Remembering 1964: Lou Brock and The Trade

USA TODAY Sports

As Lou Brock celebrates his 75th birthday today during the year that the St. Louis Cardinals are commemorating the 50th anniversary of their 1964 World Series title, it's worth remembering that 50 seasons ago, the St. Louis Cardinals were floundering. A promising 22-14 start was undermined by a 6-16 stretch. The Cardinals began play on June 15 at 28-30; tied with the Dodgers for seventh place in the National League and ahead of only the 1962 expansion franchises - the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets. A lot of great pitching was being wasted by an underperforming offense. The run-scoring had dwindled to only six tallies in the past seven games. Stan Musial had retired at the conclusion of the 1963 season and his replacement, local product (Webster Groves High School, Washington University, Mizzou) Charlie James, was OPSing .653 with no stolen bases and mediocre defense in left field. The June 15 trading deadline (the deadline wasn't changed to July 31 until 1986) was hours away. Redbird GM Vaughan (Bing) Devine pulled the trigger on a gutsy deal that shaped the Cardinal lineup for a generation as he packaged pitchers Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz with reserve corner outfielder Doug Clemens to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Jack Spring, minor league pitcher Paul Toth and outfielder Lou Brock.

Commonly regarded as one of the most uneven trades in the history of sports, the deal has been shortened to Brock for Broglio in most people's minds. Here is a brief synopsis of the non-Brock players in the deal:

Ernie Broglio: The centerpiece of the deal as far as the Cubs were concerned, Broglio had been a rotation stalwart in St. Louis since 1960 and won 60 games in four seasons from 1960 through 1963. 1960 had seen the Californian win a league-leading 21 games and a third place finish in Cy Young balloting. While 1961 was a down year, Broglio rebounded and won 30 games combined in 62-63 with a healthy 9.6 bWAR. Broglio was just 28 at the time of the deal and seemed poised to become a big winner for the Cubs. A bad elbow intervened, however, and Broglio was saddled with a 7-19 mark and a negative 1.5 bWAR during his Wrigley days and was out of baseball at the age of 30.

Bobby Shantz: The diminutive (5' 6" 139 lb) lefty had a nice career with 119 wins and 32.1 bWAR while plying his trade with seven different franchises. But the 38 year old was near the end of the line at the time of the Brock trade. The 1952 AL MVP as a Philadelphia Athletic won only a single game with 43 innings pitched after leaving the Gateway City and was sub-replacement level while with the Cubs. Widely respected for his ability to field his position, Shantz won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove in 1964 despite not having pitched more than 100 innings in a season since 1958.

Doug Clemens: Clemens was a product of the Redbirds' farm system. By 1964 he was in his fifth season wearing the Birds on the Bat, but had yet to establish much of a presence in the daily lineup. Clemens lasted a year and a half with Chicago playing all three outfield posts and was dealt to Philadelphia where he spent three seasons before disappearing from the majors at the age of 29. His 0.2 lifetime bWAR was split equally between the Cubs and Cards.

Jack Spring: Another southpaw hurler, Spring had some success with the Los Angeles Angels from 1961 - 1964. Acquired by the Cubs in mid-May of 1964, he was a throw-in in the Brock trade and only pitched briefly in only two games right after the trade before the Cards sent him down to the minors. Spring resurfaced in Cleveland in 1965 where he made 14 relief appearances during his final season in the majors.

Paul Toth: Another Cardinal farmhand, Toth debuted in the majors with the Cardinals in 1962 and pitched in six games before being dealt to Chicago. Toth started the 1964 campaign in Chicago, but was with the Cubs' AAA team in Salt Lake City at the time of the return trade and Devine dispatched him to the Birds' AAA affiliate in Jacksonville, IL. Toth never again reached the majors.

The trade was not well-received in St. Louis.

Cardinal first baseman Bill White's autobiography Uppity includes the following passage: "Bing Devine and Johnny Keane traded with the Cubs for Lou Brock, giving up some of our best pitchers in the process. Lou would soon become an outstanding ballplayer, but at the time of the trade he was struggling. We all thought that Bing was crazy."

Redbird rotation stalwart Curt Simmons told me that at the time of the trade he thought, "He (Brock) was just kind of ordinary. He could run, of course, and was kind of a strong guy, but he was just a regular ballplayer."

However, pitcher Ray Washburn may have known Brock better than the other Cardinals as he had watched and played against Brock in the 1960 NAIA championships where Washburn's Whitworth College team defeated Lou's Southern University squad. Washburn said to me, "I pitched against him in that college tournament and struck him out three times. But we could tell he was an exciting player. He had power and he had speed."

Devine did not get to reap the rewards of his prescient trade as he was fired in mid-August in spite of Brock's success. Saddled with a .251 batting average, an OPS+ of 77 and a wRC+ of 78 at the time of the trade, Brock posted a BA of .348, an OPS+ of 146 and a wRC+ of 150 during the remainder of the season.

The Running Redbird's career achievements are extraordinary. His 3023 career hits ranked him in the Top Ten at the time of his retirement and he still ranks 23rd. The first ballot Hall of Famer shattered Maury Wills' single season stolen base record of 104 by swiping 118 in 1974. Three years later, Larcenous Lou became MLB's all time stolen base leader when he surpassed Ty Cobb. The Prince of Pilfer led the NL in steals eight times and stole 50 or more in an astounding 12 consecutive seasons. He is still the standard bearer for all time postseason batting average (minimum 65 PA's) with a mark of .391.

Sabermetrics has not been kind to the Redbird left fielder. Playing at the low end of the defensive spectrum, Brock is deemed to have cost his team 171 runs over the course of his career with an arm that was neither strong nor accurate. Bill James has been dismissive of the value of stolen bases since OBP was considered an advanced statistic. With a career bWAR of 45.2, Brock ranks dead last among the 47 first ballot Hall of Famers by a significant margin and well below the output achieved by many who have been denied admission to the Hall.

But there are things saber stats still don't measure. I recall a game I was listening to on the radio in 1974 or 1975. I know it was a home game but I can't recall who the Cards were playing. But I remember Brock led off the bottom of the first and reached first base. Brock took his lead as the #2 batter (Ted Sizemore ?) stepped in. A couple throws over and then the pitcher delivered a pitchout as Brock held his ground. More throws over as the cat and mouse game continued. The second pitch was again a pitchout as Brock took only a secondary lead. Certain that Brock would be going, the catcher again signaled for a pitchout and was outfoxed as Lou remained at first. On the 3-0 offering, Brock lit out for second but the delivery from the distracted pitcher was understandably off target and Sizemore walked. There was no measurable contribution from Brock, but the disruption he caused while on the base paths affected this plate appearance as well as hundreds of other Cardinal teammates' plate appearances over the years. The distraction he caused pitchers, the pitch selection challenges he presented to catchers and the positioning issues he caused fielders all added to his overall worth in non-quantifiable ways.

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