Ten years ago today, Cubs GM Jim Hendry engineered the best trade of his career—and, frankly, one of the most lopsided deals of the 21st century. When circumstances turned sour on him, he turned lemons into lemonade.
About two weeks earlier, the Cubs had suffered a major setback in their quest for the postseason. On July 6, 2003, center fielder Corey Patterson went down with injury and was lost for the year. At the time, the 23-year-old highly touted prospect was in the midst of an apparent breakout year, batting .298 with 13 homers in just a half a season. The Cubs would miss him.
The day Patterson went down, Chicago was barely over .500 with a 44-43 record. They had terrific starting pitching behind the trio of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano, but the club had holes in its lineup. Most notably, third base was a disaster, as a revolving door of Mark Bellhorn, Jose Hernandez, Lenny Harris and other had tried and failed to produce at the plate. The club didn’t need another hole to open up in center to swallow up their pennant hopes.
So Hendry looked around and had an idea. The Pirates had an aging veteran center fielder in the midst of a one-year contract whom they weren’t willing to re-sign: Kenny Lofton. So far on the year, Lofton had been adequate but nothing more, hitting .277 with 18 steals.
Once the Cubs began negotiating for Lofton, things took some interesting and expansive turns. You see, aside from Lofton, the Pirates also had a third baseman they’d be willing to part with, young Aramis Ramirez.
In 2001, the then-23-year-old Ramirez looked like a future superstar, smashing 34 homers and 40 doubles while hitting an even .300. However, 2002 was a giant leap backwards, as he collapsed to a .234 average with just half of his power. What had happened? Was his big year just a fluke? No, the team had stupidly made him play through a serious injury to his ankle. (You don’t post as many losing seasons in a row as the Pirates have without some criminally stupid decision-making.)
Ramirez was recovering in 2003, but as August approach, he had just 12 homers and a .280 average. Never mind that he was still one of their better hitters and rather young to boot; the Pirates were ready to move on with Ramirez. And if the club with a center fielder also had a third baseman, the Cubs were eager to lay their hands on him.
But what would the Cubs have to give up? Shockingly little. First, the Cubs had to send Hernandez to the Pirates. They needed someone to replace Ramirez and strangely they felt a 33-year-old who’d hit .227 with two teams so far in 2003 was a good guy to bring in.
Oh, and since the Pirates weren’t going anywhere in 2003, they wanted some prospects to help them go somewhere in the future. Instead, they got Matt Bruback and Bobby Hill. Bruback never did make it to the majors. Hill floundered for a year and a half at second base before his career ended. Oh, and Hernandez hit .223 with three homers over the last two months of 2003 for the Pirates before they let him go. So the Pirates didn’t get squat out of the trade.
Lofton and Ramirez, however, were both terrific for the Cubs. Upon arrival in his hometown of Chicago, Lofton went on a tear, batting .327 in the final stretch of the season. Though 2004 would find him in another uniform, Lofton’s 56 games alone more than made up for all that the Cubs gave the Pirates.
But the Cubs got a ton more out of Ramirez than they did Lofton. Once he came to Chicago, Ramirez found the stroke that made him one of the best young players in baseball two years earlier. Playing in just 63 games for the Cubs in 2003, he swatted 15 homers. Okay, so he batted only .259, but with his power, you can accept that.
With Lofton and Ramirez, the Cubs won the NL Central by a hair, one game over the Astros. Without them, the Cubs wouldn’t have made the postseason that year.
And Ramirez stuck around. He swatted 105 homers from 2004 to 06 while hitting .304. He’d last nearly a decade with the Cubs and left with the third-highest slugging average in team history (.531), fifth-best OPS (887), and sixth-most homers (239). Even without Ramirez, the Cubs would’ve gotten the better of the trade, but with him it turned into a historic steal. And that steal was 10 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversaries and “day-versaries” (which are things that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d rather just skim.
2,000 days since Florida signs Luis Gonzalez for the last year of his career.
2,000 days since Seattle signs free agent Brad Wilkerson, whose career hasn’t quite gone according to plan.
3,000 days since Paul Wilson has one of the worst starts ever, allowing eight runs—all earned—despite not recording a single out.
3,000 days since Trevor Hoffman records his 400th save.
4,000 days since Albert Pujols hits his third career grand slam.
4,000 days since Philadelphia catcher Mike Lieberthal swats three homers in one game.
4,000 days since Sammy Sosa hits three homers in a game for a record-tying sixth time.
7,000 days since the Cardinals have a day from hell, leaving 16 runners on base while getting shut out.
8,000 days since Tom Glavine wins his 50th decision.
25,000 days since the Phillies sign well-past-his-prime first baseman Jimmie Foxx.
1876 Turn-of-the-century outfielder Ginger Beaumont is born.
1891 Hall of Fame center fielder Hugh Duffy hits two inside-the-park home runs in one game.
1900 Jimmie Wilson, the least successful manager in history, is born.
1901 Pirates player-manager Fred Clarke hits for the cycle.
1901 Joe Quinn, long-time star infielder, plays in his last game.
1907 In the Texas League, the Austin Senators squad steals 23 bases in a 44-0 win over San Antonio.
1907 Boston Red Sox player-manager Deacon McGuire hits a pinch-hit homer at age 43.
1909 Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander tosses a no-hitter for the Galesburg Boosters over Pekin in the minor leagues. He fans 10 and walks one.
1910 The A’s and Indians-A’s make a trade. On July 30, Philadelphia will send Shoeless Joe Jackson to Cleveland as a player to be named later.
1912 In the International League, 41-year-old Iron Man Joe McGinnity still lives up to his old nickname Iron Man, pitching and winning both ends of a doubleheader for Newark for Rochester.
1915 Jack Ness of the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks team has his hitting streak end at 49 games.
1916 The Giants purchase Slim Sallee from the Cardinals for $10,000.
1918 Pee Wee Reese, Hall of Fame shortstop, is born.
1921 At the Black Sox trial, the court learns that the grand jury confessions and waivers of immunity signed by Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, and Joe Jackson are missing from files of the Illinois state attorney’s office. Welcome to Chicago.
1922 Ray Grimes gets an RBI in his 17th consecutive game. He has 27 RBIs in that time.
1922 AL umpires Brick Owens and Tom Connolly miss their train, so the Browns and Tigers get trainers to work their game as umpires.
1923 In Kansas City, Municipal Stadium opens. The Negro League Monarchs will play there.
1925 Lou Gehrig enjoys the first of 43 career multi-home run games. It includes the first of his 23 grand slams. This one is a bounced slam, his only bounced grand slam.
1930 Joe Cronin has the first of his six career multi-home run games. The next one will occur in 1937.
1930 Pie Traynor, who will hit only 58 home runs in his Hall of Fame career, homers in both end of a doubleheader in the Baker Bowl. The Pirates top the Phillies, 16-15 in 13 innings, in one of the games.
1932 Indians pitcher Wes Ferrell makes 10 assists in a 12-inning game.
1932 Red Ruffing goes 15 innings in a 4-3 win for the Yankees over the Red Sox.
1934 Dizzy Dean wins his 10th consecutive decision, his personal-best winning streak.
1936 Hall of Fame Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale is born.
1939 Ted Williams learns he has appendicitis but decides to forego surgery on it.
1940 Connie Mack loses his 3,000th game as manager. His record: 3,074-3,000. He’s still the only man over (or anywhere near) 3,000 losses. Second place is Tony LaRussa with nowhere near as many losses.
1940 Hot Dodger prospect Pete Reiser makes his big league debut. He’s a tremendous talent but keeps running into walls, shortening his career.
1942 In the Negro Leagues, Leon Day fans 18 for Newark versus Baltimore. This is a Negro League record.
1943 The Dodgers outfield ties a record with 18 putouts in a nine-inning win over the Reds.
1944 Bobby Doerr hits his 100th home run.
1944 Cub slugger Bill Nicholson hits three home runs in one game. At the end of the day, he’s given a bases-loaded intentional walk, preventing him from a possible fourth homer. New York wins, 12-10, over Chicago.
1944 Outfielder Joe Vosmik appears in his last game. He led the 1935 AL in hits, doubles, and triples. In 1938, he again led the AL in hits.
1947 Fastball star Ewell Blackwell wins his 16th straight decision.
1947 Pittsburgh signs free agent slugger Frank Thomas.
1950 Bill Lange, 1890s star, dies at age 79.
1950 Starting pitcher Bucky Walters appears in his last game.
1953 Casey Stengel loses his 1,000th decision. His record: 1,030-1,000.
1955 Del Ennis hits three home runs in one game.
1957 Mickey Mantle hits for the cycle.
1958 Ted Williams spits at a fan in Kansas City. He’ll be fined $250 and will apologize two days later.
1958 Frank Robinson enjoys his best game ever according to WPA: 0.969. He’s 2-for-5 with a double, home run, and four RBIs in the Reds 6-5 win over the Cubs.
1960 High-strung center fielder Jimmy Piersall of the Indians tries to distract Red Sox batter Ted Williams by running back and forth from center to left field. Both Piersall and manager Joe Gordon get ejected.
1960 Kansas City A’s Whitey Herzog hits into the first all-Cuban triple play in baseball. Pitcher Pedro Ramos catches Herzog’s shot, throws to first baseman Julio Becquer at first to double off one runner, and then Becquer throws to shortstop Jose Valdivielso to get the runner on second before he gets back to the bag.
1961 The Tigers and A’s use 21 pitchers in an 18-inning doubleheader, a record. The second game sets an AL record by lasting three hours and 54 minutes as a nine-inning game.
1964 Veteran pitcher Lew Burdette has a great day as a hitter, going 4-for-5 with a home and triple.
1966 Ball Four tracer: Jim Bouton tells a story in his book of a time when he and fellow pitcher Fritz Peterson put talcum powder in Joe Pepitone’s blow dryer, turning him into an Italian Pillsbury Doughboy when he tries to use it. No game perfectly fits the details Bouton gives in his book, but this is the most likely occasion.
1966 Mickey Mantle hits his ninth and final career grand slam.
1966 The Phillies release starting pitcher Roger Craig.
1967 Mickey Lolich loses his 10th straight decision. He’ll go 9-1 the rest of the year, though.
1967 Manny Sanguillen makes his big league debut.
1968 Two weeks after returning to the dugout as manager, Al Lopez has an emergency appendectomy.
1970 Today is the only time the Reds will be shut out all year. Milt Pappas does it in a 1-0 Cub win. It’s Pappas’ best WPA game.
1971 Mickey Lolich loses his 100th decision for a 132-100 career record.
1971 Catfish Hunter has his best day ever at the plate. He goes 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs, and that’s the difference in Oakland’s 9-7 win over Minnesota.
1973 Nomar Garciaparra is born.
1976 Vida Blue wins his 100th game. His record is 100-63.
1976 The California Angels fires manager Dick Williams.
1976 Reggie Jackson homers for the sixth straight game.
1978 Steve Carlton notches his 200th career win for a 200-145 record.
1978 Murray Chass, while working as a newspaper writer in his pre-blogger days, achieves the pinnacle of his career. At the bar in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, he’s drinking with Yankee manager Billy Martin, who says of Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, “They deserve each other. One’s a born liar and the other is convicted.”
1979 One-third of the way there: George Brett gets his 1,000th hit.
1979 Dave Winfield enjoys his best WPA game: 0.870 WPA by going 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in San Diego’s 6-5 win over the Phillies.
1983 Jose DeLeon makes his big league debut.
1985 Oddibe McDowell hits for the cycle.
1986 The White Sox trade Bobby Bonilla to the Pirates for Jose DeLeon. This turns out to be a staggeringly bad move for Chicago.
1987 Boston releases Bill Buckner.
1988 John Smoltz makes his big league debut.
1991 Ken Griffey Jr. hits the first of his 15 career grand slams.
1991 Cubs outfielder Doug Dascenzo lays down a great bunt against temperamental Reds reliever Rod Dibble. Unable to get Dascenzo out, Dibble throws the ball at his back. Dibble will get a suspension for this.
1992 Federal judge Suzanne B. Conlon finds on behalf of the Chicago Cubs that baseball commissioner Fay Vincent exceeded his authority when he ordered NL realignment.
1992 Kevin Appier lasts 10 innings for the Royals, the last time anyone on their team has pitched more than nine innings.
1993 Lou Piniella manages his 1,000th game. His record: 527-473.
1994 Don Mattingly gets his 2,000th hit.
1994 Edgar Martinez lays down his last sacrifice bunt. He’ll never do it again in his remaining 6,113 trips to the plate.
1995 Roger Clemens endures his worst outing: 1.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 0 K for a Game Score of 2.
1995 Former A’s ace Dave Stewart announces that he’s retiring.
1998 Baltimore trades Joe Carter to the Giants, with whom he’ll end his career.
2000 Pedro Martinez fans 15 in a complete-game, 1-0 win over the White Sox.
2002 Nomar Garciaparra nails three homers in one game. In the same contest, Manny Ramirez hits two homers in one game for the second time in three days. The Red Sox hit four homers in one inning, including one by Ramirez and two by Garciaparra. Johnny Damon hit the other one.
2003 Groundball pitcher Kevin Brown plays in his last game.
2004 Ivan Rodriguez gets his 2,000th hit.
2004 Kevin Millar hits three homer runs in one game for Boston.
2004 John Maine makes his big league debut.
2005 The Giants retire No. 36 for Gaylord Perry.
2007 Aaron Harang throws 10 innings for the Reds. It’s the last time the franchise ever has anyone throw more than nine innings in one game.
2010 Alex Rodriguez has his 10,000th plate appearance.
2010 Kelly Johnson hits for the cycle for Arizona.
2011 Terry Francona wins his 1,000th decision as manager. His record: 1,000-880.
2012 Seattle trades Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees.