40 years ago today, the Cubs began breaking up that old gang of theirs. On Oct. 25, 1973, they traded star pitcher Fergie Jenkins to the Rangers.
The Cubs hadn’t had much success since WWII. They won the last wartime pennant in 1945, and then had a winning record in 1946, but then entered the long dark night for Cubs fans’ souls. From 1947-66, their best record was an 82-80 record in 1963. Yeah, that’s bad.
But in 1967 they went 87-74, beginning a six-season streak of winning record. They never won a pennant (of course) but they had a really solid core. Helmed by Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, the club had a quartet of Hall of Famers serving as the focus of their team; leftfielder Billy Williams, third baseman Ron Santo, aging infielder Ernie Banks – and Fergie Jenkins.
Clearly, Jenkins was a key part of the run. In each of those winning seasons, Jenkins posted 20 or more wins. He averaged 21 wins a year, over 300 innings, nearly 40 starts – all while posting a fine 3.00 ERA.
Behind Jenkins and his fellow stars, the team had middle infielders Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert, and catcher Randy Hundley, who all started for the team for years. A series of quality pitchers worked alongside Jenkins over the years, including youngsters Burt Hooton and Ken Holtzman, as well as veterans Milt Pappas and Bill Hands.
It was a good club, and though they never finished in first they had a nice stretch from 1967-72. But then came 1973. That’s the year that old gang got old, finishing 77-84.
Banks had already retired. (Frankly, he was past his prime before the club had become good). Durocher (also past his prime) left in the middle of 1972. But they still had Santo, Williams, Jenkins, Kessinger, Beckert, Hundley, Pappas, and Hooton.
But Oct. 25, 1973 showed they wouldn’t have them for much longer. The Cubs decided to rebuild, and Jenkins was the first to go. By the time Opening Day 1974 occurred, joining him out the door was catcher Hundley (to Minnesota), second baseman Beckert (to the Padres), and Ron Santo (to the crosstown White Sox). Also, Milt Pappas retired. The Cubs would also trade Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams during the 1974 season.
The rebuild wouldn’t be very successful, as their next winning season wouldn’t come until 1984. They wouldn’t have consecutive winning seasons again until the 21st century.
This particular trade, however, didn’t work out too badly. Sure, Fergie Jenkins would have a career year in 1974 with the Rangers, winning 25 games with a personal best 328.1 innings. But the Cubs had a nice gem coming to them in the deal: young third baseman Bill Madlock.
While Jenkins tore up Texas in 1974, Madlock finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, batting .313. Then he won a batting title in 1975, hitting .354. He then repeated as champ in 1976, batting .339. Sure batting average is overrated and Wrigley Field inflates averages – but that is nice. Meanwhile, Jenkins staggered his way to a 17-18 record in 1975 with a rising ERA. And that was his last year in Texas.
In those two years, Jenkins had 10.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Madlock had 11.6 WAR as a Cub from 1974-76. Then the Cubs flipped Madlock for Bobby Murcer.
It wasn’t a bad trade necessarily for the Cubs, but it did signal the end of an era—one of the few good eras the Cubs have had in the last 70 years. And that era ended 40 years ago today.