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:

“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.

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

5 Comments on “Behind the Scenes of the Worst Trade in Phillies History, and How Larry Bowa Got Back at the Phils”

  1. Rene says:

    A nice piece of sports history writing that helps to remind me of how much I appreciated the DeJesus for Sandberg trade. I was really hoping Cubs new ownership and front office would figure out a way to keep Sandberg in the organization as, oh, I don’t know, the manager! But I’ll be happy for him if he makes his big league managerial debut with the Phillies.

  2. Jamie Johnson says:

    I fully blame Bill Giles to this day for that trade. Giles was so hellbent on unloading Bowa, that he threw in Sandberg. Imagine this lineup for most of the 1980’s if Giles had just left Paul Owens as the GM.

    Keith Moreland 1B
    Ryne Sandberg 2B
    Julio Franco SS
    Mike Schmidt 3B
    Lonnie Smith LF
    Bob Dernier CF
    George Bell RF
    Bob Boone C

    Steve Carlton (Would be past his prime after 1984)
    Shane Rawley
    Kevin Gross
    Dave Stewart
    Mike Krukow

    This team would have won a few pennants and perhaps a World Series.

  3. seamus kearney says:

    Yes, an egregious trade, but the worst in Phillies history? Well, that’s debatable. How about the trade of batterymates Grover Cleveland Alexander 30 game-winner] and Bill Killifer [.274 hitter] to the Cubs in December 1917 for pitcher Prendergast [3 wins in ’17] & catcher Dillhoeffer [.126 hitter] and $75g cash. After ’17 the Phillies entered the Dark Ages where they had 1 [one!] season above .500 in 31 seasons and finished last 16!!! times and next-to-last another 8 times.

  4. Great point Seamus, but you have to remember an old baseball maxim: anytime you can acquire a player named PICKLES in a trade, you have to make it happen.

  5. Robert says:

    Bill Giles destroyed the Phillies with his lousy trades. It was like George Costansa from seinfield took over out team. After 1980, he spoke at my college and I realized that he would destroy the Phillies team with his overinflated ego thinking he was a General Manager. He should have kept to marketing but amazing how bad his trades were. 2 hall of famers given away for peanuts and don’t tell me anything about Ivan DeJesus to try to compare him to Sandberg his stuggles to break the .200 average. We would have had a middle infield of Julio Franco and Sandberg. Unbelievable.

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