The Best (and Worst) St. Louis Cardinal Trades

This article was written by Lyle Spatz

This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 25, 2005)

Unhappy with the team’s contract offer for 2003 and beyond, Philadelphia’s All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen was threatening to become a free agent at the end of the 2002 season. Taking those threats seriously, the Phillies chose to get what they could for Rolen and traded him to the Cardinals two days before the July 31 deadline. In return for Rolen, minor league pitcher Doug Nickle, and cash, the Phillies received Placido Polanco, a fine young infielder, Mike Timlin, a veteran reliever, and Bud Smith, a young pitcher who had failed to live up to his early promise. Rolen had an immediate impact on his new team, contributing 14 home runs and 44 runs batted in the second half of the ’02 season to help lead St. Louis to the National League East title. He added 28 home runs and 104 RBI in 2093, and did even better in 2004, when he finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player Award voting.

It is not too early to note that this has been a very good trade for the Cardinals, one that may eventually rank with the best they have ever made. While the perspective of time does not yet allow us to judge fully the Scott Rolen trade, it does allow us to rate some others the Cardinals have made in their long and glorious history. Let’s begin with a few of the worst.

On November 12, 1903, St. Louis acquired catcher Larry McLean and pitcher Jack Taylor from the Chicago Cubs. Taylor had won more than 20 games two years in a row, and he would make it three in a row in his first year with St. Louis. He was also in the middle of setting a major league record that will never be broken. Between 1901 and 1906, Taylor pitched 187 consecutive complete games.

To get Taylor, St. Louis sent Chicago catcher Jack O’Neill and a young pitcher who was 9-13 as a rookie. Taylor would win only 42 more big-league games after leaving Chicago, and just 23 of them would be for St. Louis. Meanwhile, that young pitcher, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, would go on to a Hall of Fame career, finishing with 239 wins and only 130 losses, making this one of the worst trades, if not the worst, in Cardinals history.


Still, modern-day Cardinal fans might have their own choice for the team’s worst trade ever. For many, it would be the February 1972 swap of pitchers that sent Steve Carlton to Philadelphia for Rick Wise. Actually, this trade has an amusing story connected to it. Carlton had been holding out, demanding that the Cardinals pay him a salary of $65,000 for the 1972 season. The Cardinals said no. Wise also had been holding out, demanding that the Phillies pay him a salary of $65,000 for the 1972 season. The Phillies said no. So, each team solved their problem by trading the two holdouts. Both pitchers then immediately signed with their new teams. The Cardinals, who refused to pay $65,000 to Carlton, did pay it to Wise. And the Phillies, who refused to pay $65,000 to Wise, did pay it to Carlton.

Not only were they paid the same, but also at the time of the trade, the right-handed Wise and the left-handed Carlton were considered mirror images of each other. Wise was 26, with 75 big league wins. Carlton was 27, with 77 big league wins. And it’s not that Wise was a bust in St. Louis. He pitched two years for the Cardinals and was a 16-game winner in each one. In addition, when they later dealt him to Boston, they got a very good player in return, Reggie Smith. Yet, as was the case with Three Finger Brown, when the Cards traded Carlton, they were trading a future Hall of Famer. That first season in Philadelphia, he won 27 games, and that was for a last-place team. In all, Carlton would win 252 games and four Cy Young Awards after leaving St. Louis.


Paul Derringer was not a Hall of Famer like Mordecai Brown or Steve Carlton, but he was an excellent pitcher, and another one St. Louis let get away. In May 1933, the Cardinals traded Derringer, along with second baseman Sparky Adams and a pitcher named Allyn Stout, to Cincinnati for three players. In return, they got shortstop Leo Durocher, Butch Henline, a catcher who later became a National League umpire, and pitcher Jack Ogden.

The impetus for the trade was a simple one. Cincinnati really needed pitching and St. Louis really needed a shortstop. Charlie Gelbert had been their shortstop for the past four seasons, but had suffered a severe leg injury in a hunting accident that would keep him out of action for two years. Durocher, the most prominent player in the deal, took over at shortstop and did well in his five seasons with St. Louis. His aggressive style of play fit right in with the Gas House Gang, and he was the shortstop on the 1934 world champions.

In Derringer, the Reds were getting a pitcher who had a great rookie year for the Cardinals in 1931. He was 18-8 and led the National League in winning percentage, but he fell off to 11-14 in 1932 and he was 0-2 at the time of the trade in 1933. When Derringer went to Cincinnati he continued to be dreadful. He won seven and lost 25. He lost 21 more in 1934, but then turned it around, winning 20 or more four times and 19 once. In all, Derringer finished with 223 big­ league wins.


Wayne Granger had been a rookie with the Cardinals in 1968 before they traded him to Cincinnati. Pitching in relief for the Reds, he led the league in games finished in 1969 and in both games finished and saves in 1970. Granger was with Minnesota when in November 1972 St. Louis decided they wanted him back and traded pitcher John Cumberland and outfielder Larry Hisle to the Twins to get him. Unfortunately, for St. Louis, Granger had lost his effectiveness and did not even finish out the 1973 season with them.

Hisle, meanwhile, went on to some very productive years with the Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, if you don’t remember Larry Hisle playing with the Cardinals, it’s because he didn’t. They had only gotten him from the Dodgers in October for two minor leaguers, and so he belonged to them for only a month, and that during the off-season.


In May 1956, St. Louis traded center fielder Bill Virdon to Pittsburgh for outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield. The trade greatly upset Cardinals fans at the time and, as it turned out, with good reason. Never at any time did General Manager Frank Lane’s trading of Virdon to Pittsburgh make any sense. Del Greco had been and always would be strictly a journeyman player. The same was true for Littlefield. He had been and always would be strictly a journeyman pitcher.

By contrast, Virdon was only 24 years old and had been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1955. The Cardinals had gotten him out of the Yankees’ farm system in April 1954 in exchange for the popular Enos Slaughter, one of their all-time greats. However, Lane had recently taken over as the Cards’ GM, and he was completely overhauling the team. He justified this deal by saying that despite his Rookie of the Year season, Virdon had not hit well in September and that he had started slowly this year. Well, he had started slowly, but he sure recovered quickly after the trade. Virdon batted a combined .319 for the 1956 season and continued to serve as the Pirates center fielder for the next 11 years.


Dick Allen was another former Rookie of the Year the Cardinals had for only one season and would have been better off keeping. Allen, who won the award with the 1964 Philllies, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in October 1970 for second baseman Ted Sizemore and rookie catcher Bob Stinson. Sizemore, himself a one-time Rookie of the Year, with L.A. in 1969, was a serviceable player who spent four years with the Cardinals. Still, he was no Dick Allen, who in his one year in St. Louis hit 34 home runs and had 101 RBI. The Dodgers would also keep Allen for only one season, but later on with the White Sox, he would win a couple of home run titles and the American League’s 1972 Most Valuable Player Award.


An earlier trade that the Cardinals certainly didn’t get the better of took place just four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. For those paying attention to baseball during that chaotic time, this was an eye-opening exchange. St. Louis sent first baseman Johnny Mize, one of the game’s most feared hitters, to the New York Giants for pitcher Bill, Lohrman, catcher Ken O’Dea, and first baseman Johnny McCarthy. Mize had been with the Cardinals for six years and had batted better than .300 in each of those six seasons. He had a career batting average of .336, including highs of .364 in 1937 and .349 in 1939, when he won the batting title. Still only 28, he was a consistent All-Star, and had been in the top ten in voting for the league’s Most Valuable Player in five of his six years, twice finishing second.

General Manager Branch Rickey, who made the trade, assured Cardinals fans that he had a satisfactory replacement for Mize. The man Rickey had in mind was Ray Sanders, who’d batted .308 with 14 home runs for St. Louis’s American Association Columbus Red Birds in 1941. Furthermore, said Rickey, if Sanders proved unready for the big leagues, manager Billy Southworth had the option of moving outfielder Johnny Hopp to first base. As it turned out, Hopp and Sanders split the first base duties in 1942. Of course, by that time Rickey had left St. Louis to become president of the Dodgers.

The Cardinals got just about nothing out of this trade. McCarthy never played for them, and Lohrman won one game in 1942 before they sold him back to the Giants, where he won 13 and lost four. O’Dea was the only one who stuck around, serving as a backup catcher to Walker Cooper during the war years. Mize, meanwhile, continued to be a leading slugger with the Giants and later with the Yankees, and he too is in the Hall of Fame.


Okay, we’ve dwelt long enough on the bad trades. Let’s look at a few of the good ones the Cardinals have made, beginning with a December 1981 six-player deal with the Padres. Primarily, -it was an exchange of shortstops: St. Louis’s Garry Templeton for San Diego’s Ozzie Smith. Also involved were outfielder Sixto Lezcano and pitcher Jose DeLeon, going from the Cardinals to the Padres, and pitchers Steve Mura and Alan Olmstead going the other way.

It took three distinct stages to complete this transaction. Lezcano and Mura accepted the trade right away; however, Smith, who lived in San Diego, balked at going to St. Louis. Although he had batted just .222 in 1981, he had just won his second Gold Glove and was holding out for more money. Arbitrators finally decided Smith’s salary, and the Smith-Templeton part of the deal was done on February 11, 1982, 62 days after the trade was made. The DeLeon for Olmstead part of the deal followed.

Templeton had been a consistent .300 hitter in his five and a half seasons in St. Louis, and at the time seemed a more likely Hall of Fame candidate than Smith. But while he played ten seasons for the Padres, Templeton never quite fulfilled his early promise. Smith, of course, had 15 sensational years with the Cardinals and was a first ballot Hall of Famer.


Another profitable trade the Cardinals made with San Diego was the one on May 26, 1978, that brought them outfielder George Hendrick in exchange for pitcher Eric Rasmussen. Hendrick had been the Padres’ MVP in 1977, a year in which he batted .311, with 23 homers and 81 RBI, but he was hitting just .243 at the time of the trade. Rasmussen was also struggling. He was 2-5 this year, and 24-39 in his four years in St. Louis.

Each man picked up following the trade. Rasmussen went 12-10 for San Diego, while Hendrick hit a solid .288 with 17 homers for St. Louis. Yet while the trade was mostly a draw for the rest of the season, from 1979 on the output of the two men was vastly different, and much to the Cardinals’ advantage. While Rasmussen won just 14 more games in his career, Hendrick had six first-rate seasons with St. Louis, including twice making the All-Star team. St. Louis later received an additional bonus from this deal. When they finally traded Hendrick, they sent him to Pittsburgh for John Tudor, a pitcher who paid them back with a 44- 17 record over the next three years.


In December 1957 the Cardinals sent reliever Willard Schmidt and two minor league pitchers, Marty Kutyna and Ted Wieand, to Cincinnati for two young outfielders. One was Joe Taylor, who lasted 18 games with the Cardinals; however, the other one, who’d had only eight games of major league experience, was Curt Flood. This was one of those trades that barely are noticed by the general baseball public.  Schmidt was really the only one involved with a recognizable name. A workhorse relief pitcher, he had gone 10-3 in 40 appearances in 1957, but would win only six more games after the trade. Wieand would not win any, and Kutyna won only 14-all in the American League.

While Taylor’s career did not amount to much either, the Cardinals hit pay dirt with Curt Flood. He was their center fielder for the next 12 years, leading the league in putouts five times and in fielding average three times. He batted close to .300 over those 12 seasons and made the All-Star team three times. Then, after the 1969 season, St. Louis traded him to Philadelphia. The only problem was that Flood refused to go, and the Cardinals eventually were compelled to send Willie Montanez to the Phillies to complete the deal. Of course, the big story here was Flood’s refusal to be traded and his suing baseball to challenge the reserve clause. For better or worse, we all know how that has changed the game. 


When early in the 1966 season the Cardinals traded pitcher Ray Sadecki to the Giants for first baseman Orlando Cepeda, it was considered an even trade, one that filled the needs of both teams. San Francisco needed a left-handed pitcher, and St. Louis needed a long-ball hitter. Sadecki was 28, and like many lefties considered temperamental. He had been a 20-game winner in 1964, but was only 6-15 in 1965 and 2-1 this season. Cepeda, who was also 28, had a .308 career batting average and 233 borne runs. However, he’d had a knee operation after the 1964 season and played in only 33 games with just one home run in 1965. Because of his injuries, and because they had Willie McCovey to play first base, the Giants considered him expendable.

Sadecki did well after leaving St. Louis. He pitched for another 11 seasons, for several different teams, and added 68 wins to the 67 he’d had for the Cardinals. Cepeda played only three seasons in St. Louis, but they were all outstanding. He hit above .300 each year, led the Cardinals into the World Series in 1967 and ’68, and was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1967. The ripple effect of trades led to this being one of the best the Cardinals ever made, because when they traded Cepeda, they got an awfully good player named Joe Torre in return.

Torre then went on to have six top-notch years in St. Louis, espccia1ly 1971, when he hit .363 to win the NL batting championship and the Most Valuable Player Award. Coincidentally, when the Cardinals traded Torre, to the Mets on October 13, 1974, the player they got in return was Ray Sadecki. (Sadecki lasted on1y a few months into the 1975 season.)

During spring training 1959, St. Louis made another trade for a Giants first baseman that worked out well, although they had to give up their best pitcher to get him. Going to San Francisco was Sam Jones, along with a minor league pitcher named Don Choate, in exchange for third baseman Ray Jablonski—a former Cardinal—and first baseman Bill White. The Giants needed a fourth starter to go with Johnny Antonelli, Jack Sanford, and Mike McCormick, and Jones was an excellent choice. He was the Cardinals’ leading winner in 1958 and had led the league in strikeouts and finished second in earned run average.

Jones paid quick dividends in San Francisco. He had his career year in 1959, leading the league in wins and ERA, and finishing second in strikeouts. Additionally, he finished fifth in the MVP race and second to Early Wynn of the White Sox for the Cy Young Award. At the time, the Cy Young Award covered both leagues, so Jones obviously would have been the National League winner had there been separate awards. In 1960, Jones won 18 more games for San Francisco, but that was it for him. Arm problems limited him to just 12 more big-league wins.

Despite Jones’s early success with the Giants, the Jones-for-White trade proved to be a terrific one for St. Louis. Between 1959 and 1965, White had seven stellar seasons with the Cardinals. The future National League president hit .300 or close to it in each of them, knocked in more than 100 runs three times, made five All-Star teams, and won six of his seven Gold Gloves.


In yet another trade for a Giants first baseman that turned worked out fairly well for the Cardinals, they traded four players to San Francisco in February 1985 to get Jack Clark. Clark was one of the top sluggers in the National League, but he wanted out of Candlestick Park. The Giants accommodated him, but they didn’t get very much in return: pitcher Dave LaPoint, shortstop Jose Uribe, first baseman David Green, and outfielder Dave Rajsich.

In his first season in St. Louis, Clark hit the home run off Dodgers pitcher Tom Niedenfeuer that put the Cardinals in the World Series. He was hurt for a good part of 1986 but came back to have a terrific year in 1987. Clark was on his way to a probable MVP award, but he hurt his ankle in early September and missed the rest of the season. St. Louis lost him in 1988 when lie signed as a free agent with the Yankees.


And, finally, one more trade for a Bay Area first baseman. On July 31, 1997, the Cardinals traded three nondescript pitchers, Blake Stein, T.J. Mathews, and Eric Ludwick to the Oakland Athletics for Mark McGwire. McGwire was one of the top sluggers in the game, hut he was threatening to become a free agent. Rather than lose him and get nothing, the A’s were forced to trade him. He hit 24 home runs after joining the Cardinals to finish with 58 for the year. That was the major league high, but not enough in either league to lead that league for the season. Larry Walker had 49 for Colorado and Ken Griffey Jr. had 56 for Seattle.

Contrary to the predictions of many, McGwire chose to remain with the Cardinals, and the next season he broke Roger Maris’s home run record by hitting 70. Though he was with the team for just a few years, Mark McGwire became one of the most popular men ever to play in St. Louis.


Many people in St. Louis and elsewhere believe the best Cardinals trade ever was the one they made on June 15, 1964, the day of the old trading deadline. It was a six-player deal with the Cubs. with the two principals being Cardinals pitcher Ernie Broglio and Cubs outfielder Lou Brock. Coming to St. Louis with Brock were pitchers Paul Toth and Jack Spring, Accompanying Broglio to Chicago were veteran pitcher Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens.

Though Broglio was coming off an 18-8 season, his days as a winning pitcher were over. He was 3-5 at the time of the trade, and won only 10 more games in his career, which ended in 1966. The Cubs justified the trade by claiming that getting Shantz was as important as getting Broglio. Now, Shantz bad once been an outstanding pitcher, but he was 38 years old, and this would be his final season. And he didn’t even finish it with the Cubs two months after getting him, the Cubs sold him to the Phillies.

Toth and Spring would pitch a combined two games for the Cards, both by Spring. As for Lou Brock, he was a very promising young player, yet it’s doubtful that there were very many people who believed St. Louis was getting a future Hall of Famer. But, of course, that’s what Brock became while playing for the Cardinals over the next 16 years.


We define a one-sided trade as one where the player, or players, on one of the teams goes on to contribute a lot more to his new team than those for whom he was traded contribute to theirs. From that standpoint, that is, what the player the Cardinals gave up did after the trade as opposed to what the player the Cardinals got did, I believe the most one-sided they ever made was Bob Sykes for Willie McGee.

On October 21, 1981, St Louis traded Sykes, a journeyman left-handed pitcher, to the New York Yankees for McGee, a minor league outfielder. In Sykes, the Yanks got a 36-year-old who would never pitch for them, or for any other big-league team. McGee, on the other hand, batted .293 as a Cardinals rookie in 1982, and became a fixture in center field. He won the batting title and MVP Award in 1985, while also accumulating several Gold Gloves.

McGee was leading the league again in 1990 when on August 29 the Cardinals traded him to Oakland. No one caught him in that last month, and so he won his second National League batting title. In 1996 McGee signed as a free agent with St. Louis and spent his final four seasons with the Cardinals.


I conclude with a trade that doesn’t belong with either the best or the worst deals St. Louis ever made. Yet no discussion of Cardinal trades would be complete without the momentous December 1926 swap of the National League’s two best second basemen. Rogers Hornsby, the game’s best right-handed hitter, went from St. Louis to New York for switch-hitting Frankie Frisch. (The Giants also included Jimmy Ring, a pitcher nearing the end of his career.) Along with their great abilities, both players were very popular in their respective cities. So why did the teams make they trade? They most likely did so because both men were having disagreements with their respective front offices. Hornsby was demanding a three-year contract worth $150,000, and Cardinal owner Sam Breadon would not go for it. Meanwhile, Frisch and Giants manager John McGraw bad struggled through several personality clashes during the ’26 season.

At the time of the trade, Hornsby was a six-time National League batting champion. On top of that, he had just managed the Cardinals to their first world championship ever. He would spend just a year with the Giants but continue his great hitting after moving on. Frisch had been a very good second baseman for the Giants, and he would be an even better one in St. Louis. He would eventually become the Cardinals manager and lead them to the 1934 World Series title.

So while the trade did not seem to favor the Cardinals at the time, it turned out very well for them. However, that’s not the reason I’m including it here. I think this trade is worth mentioning because of the quality of the players involved and where they stood in their careers when it was made. Throughout baseball history there have been very few trades involving one Hall of Famer for another. When they did occur, they were usually an exchange of one player who was at the beginning of his career for one who was at the end of his. One example would be the Giants trading the washed-up Amos Rusie to Cincinnati for the young Christy Mathewson. But in December 1926, Frisch was 28 and Hornsby 30, and both had many good years in front of them, which makes this, I believe, the only trade that involved two future Hall of Famers who were then at the peak of their careers.

LYLE SPATZ is the chairman of SABR’s Baseball Records Committee and most recently the author of Bad Bill Dahlen: The Rollicking Life and Times of an Early Baseball Star (McFarland & Company).