Cubs trade Bill Buckner, a lesson learned

The recent Brian Urlacher situation was a reminder that I have moved past having too strong of an emotional tie to any one player.

It reminds me of the famous Seinfeld episode where Jerry realizes that he ultimately “Cheers for laundry”.  Sure, I will miss Brian Urlacher, I got to know him personally and he was everything you want in a Chicago Bear.

Most sports fans learn at one time or another that you have to cut ties and move on, even if it is a player you love. The last time I remember feeling down about a player moving on was Bill Buckner back in 1984.

Buckner was my first real attachment in sports. He quickly became my favorite Cub when I began watching the team on a daily basis in the ’81 season. He was a hard nosed, smart, and (like me) left-handed hitting player.

I remember vividly being upset at first reading that Buckner was involved in trade rumors back in the offseason of 1983. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It turns out that Dallas Green was in a hurry to move Buckner. Green apparently thought Buckner was kind of a pain in the ass in the clubhouse, and the team wanted to move the young and promising Leon Durham back to his natural position.

There was the hot and heavy pursuit of Steve Garvey by the Cubs that would have moved Buckner even before then. After that attempt failed Buckner was rumored to be going to New York for Willie Randolph, or to San Francisco in a package for Bill Laskey and Chili Davis. These would all be smart trades at the time but I wanted no part of it. I wanted the “Mr. Cub” at the time to stay put. I was young, but I already knew the kind of player I liked.

When the ’84 season began and Buckner held up his inclusion in the Garry Matthews/Bobby Dernier Phillies trade, team management was none too happy. Durham was the opening day first baseman and my first favorite player had to play sparingly in left field. I’ll never forger sitting behind him in the bleachers, it just didn’t look right.

Finally, when Buckner was dealt to Boston for Dennis Eckersley I was not surprised but still upset. A family friend at the time consoled me with a good scouting report on Eckersley. It immediately cheered me up, and besides the Cubs were winning.

They now had another needed pitcher and I moved on rather quickly it turns out. It was a lesson learned and one I didn’t forget. Ryne Sandberg coincidentally was becoming my new favorite anyway. I always did root for Buckner in Boston and it still sucks how his legacy will be written.

John told me a funny story about the whole thing.

Turns out John had a friend that was also a big Buckner guy. He chided John after the infamous ball went through Durham's legs  in Game 5 on the ’84 NLCS by saying: “That would have never happened with Buckner playing first base”.

That is a whole other lesson.




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  • fb_avatar

    Tom, I remember all those Billy Buck rumors and we've discussed them in the past but I NEVER knew he was to be involved in the Cubs/Phillies deal...would that have gotten us Julio Franco back in addition??

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I know Luigi, thought of you when I wrote this. No Buckner was supposed to be included in that deal but he dragged his feet.

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I have to look back but I think they included Campbell and minor leaguer instead.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Campbell and Mike Diaz for "The Sarge", Dernier and Porfi Altamirano.

  • Buckner, followed by Sangberg. Yep, my two original favorite Cubs as well. Hated to see Billy Buck go that year, too. Kept rooting for him in Boston, too, but also quickly grew to like Durham. Who knew back then that both their legacies would be more about one error than very good careers!

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    I liked Buckner. Sandberg too, until '94.

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    Yes both really nice players.

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    Brian Urlacher not signing with the Bears (albeit for a "pittance") at the very end of his career and Bill Buckner being shopped around and finally traded are apples and oranges.

    Favorite players come and go.

    What else you got?

  • In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    He's got a lot, Jorge.

    You could try going to Tom's previous blog before merging with this one and reading some of it. It's good.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Thanks Q but I'm proud enough of my work on Den and also Loxas Factor too.

  • In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    Um who are you? I've been blogging here for years and I was reminded how some didn't want to let Urlacher go just like I didn't with Buckner back then.

  • In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    Favorite players come and go...kind of the point of the post.

  • Billy Buck was my favorite Cub, too. I imitated his batting stance, my jersey number was always 22, everything. I was sad to see him go. He was the only player for which I attempted to collect every one of his Topps baseball cards. I had the pleasure of chatting with him twice. He's a humble, understated guy. The only guy I know whose eyebrows may have had more hair than his mustache...

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I mocked his batting stance too.

  • I would have loved getting Chili Davis in return, while not a superstar he was Mr. Consistent during his entire career. I forgot how determined Dallas Green was in getting rid of him. I have read since then that Buckner was a grouchy jerk more or less in the clubhouse.

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    In reply to Steve Flores:

    He was one of Ryne Sandbergs favorite players ever!!!! Dallas wanted to eliminate everyone he inherited and excpet for Durham and Jody Davis he did...He tried to move Durham to Philly but that was nixed by Tribune execs, Green was livid!!!!

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    Who were we supposed to get back for Durham?

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    If I remember correctly, Durham was the Phillies first target before they went for Von Hayes...I would have loved to have gotten Julio Franco in that deal... I know Green coveted Lonnie Smith as well but he was dealt to the Cardinals instead

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    My cousin and I had a long discussion of who was better Buckner or Mark Grace...Grace couldn't hold a candle to Bill Buckner...Buckner ran harder and faster with 2 bum ankles than Grace could healthy, Buckner had more power than Grace and was a really good defender as well, plus Grace was good but Billy Buck used to shoot laser beams off that bat

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I actually think its pretty close have to look at some numbers.

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    have to disagree-Grace led all M L hitters in hits during the decade of the 90s, won 3 GGs as a 1b and had power numbers very similar to Bucks. I admired Bucks grit and his toughness, But Grace was a better all-around player.

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    I was a young boy during Buckner's career and simply loved the guy. But I can't sign up for him being a better player than Grace. To be honest I don't think it is very close either. I do agree on the running part but that value is pretty small. Grace was easily the better fielder, elite in any era. The power numbers were pretty similar but if anything Grace might hold a slight edge. Both hit about the same for avg. The biggest thing I think your missing in your analysis though is walks, and OBP. Buckner just didn't take a free pass his whole career. So the years he hit under .300 his OBP was below avg. for the entire league. That was never a problem for Grace. To point out the difference if you take Grace's top two walk years they are about the same as Buckner's for his entire Cub career. That is a huge difference.
    To sum up the bat difference Grace had 7 seasons with an OPS of 850 or more, peaking at over .900. Buckner never had an OPS of 850, he peaked at .829 and only had two seasons above .800.
    I'm not trying to bash on a romantic view of a player, I loved Buckner as a boy, but trying to be objective Grace was far superior at getting on base, was the better fielder, and the hitting for avg, and power was very similar. The base running is all I can give Buckner and that isn't close to enough to be a better overall player. Still love Buckner though, great memories of that guy!

  • Buckner was my favorite as well , until Sandberg came along . I must agree , Buckner was a better player than Grace .

  • In reply to walterj:

    I said the same thing a few months ago about Buckner was better than Grace, and everyone yelled at me on that.

    I am glad to see that someone has good baseball sense!

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Buckner was a far better player than Grace. And a better actor, too, if you've seen his fantastic guest role on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    "You Bucknered me!"

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:


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    In reply to Just Win:

    Grace was much better than Buckner; it isn't even close. Over the course of their careers, Grace had a better on-base percentage and a better slugging percentage than Buckner. Grace even had a better batting average, which is supposedly Buckner's strong suit! Grace also had a much better glove.

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    Durham was my favorite Cub and can still remember vividly that ball going through his legs in game 5.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    Imagine what Bull could have done if he had stayed off the dope.

  • I liked both players, but Durham was the better player for me at that time. As much as I didn't want to see Buckner go, that was the right move by Green.

    And Luigi, I'm sorry but I have to disagree. Mark Grace was better than Billy Buck. Appreciate everything Buck was able to do, especially under the circumstances, but Grace was a better player. Better OBP, better defense, even better power.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I loved Durham! I wanted to keep them both but for sure it was right move, great trade!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Gracie was better with the ladies too....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Never underestimate the power of Billy Buck's moustache. Especially in the 70s.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    puts tom selleck to shame

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, I think you nailed it. Durham was better at the time. In fact his OPS in '84 was one of the best in the entire NL. The other thing is the '84 Cubs were in desperate need of SP early in '84. We all know what Sut did for the team but without Eck I don't know we make it either. He pitched very well for us and without his starts we may not have made it.

    One thing that always has made me daydream is what if Green didn't trade Willie Hernandez in '83 for Dick Ruthven. Ruthven was worthless in '84 and of course Hernandez turned in one of the best reliever seasons in the history of the game. Brusstar, Hernandez, Smith in '84 would have been an incredible backend of the bullpen.

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    Yep however Green won most of his Cubs trades so ill give him a pass on that one.

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    They would have needed that bullpen too the way things turned out in the NLCS.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Buckner won a battle title when baseball was still baseball. He was also one of the hardest players to strike out in the last 40 years. Yes, Grace walked more, but he also struck out more, and had less speed than a guy who had two bum knees and bad ankles (who was also weighed down by his brilliant mustache). Buckner also played over 600 games in the OF so guys like Biitner, Kingman, and Durham could play 1B, despite being an excellent defensive 1B who had the unfortunate timing of playing when Keith Hernandez was winning the GG every year. And I'll never forget Buckner's hate of Gary Carter and the time he punched Carter in the catcher's helmet during a brouhaha at Wrigley. Grace is the soulless, personality-less Hollywood pretty boy. Yes, Grace was a good player, but I'd rather have a cranky gamer like Buckner any day.

  • I really liked Billy Buck too. Bobby Hull? Greg Maddux? Not always a trade but similar if not worse feelings go there for me.

  • My favorite Cub probably always will be José Cardenal. At one point I wanted to 'be' José - for a year or two in the early 70s.

    Always had a soft spot for Rick Reuschel too. I swear - the more out of shape Rick looked - the better he pitched.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Yeah a lot of people loved Reuschel.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    The thing I liked about Reuschel was that he worked fast. Pitch, get the ball back, get the sign, pitch again. Never wasted time.

  • And often used as a pinch runner. The guy was a really good athlete despite his gait.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:


  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    wasn't a bad hitter for a pitcher either.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I loved watching Reuschel during BP. He'd stand next to the batting cage and hit fly balls to the OF'ers while other guys were taking their swings in the cage. He'd often crank them out onto the street and would get a smattering of applause from the few fans in the park back then.

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    One of the worst Cubs trades ever, Herman Franks traded Rick Reuschel to Yankees for Doug Bird and Mike Griffin.....crappola!!!! I rememeber vaguely when he went after Bill Madlock for taking out rookie 2b Steve Macko on a double play. when Macko got checked out they found out he had cancer

  • The main thing was for me, this was the last time I really let emotion get in the way of the process. It was time for Buck to move on, I just thought when they won he'd be there.

  • Buckner and Keith Hernandez were good counterparts in the Cubs/Cards series back then.

  • Cardenal was in my neighborhood for a signing session. Had him sign a ball that already had Santo's autograph. Still have it.

  • Who remembers Buckner in LF in '84?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    2 games. Don't remember why.

  • His original position before injuring his knee (with LA) was LF.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    Yes. I think he played those 2 games in LF in '84 so the Cubs could get him and Durham in the same lineup.

  • Yes exactly, it was just weird at the time.

  • In reply to kansasblackhawk:

    Buckner, Jim Wynn, Fergunson, Willie Crawford........LA had a great team back then.

  • Tom, I suspect that in '73 and '74 and was probably about the same age you were in '84, so I vividly remember feeling similarly dismayed when the Cubs traded away my heroes starting with Fergie and Santo in '73 and Billy in '74.

    One of the nice things that I'm really looking forward to with Theo's approach of building from within and hopefully locking up young, long term assets is, hopefully, returning to the days (before free agency) when we got to see the kids grow and develop right before our eyes and we're able to form strong attachments with those players. Santo-Kessinger-Bechert- and Banks. Man, that's what I grew up with. We got to see something similar with Michael and Scottie, and now with Toews and Kane.

    And when you have that kind of attachment, it is so much more meaningful, emotional and exhilarating and when those kids finally grow and become winners. And so much more painful when they fail, and, ultimately, leave.

    They're our kids!

    Let's Go Cubs!

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Oh that would hurt more, I get that. Im also jealous, we should have had that opportunity to see what Sandberg, Grace, Maddux, Palmeiro would have done together.

    Hope we see Castro, Rizzo, Soler, Baez, etc. grow old here.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    My guess - the economics of that Castro, Rizzo, Soler, Baez, et al. gelling and remaining a continous core for years would be difficult to pull off.

    However - I would love to see it.

    The biggest danger would be to become what the Yanks have been the last couple of years,.... as age, injuries, and retirements have kicked in,... the team starts to crash & burn. I would love to see the Cubs keep the core equivilent ot Riviera/Posada/Jeter/Pettite (Avoid any A-Roids if possible) together for a while though,... and with the same level of success they had the last decade.

    But a decent run of success,... followed by a (hopefully less extensive) rebuild (as the Farm system should be in better shape 'next' rebuild) and another run of success would be ideal.

    My guess,.... 2015-2020 should have it share of successes for our Cubs.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Agreed, it will probably come down to a core of about 4-5.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    lets not forget, Billy , Ron, Ernie, Fergie were together from the early 60s to the early 70s, supplemented t times by names like Jim Hickman, Milt Pappas and Paul Popovich. that kind of longetivity isn't going to happen today. Too many players want to get paid.

  • If the Colts let Peyton Manning go, anyone can be let go. The only expectation is that the team just needs to get something/one better in return. The Colts got Luck. We thought it would be a couple of years of pain in order to get back to the playoffs. With a lot of Luck, we made it back immediately.

    As Cub fans, we do get very emotionally involved with our players: Sometimes too much. My guess is that this FO is a lot less emotional. After all, these are the same guys that sent us Nomar. We probably ought not get too emotionally attached to anyone player since they may one day be the trade bait for the next raising star. It is interesting to see how much value they place on middle infielders and CF. It tells us that these rare commodities may be traded at some point. Winning can involve some pain. We had better prepare now.

  • Agreed on all points, that was the lesson I learned in '84. Winning>Attachment.

  • Worthless trivia:

    Who was the left fielder who climbed the wall as Hank Aaron's HR cleared the fence for HR number 715?

    Yup. Bill Buckner.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Do you remember who caught Aaron's ball in the bullpen?

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Tom House.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    You are CORRECT !

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:


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    I started watching the Cubs in '85, so after the Buckner situation. For me, the first time I realized I can't get too attached to one player was when Greg Maddux signed with Atlanta. Seeing that pitching motion in a Braves uniform never, ever looked right to me.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Maddux was not going back to the Cubs no matter what at that was not about money......GM Frey offered more money than the Braves....reason was Maddux could not face a certain star player in the Cubs clubhouse after he slept with his wife...........Maddux will go in the HOF with a Braves cap on.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    You have a ton of mixed up facts on the Maddux deal. In fact I'm very confident you have confused the Palmeiro trade with the Maddux deal.
    First Himes was GM not Frey (but Frye did trade Palmeiro, but that is a discussion for a different day).
    Himes and Boras tried to reach a deal before Maddux was FA and Himes low balled them big time. The talks broke off to the point that when Maddux was a FA the Cubs never even persued. So we never offered more than ATL. The Cubs decided that Guzman and Maldanado would help the team more than Maddux, as ridiculous as that is to consider, that is what Himes believed.
    Also, Maddux took LESS money to go to the Braves. It is well documented that the Yankees offered more. Combine that with the Maddux press confrence in the winter of 2003 when he said he never wanted to leave, and it is pretty clear the Cubs could have kept him if they desired to.
    Lastly, and between this and the Frey as GM has me convinced you are mixing up deals. It is Palmeiro that is well rumored to have had an affair with Sandberg's first wife, not Maddux

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    It was in fact Stanton Cook who screwed up the deal. He took deal off table Maddux almost signed. One thing Cook cited was Maddux hadn't won 20 games, he did that very season.

  • In reply to bleedblue:

    Palmerio slept with Sandberg's wife......
    Madduz slept with Sandberg's wife....
    Dave Martinez slept with Sandberg's wife.....
    and.....Charles Barkely slept with Sandberg's wife.

    Yes ....that Charles Barkley.

    When Cindy got caught....that ended the marriage.

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Maddux too?? I heard Dan Marjlie did as well

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Wow sorry but that sounded like a made up Score call.

  • Sad day when the Cubs traded away Billy Buckner.....because I knew Durham was a "Bum"....over-rated......Eckersley had personal issues when he was with the Cubs....the late night drinking....his brother was a bank robber......then the Cubs traded Dennis off a few tears later for "Garbage" to the A's........and LaRussa turns him to a HOF.........and the rest is history.

  • My favorite player when I was really young (like 5 years old) was... Dave Kingman. Yeah, I know. How did that happen. I was absolutely crushed when the Cubs traded him. I didn't really understand baseball at the time (maybe some would say I still don't... heh), but I knew he could crush the ball a mile. I didn't know that players could be traded so it was heartbreaking and confusing and probably the most upset I've ever been when a player was traded.

    I loved Buckner too. I still get a little emotionally attached to players, but nothing like when I was a kid...

    Case in point: Urlacher. I honestly don't really care that his career is over. He was an awesome player in his prime, but he's always been just douchy enough (grouchy interviews, often saying that he doesn't care about the fans' opinions, the illegitimate kids, etc.) that I've never really gotten at all emotionally invested in him as a person. As soon as he became mediocre as a player I could see the Bears moving on... though I think they could have at least called him to give him that respect before moving on.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Kingman....first player to play in all four divisions in one season!

    When he was on the DL, he was fishing on Lake Michigan when the games were on.

    Remember when pre-Cub Kingman and Mick Kellher fought at second base after a slide at Wrigley?

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Agreed, but I heard some who wanted him back regardless of anything and I put that behind me a while back. If they traded Sandberg I may have had a problem.

  • Your right about Buckners legacy with the Bosox sucks, John. He didn't throw wild pitches, he wasn't Calvin Schiraldi and he didn't choke in game 7(Mr Bruce Hurst). Eck had a good 84 season(most of the Cubs did, even George Frazier), then got hurt, traded to the As, moved to the pen and became a HOF closer. For who? Dan stinkin" Rohn, never to be heard from again? The 86 offseason really sucked, that was the year we traded Lee Smith for stiffs named Schiraldi and Nipper, never to be heard from again.

  • Thanks for the memories, Tom. Count me in as one who ALWAYs enjoys your articles.

    I remember 1979 when Billy Buckner was hobbling around first base, Dave Kingman was having his best career season (average and homer-wise) in LF, Rick Resuchel was throwing 250+ innings (And how about that 1981 trade of Reuschel to the Yankees for Doug Bird, $400K, and a PTBNL!) , Bruce Sutter was saving 37 games (The Sutter-Durham trade is another gem in the annals of Cub poor personnel decisions), and and Keith Magnuson could often be found in the stands signing autographs. From everything that John has written, it sounds like Billy is doing a GREAT job in Boise and I'm glad he's back in the game.

    Along with others, I mourned Chicago teams letting Phil Esposito, then Bobby Hull, and then JR go. But, my absolute worst was the White Sox trading away Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. Right after that, I decided Vince and Lou didn't sound so bad after all and switched allegiance!

    Keep up the good work, guys, and have a great Easter weekend!

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks apparently I'm new to Jorge.

  • You gotta wonder if this article is foreshadowing Rizzo, Castro, or Shark being traded at the deadline. :) :)

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    I don't see that scenario. :)

  • Longtime reader here, compelled to comment for the first time. Your article brought back lots of memories for me, but with Buckner in the other role. Rick Monday was my favorite player as a kid, and when they traded him to LA, I remember having the same feelings you described: baffled that he wasn't considered untouchable and sort of realizing something about the way the world really works. I think I grew up a little that January.

    Of course it worked out (more or less), because over the next few years Monday was even more banged up than Buckner was, though still able to play a good center field in Dodger Stadium (the site of his most glorious moment). We got DeJesus as well, and as you said, Buckner turned into Eckersley in '84, etc. By then I was completely over it, though Monday's home run in the '81 playoffs brought some of the old feelings back.

    Now I find myself watching Brett Jackson (wearing Monday's old number) and wondering if he could turn out to be a similar player.

    Anyway, great blog. I really respect the work both of you guys do.

  • In reply to dananderson:

    Thank you so much and we had the exact same experience very cool!

  • Buckner was definitely one of my favorites. I used to throw my bat into the stands when I swung and missed a pitch in HS, same as Billy Buck used to. I never tried to do it on purpose, but danged if I wasn't channeling some "Buckner-wanna-be" mojo!

    It kind of worked. I never struck out. I never walked either. And despite all of the contact, I was still a pretty sucky hitter, so no Buckner mojo there.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    How the hell did such a great contact hitter never walk? Must have been able to hit everything.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    There was no pitch he couldn't put his bat on. Crazy plate coverage.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    LOL! The truth was noone feared a slap hitter like me. And I had a perverse pride in not taking any walks. Yeah, pretty dumb, which is why I didn't start on my HS team. Did start in our city league, though, because nobody else could play 3rd very well on our team.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Tom and John, imagine if the Cubs would have kept Madlock??? Imagine Buckner and Madlock batting back to back or sandwiched inbetween Dave Kingman!!!! Holy Crap!!!

  • Buckner struck out 18 times in 578 AB once

  • Tom

    A few weeks back, Felzz wrote an article about waking up in 2015 to find the Cubs contending, their pitching staff anchored by David Price, but Solar and Baez were playing elsewhere.

    Here's an idea for a column for you : turn back the time machine to the 70s - 90s and tell us what the Cubs would have done if they had made NO trades and had signed all of their premier free agents. What would we have done if the likes of Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Greg Maddox, Rick Reuschel, Rafeal Palmerio,... had ALL been retained. Of course, we would have missed out on the Phillies trades (Fergie and Ryno). Would make an interesting read ...

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I thought about doing that with late 80s Cubs maybe I will or John will do it with me.

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    I started watching the Cubs in 77...the year Buckner and DeJesus became Cubs. I learned how to hit left handed, because of Billy Buck and he was also my favorite until Sandberg came along. I gave my oldest son the name Ryne (middle, wife wouldn't allow it to be the first). I will have to tell you guys some day, about meeting Sandberg. My students love the story.

  • Colvin's road to Cooperstown took a detour and he's going to the minors.

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