As the hopes and dreams of my favorite team fade into oblivion, I find myself turning more to past failures -- rather than victories -- for comfort.
I guess that's one reason I was enthralled by a recent post over at the immortal "Night Owl Cards" that focused on the "ones that got away" from his Dodgers, aka guys (often rookies) who had a chance to earn their fame and fortune with a certain club, only to be spoiled bad luck and/or ineptitude of the front office.
The Cubs, of course, are no stranger to this. Until 2016, they were a team whose history was defined by bungled moves and missed opportunities (and it sadly seems to be moving back in that direction now). Given this -- and the fact that I need no excuses to create more specialized rosters out of my baseball cards -- I decided to come up with the One-That-Got-Away team for my beloved Cubs.
Let's get ready for some pain and misery.
Bruce Sutter -- Traded to Cardinals for Leon Durham, Ken Reitz & PTBNL, 12-9-80
The Cubs have been blessed with some of the game's all-time greats -- Banks, Jenkins, etc. -- but sadly they've also allowed their fair share of legends to slip away.
Bruce Sutter instantly came to mind when I first started mulling over this post. News of his trade may have been buried in the headlines since John Lennon had been shot the night before, but the Cubs dealt Sutter to the rival Cardinals for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz prior to the '81 season. Durham was a decent player in the early-to-mid '80s, and Reitz had one mediocre season with the Cubs -- but neither came close to approaching Sutter's success, which eventually found him with a plaque in Cooperstown.
Alas, it's a common theme on this roster.
Dennis Eckersley -- Traded (with Dan Roan) to A's for Brian Guinn, Mark Leonette & Dave Wilder, 4-3-87
This is an especially horrible one: not only did Dennis Eckersley become the most dominant reliever of his generation (and a Hall of Famer), but oh by the way none of the three guys the Cubs received for him ever played a single game in the big leagues.
While it's true that I don't think anyone could've seen the rapid turnaround Eck's career would have, you'd think they could've gotten something to make that deal a tiny bit less painful.
Dontrelle Willis -- Traded (with Ryan Jorgensen & Julian Tavarez) to Marlins for Antonio Alfonseca & Matt Clement, 3-27-02
At the time, this probably wasn't seem as a horrible trade -- Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca played vital roles in the Cubs' memorable (yet still doomed) 2003 season.
But in an ironic twist, Dontrelle Willis -- and his new Marlins club -- helped put those same '03 Cubs to bed in the NLCS that year. Willis was the NL's Rookie of the Year in 2003, and nearly won a Cy Young with the Marlins a couple years later. Clement and Alfonseca flamed out with the Cubs almost instantly after the '03 season.
This is a particularly miserable deal for me because I was (and remain) a big Dontrelle Willis fan -- I would've loved to have seen his personality (and talent) on some of those solid but kinda bland Cubs squads of the mid 2000s.
Josh Donaldson -- Traded (with Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton & Eric Patterson) to the A's for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin, 7-8-08
I don't wanna talk about it.
Andre Thornton -- Traded to Expos for Larry Biitner & Steve Renko, 5-17-76
Andre Thornton is one of those guys who I'm a big fan of without quite knowing why.
Not only does he have one of my favorite cards in the iconic '75 Topps set (a rookie card, no less), but he was a Cub at one point. If anything, I can take a bit of solace in the fact that the Cubs weren't the only team that let him get away: Thornton was part of both the Phillies' and Braves' systems before becoming a Cub, and the Expos -- the team Thornton slipped away to -- traded him to the Indians for popcorn not long after.
Thornton would go on to have some big years with the Indians in the late '70s and much of the '80s, seasons that probably left the Cubs brass shaking their head and wondering why.
DJ LeMahieu -- Traded (with Tyler Colvin) to Rockies for Casey Weathers & Ian Stewart, 12-8-11
This could well go down as the worst Cubs trade of my generation -- proof that for all their successes, Theo & Co. have made some clunkers, too.
It's particularly bad because I vividly remember how much of a disaster Ian Stewart's Cubs career was -- he fought with Cubs management about playing time...while hitting .201. Aside from a brief reappearance with the 2014 Angels, he'd never play another big-league game. DJ LeMahieu, meanwhile, hasn't done much except win a batting title with the Rockies, be in the running for a second batting title with the Yankees this year, and become one of the best all-around second basemen in the league.
Though I do have this excellent Crosstown double dip in my frankenset, LeMahieu still isn't a binder guy for me -- mostly because I think it's too painful, deep down, to collect cards of a star who should've been a Cub.
Starlin Castro -- Traded to Yankees for Adam Warren & PTBNL, 12-8-15
The Cubs have a weakness (strength?) at shortstop on this roster -- I've put Starlin Castro here mostly because I bet he feels like he got away from the great Cubs teams of the decade.
I've always felt bad for Castro because he was one of the rare shining spots on those awful rebuilding Cubs clubs of the early part of this decade -- and then they went and traded him just when the team was getting good.
Bill Madlock -- Traded (with Rob Sperring) to Giants for Bobby Murcer & Steve Ontiveros, 2-11-77
It's rare that a guy wins two batting titles with a team and still becomes a dude who got away, but that happened with Bill Madlock.
The Cubs themselves stole Madlock from the Rangers, but instead of going ahead and enjoying their riches, they too let Madlock go, unceremoniously shipping him to the Giants prior to the '77 season for Bobby Murcer and Steve Ontiveros. Solid players, yes, but no Madlock.
Considering his two batting titles, it's still a bit crazy to think that Bill Madlock was only a Cub for three years -- how you let a guy like that slip away is beyond me.
Lou Brock -- Traded (with Jack Spring & Paul Toth) to Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens & Bobby Shantz, 6-15-64
Here it is, the trade that all bad trades are judged by: Brock for Broglio.
A trade so bad it became part of the baseball vernacular. As in: Yeah, that wasn't a good deal, but at least it wasn't Brock-for-Broglio. The facts are all you need to hear -- Broglio won seven games in three seasons with the Cubs. Brock's a Hall of Famer.
Joe Carter -- Traded (with Mel Hall & Don Shulze) to Indians for George Frazier, Ron Hassey & Rick Sutcliffe, 6-13-84
This wasn't a bad trade, by any stretch -- the '84 Cubs wouldn't have become the '84 Cubs without Rick Sutcliffe.
But that doesn't mean I can't still fantasize about the career Joe Carter may have had here, right?
Luis Gonzalez -- Left as free agent, 12-7-96
In time, the third outfield spot on this roster could very well be occupied by other guys: Jorge Soler, the AL's current home run leader, comes to mind -- as does Eloy Jimenez (traded for Jose Quintana, who, despite my biased fandom, has admittedly been little more than a passable innings-eater for the Cubs).
For now, however, I give the final roster spot to one Luis Gonzalez, whose unspectacular Cubs career is pretty much summed up on this baseball card. But I guess it could be worse: the Astros let him slip away twice in the '90s, and the Tigers traded him to the Diamondbacks for Karim Garcia(!). Gonzo, of course, would put up video game numbers for a few years there in the desert and lead Arizona to its first and only World Series title in 2001.
All right, I think that's enough misery for one night -- and I haven't even mentioned the Burt Hootons and Chris Archers of Cubs lore yet! Much thanks again to Greg for the idea and inspiration, and the headache I'm currently sporting.
But emotionally, I actually feel a little better now, remembering the Cubs, like all teams, have been a train wreck before and probably will be again.