Is the Larry Bowa/Ryne Sandberg – Iván de Jesus trade the worst in Phillies history?
Another day, another anniversary of a terrible Philadelphia Phillies trade.
Spoiler alert: there are a lot of them.
For some reason, the Phillies love to send great players to the Chicago Cubs. They clearly hadn’t learned their lesson from the Fergie Jenkins trade, because on January 27, 1982, they sent Larry Bowa and Ryne Sandberg to Chicago in exchange for Iván de Jesus.
How bad is it? Well, the Baseball Hall of Fame calls it the trade that reshaped the Cubs’ future.
de Jesus was a strong defensive shortstop who’d made the fourth-most assists (595) at shortstop in MLB history in 1977. However, he was coming off a terrible 1981 campaign; he’d hit .194 with zero home runs and only 13 RBI in 106 games.
Meanwhile, Bowa was a five-time All-Star shortstop who wanted to stay in Philadelphia. The Phillies did not want to give a 36-year old the two-year extension he wanted, so they traded him instead.
This trade is made all the more outrageous by the fact that the Phillies simply should have known better. Why? Because the Cubs had a man on the inside.
Dallas Green, who played for the Phillies from 1960-64 and then served as their World Series champion-manager from 1979-81, was now the Cubs’ GM. Green had spent his entire post-playing career working in the Phillies organization, managing at several minor-league levels, working in the front office assisting the farm director, and eventually earning a promotion to director of player development, before becoming the big-league manager.
Suffice to say, Green knew the ins and outs of the Phillies farm, and he knew what he was getting the Phillies to give him in Sandberg. He reportedly refused to any trade unless the Cubs got Sandberg, which should have been a red flag for the Phillies how valuable the young infielder was.
At the time, Bowa told the Chicago Tribune,
"“Never mind me, I can’t believe the Phillies gave up Sandberg.”"
Bowa and Sandberg weren’t the only people Green took from Philadelphia. He also lured Phillies coaches and scouts to Chicago, including John Vukovich, who had two playing stints with the Phillies and would later manage (1988) and coach them (1988-2004).
Eventually, Green got outfielders Gary “Sarge” Matthews and Bob Dernier from the Phillies, too, and by 1984, the Cubs were a postseason team for the first time since 1945. They won the NL East again in 1989 but were still decades away from a pennant season.
Did the Phillies or Cubs win the Bowa/Sandberg-de Jesus trade?
de Jesus did rebound with the Phillies, helping them win the pennant in 1983. But by 1985, he was playing in another uniform.
But long-term, the Phillies lost the trade, as they often do. Between 1984-93, Sandberg was an All-Star every season. He won seven Silver Sluggers and nine consecutive Gold Gloves at second, and in 1984, he was the NL MVP, leading his team to their first postseason in almost half a century. Like Jenkins, he went on to have a Hall of Fame career in a Cubs uniform.
Ironically, Bowa and Sandberg would both return to the Phillies in the 2000s, as managers. Bowa was at the helm from 2001-04, while Sandberg succeeded Charlie Manuel at the end of the Golden Era, serving as skipper from 2013-15.
As usual, we wonder how different the Phillies would have looked in the 80s and 90s if they’d kept Bowa and Sandberg. And it’s fair to wonder if they’ve learned from their many trade mistakes.