Bill Conlin | These transactions were transgressions

Posted: July 06, 2007

THE TRAGIC MAGIC of the four zeros rushing at us is now only days away. The dreaded Blizzard of 0s will adorn an umbrella covering 125 seasons of the Philadelphia National League franchise like an immense, black shroud.

Much of the bad baseball that went into the 10,000 losses we will commemorate, mourn or mock - that's your call - were the offspring of bad trades and ill-advised signings and acquisitions.

The rules here are simple. To make this list, a trade, signing or acquisition had to have devastating long-term consequences or historic implications. I list them in no particular order or era.

The trades

* RHP Grover Cleveland Alexander to the Chicago Cubs for C Pickles Dillhoefer and RHP Mike Prendergast. Alexander went 30-13 in 1917, climaxing the greatest four-season run in National League pitching history. Starting in 1914, Old Pete went 121-50. His worst ERA was 2.38 in '14, followed by 1.22, 1.55 and 1.83. He led the league in strikeouts each year. The Phillies explained that Alexander faced being drafted in 1918. The real reason was the $50,000 the Cubs sent along with the ballplayers, 1918 operating money for a franchise that lived from cigar box to mouth until the Carpenter Era began in 1943.

* RHP Ferguson Jenkins, CF Adolfo Phillips and 1B John Herrnstein to the Cubs for RHPs Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl. Had the Phillies kept Jenkins, there is no way of knowing whether general manager John Quinn still would have traded for Steve Carlton in 1972. Whatever, a future Hall of Famer was dealt for a couple of fading veterans in manager Gene's Mauch's "Win Now'' policy.

* SS Larry Bowa and IF Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs for SS Ivan DeJesus. Sandberg made it four future Hall of Famers the Phillies sent to the Cubs, if you count Chuck Klein in 1933. It's well known Bowa accused Bill Giles, his new boss, of reneging on a promised contract extension. Not known is whether Cubs GM Dallas Green got some help from his longtime pal, Minister of Trade Hugh Alexander, in nudging Giles toward giving up the gifted but position-blocked Sandberg. The deal has become so historically lopsided, we forget DeJesus was a pretty good shortstop for a Phillies pennant winner.

* LH reliever Willie Hernandez to the Detroit Tigers for C John Wockenfuss and OF Glenn Wilson. Hernandez was an excellent setup man for the 1983 champions after coming from the Cubs in a May 22 deal that sent RHP Dick Ruthven back to Dallas Green. Hernandez proceeded to fuel a Tigers World Series title with one of the greatest seasons in history by a reliever, working 140 innings, saving 32 games with a 9-3 record and a 1.92 ERA. Willie was voted American League MVP.

* 2B Manny Trillo, SS Julio Franco, OF George Vukovich, C Jerry Willard and RH Reliever Jay Baller for Cleveland OF Von Hayes. The second winter meetings of the Bill Giles era were in Hawaii. The Bopper spent a fascinating week at the frequently bent elbow of Hugh Alexander, suite-hopping in the trade-wind buffeted Sheraton Waikiki. "Bill wanted Von Hayes and I put him right out there on our trade team,'' Alexander said. Giles saw the smooth-swinging Hayes winning batting titles in Philly and was confident a young Dominican flyer named Juan Samuel would make fans forget All-Star Manny Trillo. And his scouts convinced him a switch-hitting shortstop named Steve Jeltz would be a better defender than top prospect Franco. A quarter century after Giles held forth at a jubilant press conference to announce the 5-for-1 Hayes coup, Franco made the final out in last Sunday's Mets loss to the Phillies. The other principles in the deal are long gone.

* RHP Jack Sanford to the Giants for C Valmy Thomas and RHP Ruben Gomez. Sanford was a late-blooming power arm who won 19 games for the 1957 Phils and was the NL Rookie of the Year. Sensing Sanford already was burning out when he struggled in his second year, GM John Quinn decided to deal him for value. Thomas was the Rod Barajas of his time, Gomez best remembered for drilling Braves slugger Joe Adcock, then fleeing for his life with Joe in hot pursuit. Sanford went 24-7 for the pennant-winning 1962 Giants.

* 1B Dick Allen, 2B Cookie Rojas and RHP Jerry Johnson to the Cardinals for CF Curt Flood, C Tim McCarver, OF Byron Browne and LH reliever Joe Hoerner. Who knew the 1969 blockbuster would change the face of baseball forever and become the most important economic development since the signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947? Flood refused to sign a Phillies contract, instead filing a suit against baseball's reserve system that went all the way to the Supreme Curt. Flood lost his battle to overturn the clause that bound a player to a team until his trade or release. But the honorables told baseball to address the issue through collective bargaining, and when federal arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith were free agents, the pastime was dragged kicking and screaming into the free-agent era. Pat Burrell owes the late Curt Flood a belated "Thank you . . . "

* Worth mentioning: OF Chuck Klein to the Cubs after the 1933 season for three stiffs and $65,000 (Klein had won the Triple Crown in '33); CF Rich Ashburn to the Cubs for RHP John Buzhardt, IF Alvin Dark and 3B Jim Woods (Whitey's average had plunged from .350 in 1950 to .266. In his first of two Cubs seasons, Ashburn led the league with 116 walks and .415 OBP while hitting .291); LHP Curt Simmons, released by Phils in May 1960. He signed with the Cardinals and was 18-9 for the 1964 team that overhauled the collapsing Phils.

* Entry: 3B Scott Rolen and RHP Doug Nickle to the Cardinals for IF Placido Polanco, LHP Bud Smith and RHP Mike Timlin; RHP Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for 1B Travis Lee, LHP Omar Daal, RHP Nelson Figueroa and RHP Vicente Padilla. These are the deals you threaten to tell the kids about at bedtime if they have been naughty . . .

Sick signings

* OF Pat Burrell: Before free agency, baseball was clogged by big, slow guys whose best position was "bat.'' When they became an anchor on defense, you merely got rid of them. You sure as hell didn't tie them up for 6 years at $50 million, all guaranteed, then wrap them in the red ribbon of an ironclad no-trade clause. But that's what GM Ed Wade did to the one-dimensional outfielder who was the first player picked in the 1998 draft. The consequences still have a year and a half to run.

* C Lance Parrish: Covered in an earlier piece lowlighting Frauds, Flops and Flakes. Ditto RHP Freddy Garcia.

* OF J.D. Drew: Phils' No. 1 draft pick (second overall) turned out to be a serial wuss and would have been a huge flop here. The stonewall thrown up by agent Scott Boras created a negative aura that shouted "Elite players don't want to play in Philly,'' forcing Wade and his successors (the current Gillick, Amaro, Arbuckle troika) to overpay free agents and players acquired in trades.

* IF John Kennedy: After passing on some of the greatest baseball talent in history, including a North Philly guy named Roy Campanella, the Phillies finally integrated in 1957. They signed a guy who had been released by the Giants in 1954 and dumped him after two at-bats. Hank Aaron was NL MVP in 1957.

Awful acquisitions

* Brother Where Art Thou? The Yankees had Joe DiMaggio. The Red Sox had Dom DiMaggio. The Phillies had Vince DiMaggio in 1945, his last full year. He led the league with 91 strikeouts (the War Years pitchers didn't throw very hard), but hit 19 homers.

Ken Brett was a good pitcher who could hit - but not quite as well as George.

Scouts swore Mike Maddux threw harder than Greg.

Hey, Jeremy Giambi was as big as Jason.

Phils passed Al Leiter in draft, wound up with Mark years later.

Hank Blalock is a star third baseman for the Rangers. Phils gave up on brother Jake, who played at same high school as Cole Hamels.

If Joe Torre had played here instead of brother Frank, would he also have managed here?

Tim Worrell slept here. Todd didn't. Or, as Whitey used to say, "Oh, brother.''

* Pete Rose. Even when Bill Giles hit a grand slam home run, there was a fly in the ointment. We all looked the other way while The Hit King bet on anything that moved and hit on just about every female who walked during his dynamic and dramatic five seasons here. But there was no reason for him to bet on baseball while he was here - I think - because his love for the game and the intensity he brought to it satisfied his primal need for non-stop action. After he left, it was a different story.

* RH reliever Ugueth Urbina. If you visit the setup man who says he was set up in his native Venezuela, it will go better if you tip the guards.

* Special "Oops'' Award: Losing future American League MVP George Bell, claimed by the Blue Jays in the December 1980 Rule 5 draft for $50,000. *

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