Through the years, the Chicago Cubs have been known for terrible player personnel decisions, the best remembered of which is probably the one that sent Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for, basically, Ernie Broglio.
On April 8, 1960, the Cubs made a deal that ranks with their worst. They traded Ron Perranoski, Johnny Goryl, Lee Handley, and $25,000 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Don Zimmer.
The deal has escaped obloquy because Perranoski was a minor leaguer at the time. Thus, when he emerged as a star relief pitcher for the Dodgers, few noticed that he had been in the Cubs system and fewer that he had been traded for Zimmer.
It did not take long for Perranoski to emerge. In 1961, he went 7-5 with a 2.65 ERA. By 1963, he was probably the best relief pitcher in baseball, with a record of 16-3, 21 saves, and a 1.67 ERA.
Perranoski continued to be a bullpen ace for the Dodgers through 1967. In 1968, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins, along with Johnny Roseboro, for Mudcat Grant and Zoilo Versalles. Perranoski was a key reason why the Twins won back-to-back AL West titles in 1969 and 1970, leading the American League in saves both years.
Zimmer, who had batted .165 for the Dodgers in 1959, gave the Cubs two decent years. After that, he was a utility player for several clubs. His career as a player ended in 1965.
The saddest thing about the trade from a Cubs perspective is that they had no real need for Zimmer at the time they traded for him. The Cubs acquired him to fill the hole at third base created when they dealt Al Dark (and others) to the Phillies for Richie Ashburn.
But the Cubs already had a replacement for Dark — Ron Santo. Destined to become an all-time Cub great, Santo had batted .327 in 1959 as a 19 year-old at San Antonio (Double A).
It was not unreasonable to give Santo another year to develop in the minors. But it was irrational to trade a top ptiching prospect to hold down Santo’s position for just a year.
As it turned out, Santo would be called up in 1960 anyway, and he would post better offensive numbers that year than Zimmer. In 1961, he would outslug every National League third baseman except for Eddie Mathews and Ken Boyer.
The Cubs did find a spot for Zimmer, but only because they made another awful trade. In May of 1960, they sent their superb young second-baseman Tony Taylor to the Phillies for Don Cardwell and Ed Bouchee.
Had Bob Scheffing still been managing the Cubs in 1960, he might have made Santo his third baseman and avoided the Zimmer deal. Scheffing had been willing to start rookies — Casey Wise in 1957, Taylor in 1958, and George Altman in 1959. Wise was a flop but Taylor and Altman had worked out. However, the Cubs fired Scheffing after the ’59 season.
The firing of Scheffing is another puzzle. He had inherited a 60 win club and it had improved in each of his three years as Cubs manager. The 1959 edition won 74 games. This represented impressive improvement in the days before free agency.
The only explanation I’ve been able to find for the firing of Scheffing is this one from Baseball Digest: “they bounced Bob Scheffing, a decent manager burdened with a mediocre roster, simply to get the attention of the media because the White Sox were becoming the city’s favorite team.”
At first I doubted this explanation. After all, we’re talking about Phil Wrigley, not Daniel Snyder. On reflection, though, the explanation hangs together. It explains why, during the 1959 off-season the Cubs traded for veterans Ashburn and Frank Thomas (who would end up as teammates on the infamous 1962 Mets), both at too high of a price for a team with no legitimate pennant aspirations. And it may help explain why the Cubs were unwilling to make an unknown but remarkably talented 20 year-old their starter at third base.
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