Obituary: Ernie Broglio (1935-2019)

R.I.P. to Ernie Broglio, a 20-game winner and, yes, part of one of baseball’s most infamous trades. His daughter announced that he died on July 16 at the age of 83. He had been battling cancer. Broglio pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals (1959-1964) and Chicago Cubs (1964-66).

Ernie Broglio, left, and Stan Musial celebrate after a Cardinals victory. Source: The Capital Times, August 12, 1960.

Ernie Broglio was born on August 27, 1935 in Berkley, Calif. He graduated from El Cerrito High School and quickly signed with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He was signed to a deal just shy of $4,000, but it was the $5.50/day meal money that impressed the high schooler.

“That’s a lot of groceries,” he told Oakland columnist George Ross in 1964. “I shot up to 200 pounds, then to 210 — I almost ate myself out of baseball before I learned where the strike zone was.”

Fresh out of high school, Broglio was overmatched in the PCL, at least at first. After going 2-4 with a 6.89 ERA in 1953, he improved to win 14 games between the Oaks and Modesto. He then won 20 games in 1955 for the Stockton Ports and struck out 230 batters. The New York Giants signed him on December 12. He moved through the Giants farm system, only to become part of a 5-player trade with the Cardinals on October 7, 1958. He and pitcher Marv Grissom were sent to St. Louis in exchange for catcher Hobie Landreth, pitcher Billy Muffett and infielder Benny Valenzuela. Landreth and Muffett didn’t do much for San Francisco, and Valenzuela never played in the majors again. So, not a great trade for the Giants, but does anyone ever talk about that one? Nope!

Broglio’s first appearance in a Cardinals uniform came in, of all places, Shizuoka, Japan. He joined his new team right before they left on a tour of Japan, and he faced a team of Japanese All-Stars on November 12. He threw 7 scoreless innings, allowing one hit. Broglio struggled in his rookie 1959 season, posting a 7-12 record and 4.72 ERA. He started slowly in 1960 as well, with a 5-4 record by June 26. He then went on a tear, winning 15 of his next 18 decisions. His 20th win came against the Giants, getting a bit of revenge on his former team. Broglio led all of baseball with 21 wins and a 148 ERA+ in 1960. He appeared in 52 games, with 24 starts, and completed 9 games with 3 shutouts. He was 4th in the NL with 188 strikeouts and 2nd in ERA with 2.74. Broglio won the NL Sophomore of the Year Award, easily beating out Maury Wills of the Dodgers. Yes, there was an actual Sophomore of the Year award, voted on by baseball writers. He also finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting and 9th in the MVP vote.

The next couple of seasons didn’t go as well, as he was 9-12 in 1961 and 12-9 in 1962. He was back to being excellent in 1963, though. He won 18 games and threw a career-high 5 shutouts, as well as a career-high 250 innings. The Cardinals finished in second place, 6 games behind the Dodgers, with Broglio, Bob Gibson and Curt Simmons making the bulk of the starts.

Broglio, though, was struggling with elbow pain and had been for several seasons, dating back to 1962. The Cardinals kept the news under wraps, but he got off to a decent start in 1964. He had a 3-5 record and 3.50 ERA through 11 starts. He was just barely averaging 6 innings a start, but the numbers looked fair. His performance set the stage for the 6-player deal that took place on June 15, 1964, when the Cubs traded Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth for Broglio, reliever Bobby Schantz and outfielder Doug Clemens.

Source: Daily News, August 27, 1961.

At the time of the trade, Brock was batting .251 in 52 games, with a .340 slugging percentage and 10 stolen bases in 13 tries. He had two full seasons under his belt and had a .257/.306/.383 slash line with 50 stolen bases and 22 times caught. He was a couple days shy of his 25th birthday, and the Cubs didn’t know he would turn into a Hall of Famer. Of course, neither did they know that the centerpiece of their trade had a bum elbow.

“They (Cardinals) got rid of used merchandise,” Broglio said, years later. “The Cubs didn’t know. Nowadays, that trade never would have happened.”

But it did happen, and “Brock-for-Broglio” is now synonymous with any lopsided trade. It still gets consideration as the worst baseball trade of all time, though there are others that are arguably worse that this one (Matthewson for Rusie, Sandberg for DeJesus, anything the Marlins have done in the last two years).

The Cubs loved the deal at the time. “We need pitching badly, especially with the string of doubleheaders we have to play later in the season,” said head coach Bob Kennedy — this was the College of Coaches era. “Broglio will still into our regular rotation with Larry Jackson, Bob Buhl and Dick Ellsworth.”

“I’m happy with the trade,” Broglio said. “I had some minor injury problems early in the year, but I’m ready now.”

The whole deal was cursed for the Cubs. Billy Ott, the guy brought up to replace Brock on the roster, couldn’t break .200 and never played in the majors again after 1964. Schantz, who had a long and successful career in the majors, posted a 5.56 ERA for the Cubs in 20 games before being sold to the Phillies — where he had a 2.25 ERA the rest of the way. Clemens had a good half-season with the team in ’64 before dropping to a .221 batting average in 1965, his last in Chicago.

Broglio, though, became somewhat symbolic of the stumbling, hapless Cubs who had a billy goat curse but no manager and no real direction. Broglio and his bad elbow won 4 games against 7 losses for the rest of 1964, with a 4.04 ERA. That was when his elbow actually worked.

A familiar sight: Ernie Broglio grimacing as he pitched for the Cubs. Source: Arizona Republic, April 1, 1965.

In August ’64, Broglio woke up in his hotel room and called out, “Hey, my arm’s locked at the elbow!” Roomie Joe Amalfitano threw him a key and said, “Go ahead and unlock it.” The culprits were bone chips in his elbow. The Cubs sent him right back to pitching after draining enough fluid to get his arm working properly, and the chips were removed in an offseason surgery. UPI also reported, “A nerve also was re-tied during the operation.” It sounds serious, and plans were to have him take it easy in Spring Training. Instead, he went right back to pitching at full strength.

Despite a series of exceptionally optimistic articles, Broglio wasn’t a key pitcher for the Cubs in 1965. He won 1 game, lost 6 and pitched mostly out of the bullpen, struggling with a 6.93 ERA in 26 games. He barely pitched in the second half of the season. He started 11 games for the Cubs in 1966 and was just as bad, with a 2-6 record and 6.35 ERA. After giving up a home run to Dick Allen in 2/3 of an inning versus Philadelphia on July 2, the Cubs released him to the minors. He spent 1967 with the Reds AAA team before retiring from baseball altogether.

Broglio has a lifetime 77-74 record in his 8-year career, with 52 complete games and 18 shutouts in 259 appearances. He was 70-55 with the Cardinals and 7-19 with the Cubs. His ERA is 3.74 — 3.43 with the Cards and 5.40 with the Cubs. It’s hard to tell which team deserves more blame for Broglio’s shortened career — the Cardinals for ignoring his elbow problems for years, or the Cubs for rushing him back to the mound to try and get something back from the Brock trade.

Truthfully, that was just the era in which Broglio pitched. People accuse baseball teams of babying pitchers today, but the alternative is the 1950s and ’60s, where pitchers were expected to power through the pain and Tommy John surgeries didn’t exist. For every great pitcher of that era like Tom Seaver or Fergie Jenkins, there are a dozen pitchers like Ernie Broglio who had potentially great careers cut short from mis-use.

Broglio’s retirement also marked the end of an era. He was the last active player who played for the Oaks, which left Oakland for Vancouver in 1956. In the team’s 52-year history, it featured the likes of Ernie Lombardi, Mel Ott, Joe Gordon, Buzz Arlett, Billy Herman, Augie Galan and Billy Martin.

After baseball, Broglio worked for a liquor distributor in San Jose. He also coached young pitchers, though he was careful not to teach them anything that might hurt their elbows. He made the rounds in old-timers games and once got a standing boo when he was introduced at a Cubs game in the 1990s.–“Probably the funniest experience I ever had,” he said.

Broglio had a pretty extensive baseball memorabilia collection in his San Jose home, including a signed photo from Lou Brock. The two became friends after the infamous trade. Brock wrote, “To Ernie… History and time have tied us together. You are and were a helluva player.”

“I told Lou Brock, ‘I better go before you, because you’re in the Hall of Fame and well-remembered,” he said. “I’m only remembered for the trade.”

Obituary: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/07/17/san-joses-ernie-broglio-involved-in-baseballs-most-lopsided-trade-dies-at-83/

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