The Chicago Cubs were sailing along in first place. Then beginning in June, a losing streak of more than ten games motivated Cubs management to make some blockbuster player moves.
Those facts are true for both the 1970 and 2021 Chicago Cubs. But management’s reaction was totally different in each of those seasons, which I know from having written the book The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, published by The History Press.
It’s national news among baseball fans that in 2021 after the 11-game losing streak dropped the team out of first place, Cub management figured the team couldn’t come back and traded its three biggest stars, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Baez.
But interestingly, when the first-place Cubs had a 12-game losing streak in 1970, management decided to go out and acquire three top-flight players, instead of getting rid of three.
In 1970, the Cubs acquired pitcher Milt Pappas, outfielder-first baseman Joe Pepitone, and pitcher Juan Pizarro at mid-season.
These guys had been stars with other teams, and Pappas and Pepitone immediately played the Cubs back into contention. Pappas won ten games as a starting pitcher, Pepitone jacked 12 homers and contributed 44 RBI, and even Pizarro, who contributed less, gave the team a seasoned lefty reliever. Thanks to these guys, the Cubs got back into a tough three-way pennant race with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. They nearly overcame that big losing streak to win the pennant.
Some sports fans think that 2021 Cubs management made a mistake trading their three biggest stars in mid-season, pointing to the 1970 Cubs as an example of how a good team can come back. Others argue that the game has changed too much and dumping Rizzo, Bryant, and Baez was the right move. Salaries were low in 1970 before free-agency and multi-year contracts, so it was easier to acquire good players at low cost. In 2021, Cub management argues, they needed to trade these players for good young prospects, because free agency loomed for their stars and if the Cubs would have held onto them, the team would have gotten nothing” when the stars departed for the free-agent market after the season.
But it is interesting to see how in two very similar seasons, Cub management behaved diametrically opposite.
Should the Cubs have backed up the truck instead of acquiring players in 1970? After all, they didn’t win the pennant and maybe could have gotten some good young prospects for their stars like the 2021 Cubs did. On the other hand though, 1970 provided a fun year, and nearly a pennant, for Cubs fans. Could the 2021 team have done the same? We’ll never know.
The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, published by The History Press of Charleston, SC, is available at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467149082.