The Brewers nearly added a fourth future Hall of Famer to the formidable lineup that challenged the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series.
Forty years ago, in December 1981, the Phillies were prepared to deal Ryne Sandberg to the Brewers, but their offer was rejected. A month later, Sandberg was traded to the Cubs.
If the Brewers had taken Sandberg, he would have joined a batting order with three other future Hall of Famers _ Paul Molitor, Ted Simmons and Robin Yount _ along with run producers such as Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas.
At the 1981 baseball winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla., the Phillies sought starting pitchers to add to a rotation of Steve Carlton, Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven. First, they acquired Mike Krukow from the Cubs. Then they looked for one more starter.
The Phillies were offering a package of prospects, with Sandberg, 22, being a centerpiece. As the shortstop for Class AAA Oklahoma City in 1981, Sandberg hit .293 with 32 stolen bases.
In addition to shortstop, Sandberg could play second base, third base and center field, but the Phillies felt they were flush at those positions. They had Larry Bowa at shortstop, Mike Schmidt at third base, Manny Trillo at second and Garry Maddox in center.
Also, another shortstop prospect, Julio Franco, 23, had impressed in 1981, hitting .301 with 27 stolen bases at Class AA Reading, and the Phillies were looking to make room for him.
“The Phillies are particularly enthusiastic about Franco’s chances of becoming a top-flight big league shortstop,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
As for Sandberg, “Ryne is a good prospect,” Phillies general manager Paul Owens said to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, “but we never felt he would play regularly for us.”
The Phillies included Sandberg in trade talks for starting pitchers Dave Stieb of the Blue Jays, Floyd Bannister of the Mariners and Mike Scott of the Mets, but came up empty, the Wilmington (Del.) Morning News reported.
The Phillies also approached the Brewers about starting pitcher Mike Caldwell. The Phillies initially offered outfielder Bake McBride, pitcher Marty Bystrom and infielder Luis Aguayo, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “but the Brewers were haggling for the inclusion of Sandberg.”
Because the Phillies had offered Sandberg in other trade proposals, it surprised some that it became “a large point of contention among people in the organization” whether to include him in a deal with the Brewers for Caldwell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Everybody wants him, but he’s too good,” Phillies president Bill Giles said. “We figure his value is going to be much higher in a year.”
As the winter meetings neared an end, “the Phillies were wavering on throwing Sandberg back onto the market,” the Philadelphia Inquirer noted. “They knew that, if they did, they could have Caldwell.”
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the Phillies proposed sending Sandberg, Marty Bystrom and catching prospect Don McCormack to the Brewers for Caldwell. “For a while, they thought they had that deal made,” the Daily News reported.
According to Hal Bodley in his reporting for the Wilmington (Del.) Morning News and The Sporting News, the Phillies’ offer was Sandberg, McCormack and pitching prospect Jon Reelhorn for Caldwell.
In his response to the Phillies, Brewers general manager Harry Dalton said, “Substitute Julio Franco and it’s a deal.”
The Phillies said no.
If the Brewers had obtained Sandberg, he might have replaced Jim Gantner as their second baseman in 1982, when they won the American League pennant and opposed the Cardinals in the World Series.
Managed by an American League batting champion, Harvey Kuenn, who replaced Buck Rodgers in June 1982, the Brewers’ hitters were called “Harvey’s Wallbangers,” because, like the classic cocktail, they were potent.
Three 1982 Brewers had more than 200 hits: Robin Yount (210), Cecil Cooper (205) and Paul Molitor (201). Each of those three also scored more than 100 runs. Four of the 1982 Brewers had more than 95 RBI: Cooper (121), Yount (114), Gorman Thomas (112) and Ted Simmons (97). The club’s top home run hitters were Thomas (39), Ben Oglivie (34) and Cooper (32).
Adding Sandberg to that lineup takes it to another level, but it might not have been enough to offset the loss of Mike Caldwell to the starting rotation.
Caldwell became a 17-game winner for the 1982 Brewers. He got two more wins in the World Series. Without Caldwell, the Brewers likely would have added Jim Slaton to an Opening Day rotation of Pete Vuckovich, Moose Haas, Randy Lerch and Bob McClure.
My kind of town
During contract negotiations in January 1982, shortstop Larry Bowa had a falling out with Phillies management.
Dallas Green, who had been the Phillies’ manager before becoming general manager of the Cubs, offered to deal shortstop Ivan DeJesus for Bowa and Sandberg. The Phillies tried to expand the deal, asking for reliever Lee Smith as well as DeJesus, but Green held firm.
“They think it’s heavy, but I don’t think so,” Green told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I won’t trade Ivan even-up for any shortstop and they know that … They have to make a decision on Sandberg. If they say OK, the deal is done.”
The trade of Bowa and Sandberg to the Cubs for DeJesus was made on Jan. 27, 1982.
In his book, “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said Green “robbed his old club in a deal I’m still jealous of … I’d seen Sandberg play in the minor leagues and I knew Dallas had a sleeper.”
The 1982 Cubs’ Opening Day lineup had Bump Wills at second base and Sandberg, who replaced Ken Reitz, at third. Sandberg completed the season with 172 hits in 156 games. He also scored 103 runs and had 32 stolen bases.
After the 1982 season, Wills went to Japan and Sandberg shifted to second base.
Sandberg had 35 home runs and 122 RBI against the Cardinals in his career. His signature game occurred on June 23, 1984, when he had five hits, including a pair of home runs against Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter, and seven RBI. Boxscore and Video
When Sandberg became a free agent in 1996, the Cardinals pursued him before opting for Delino DeShields as their second baseman.
Sandberg remained with the Cubs and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he never played in a World Series, an opportunity he may have gotten if the Brewers had accepted the Phillies’ 1981 trade offer.