Embarrassing? Regrettable? Ridiculous?
The most infamous trade in Chicago sports history — 50 years ago Sunday — certainly became all those things in the weeks, months and years after the Cubs dealt 25-year-old outfielder Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the Cardinals for 28-year-old starting pitcher Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens.
In the annals of this baseball rivalry, of course, only two of those names really matter. ‘‘Brock for Broglio,’’ as it has been known for decades, is Cubs futility in a nutshell.
You can’t spell ‘‘imbroglio’’ without the name of the right-hander who won 18 games the season before the trade — and 21 in 1960 — but ended up 7-19 with the Cubs and, his pitching arm in tatters, out of the game by the age of 30.
Brock, who on Wednesday will turn 75, became an instant sensation in St. Louis, batting .348 and being set free on the basepaths as the Cardinals rallied in 1964 to win the National League pennant and the World Series. He hung it up at 40, the greatest base-stealer in baseball history at the time and a certain Hall of Famer.
Embarrassing? For the Cubs, it was — still is — all that and more.
But for Broglio? All this time later, it’s the same thing it always has been: a disappointment, sure, but one without bitterness or shame.
‘‘Fifty years, how about that?’’ said Broglio, now 78 and living in his native California. ‘‘It’s kind of funny they still remember a trade.’’
If not for Broglio’s sunny personality, it might be less funny than cruel that some of us won’t let him forget about a trade that might’ve defined his baseball career. But his life? Come on, that’s nuts. For him, baseball ended eight presidents ago. Here’s a guy who, come November, will celebrate 60 years of marriage with his wife, Debra.
But we called him anyway because, well, 50 years is a heck of an anniversary, too.
‘‘It’s OK, I understand it,’’ he said. ‘‘Lou Brock went to St. Louis and played tops, went crazy. Me? I had arm problems. If not, maybe the trade wouldn’t be publicized so much.’’
Before he wrecked his elbow, Broglio was pretty darned good. Brock, on the other hand, appeared to be just another guy. At least, that’s how the Cubs — and their endless parade of managers at the time — must’ve viewed a player who, in 327 games before the trade, stole all of 50 bases for them — a handful fewer than the 888 he swiped after the trade.
If the College of Coaches didn’t know well enough to turn Brock loose, how were opposing players supposed to realize what he could do?
‘‘We didn’t know a lot about Lou Brock; that shows you what ballplayers know,’’ said Tim McCarver, who was Cardinals’ catcher throughout the 1960s. ‘‘But we all loved Ernie. How could you not? You couldn’t not love him. We felt bad for Ernie and were upset that he was leaving. We didn’t want him to leave.’’
A nice sentiment, wouldn’t you agree?
‘‘In hindsight, though,’’ McCarver went on, ‘‘it’s hard to believe the Cubs could be that blind from a baseball standpoint about Lou Brock. It’s actually mind-blowing.’’
There’s that other, giant shoe again. Brock is spoken of plenty without Broglio’s name coming up, but it sure doesn’t work the other way around.
And guess what? It’s OK with Broglio. He understands. If he didn’t, there’s no way he would’ve gone along with the invitation to appear alongside Brock at the latter’s 70th birthday celebration in 2009 at Busch Stadium.
Broglio didn’t do it for the sake of some generations-old baseball story. He happens to like Brock and always has.
‘‘We became pretty good friends after the trade,’’ Broglio said, ‘‘just because there was so much constant talk about it. But Lou was always a good guy. He wasn’t a bragger; he’d just get on the field and do the job, steal bases, hit for a high batting average. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame — because of that attitude that he had.’’
If attitude were all it took, Broglio would be right there with him.