunning, who served up the meatball:

The Stargell Star was a high slider that I used to get Stargell out on, only I didn’t throw it hard enough and didn’t get it in. It got over the fat part of the plate. He couldn’t hit it any further.”

Bunning probably would agree with Don Sutton, who once said of “Pops”, “He doesn’t just hit pitchers. He takes away their dignity.”

Said Larry Bowa:

“That ball was still going up. As an infielder, when a guy hits one that you know is a home run, you give it a casual look. When he swung, you didn’t take your eyes off it because you wanted to see where it was going. It was majestic.

“I couldn’t believe how far that ball went. It would take me three swings to get one up there — from second base.”

Here’s a couple of photos that give you some perspective of how far he hit it. In the first one, taken from home plate, the color area is the section where he hit the ball..and keep in mind, everyone agreed that it was still gaining speed when it hit the stands. The star marking the section where he hit it is in the upper right of the 2nd pic.