Trading Places

By Randy Richardson

When the Cubs opened against archrival St. Louis in 2015, the Cards’ outfield featured Matt Holliday in left, Jon Jay in center and Jason Heyward in right.

And the Cubs? Their Opening Day outfield consisted of Chris Coghlan (left), Dexter Fowler (center) and Jorge Soler (right).

What a difference two years make. When the two teams square off in 2017’s opener in St. Louis on April 2, three of those six outfielders will have switched uniforms: Jay and Heyward to the Cubs and Fowler to the Cards. None of the others will be around, with the possible exception of Coghlan, who may still end up in a reserve role for the Cubs. Holliday is now with the Yankees and Soler went to Kansas City.

As a fan these role reversals can be rather confusing. It goes against your instinct to cheer for the other team. But if you’re a Cubs fan and Dexter Fowler, one of the heroes of the 2016 World Series team, steps up to the plate against your pitcher, well, you’ve got to cheer. Don’t you? Of course, you do.

But you’re cheering for Fowler, the ex-Cub. Not Fowler the Cardinal. And you don’t want him to have any success against his former team.

It’s all very confusing, and it didn’t used to be this way.

Before free agency, players didn’t move around as much as they do today. Ernie Banks played his entire 19-year career in Cubs uniform, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, now would we? No, of course not. It would be unthinkable to have Mr. Cub wearing a Cardinals uniform.

Or god forbid, a White Sox uniform.

Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo played his last season on the South Side, for the Chicago White Sox.

Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo played his last season on the South Side, for the Chicago White Sox.

Oh, wait, that’s what happened to Ron Santo, didn’t it? Sure enough, after playing the first 14 years of his major league career in the Cubbie Blue, one of the all-time great Cubs ended up at the crosstown rival. The Cubs actually tried to trade Santo a year earlier, in 1973, but Santo became the first player to invoke the ten-and-five rule under the collective bargaining agreement signed after the 1972 Major League Baseball strike. The rule allowed players with ten years’ service, the last five with the same team, to decline any trade.That kept Santo from being dealt to the California Angels. Santo didn’t want to play on the West Coast and vetoed the deal. Good for him. It’s too sunny there.

The Cubs still wanted to trade Santo, and since his preference was to stay in Chicago, they worked out a deal with the White Sox in December 1973, acquiring catcher Steve Swisher, and three young pitchers: Jim Kremmel, Ken Frailing, and one of Santo’s future co-broadcasters, Steve Stone. The White Sox already had a third baseman, Bill Melton, so Santo was relegated mostly to designated hitter duty, which he hated. He wanted to play in the field, but White Sox manager Chuck Tanner would not bench Melton and unsuccessfully tried Santo at second base. Finishing 1974 with a .221 batting average and 5 home runs, Santo retired from baseball at the age of 34.

Hard to imagine but Ron Santo ended his 15-year major league career wearing this uniform. But at least he never left Chicago.

It’s hard to imagine today any baseball player lasting an entire career with one team – or even with one city.

The longest-tenured current Cub is Anthony Rizzo, who has been with the team since all the way back in, well, 2012. That’s right, 2017 will be his sixth year with the team, and that makes him the old-timer.

There are still a few of the old relic “lifers” out there with four MLB players tied for the longest tenure with one team. The Twins’ Joe Mauer, the Mets’ David Wright, the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, and the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina all began their careers in 2004 and haven’t moved. They’re the last of the old school dying breed of baseball players.

Look back to the Cubs’ Opening Day roster in 2012:

  • RF David DeJesus.
  • 2B Darwin Barney.
  • SS Starlin Castro.
  • 1B Bryan LaHair.
  • LF Alfonso Soriano.
  • 3B Ian Stewart.
  • CF Marlon Byrd.
  • C Geovany Soto.

Where are all those guys now? Not one is with the Cubs, that’s for sure. Castro is now with the Yankees and Barney with the Blue Jays. The rest are retired or trying to make comebacks in the minors.

Of the current Cubs Rizzo seems most likely to play out his career as a Cub. In 2013, he signed a seven-year, $41 million contract with the team. The deal included two club options that could extend the contract to 9 years and $73 million.

Let’s just hope that we never have to see Rizzo end his career the way Santo did. That’s just too painful to even imagine.

Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation