Ernie Broglio, famous for the trade that brought Lou Brock to St. Louis, dies at 83

The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 41-50

Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 41-50 on the list.
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Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 41-50 on the list.

Ernie Broglio’s name has been little more to Cardinals history than the answer to a worn-out trivia question: “Who did St. Louis trade to get Lou Brock?”

The bounty the Cubs paid to acquire the right-handed Broglio has gone down as one of the worst trades in the game’s history and its legendary lopsidedness has only grown over the nearly 60 intervening years.

Brock, of course, went onto stardom by playing a critical role in a pair of World Series championships, breaking single season and career stolen base records, amassing 3,000 hits and being elected on first ballot to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cubs, meanwhile, got just seven more wins over three years out of Broglio.

Broglio’s daughter, Donna Broglio Cavallara, announced through social media that her father died Wednesday at age 83.

In its day the now infamous trade was widely believed to have favored the Cubs.

Outside of Chicago, little was known about Brock, a speedy outfielder who nonetheless had slashed a very pedestrian .258/.300/.382 in 1963, his second full season in the big leagues. But Broglio, a powerful 6-foot-2 right-hander, had been the Cardinals’ top pitcher three of the four previous seasons and was still just 27 years old.

Chicago Daily News sports columnist Bob Smith crowed over the deal: “Thank you, thank you, oh, lovely St. Louis Cardinals. Nice doing business with you. Please call again any time!”

Broglio (the “g” is not pronounced) originally was signed by the New York Giants in 1955, two years before they moved to San Francisco, a short drive across the Bay Bridge from his hometown of El Cerrito. But in 1958, while still toiling in the minors, Broglio was included in a five-player swap with St. Louis.

Cardinals manager Solly Hemus started Broglio on April 11, 1959 at home against the Giants. It was an inauspicious career debut — Broglio walked six and gave up five hits in a 5-2 loss. He was 0-5 before getting his first win, a 5-2 Cardinals victory over Philadelphia. A complete-game shutout at Cincinnati highlighted an otherwise forgettable rookie season.

But 1960 changed everything for Broglio, who was just 24 years old with a lively fastball and knee-buckling curve.

In the first three months of the season, Hemus used him mostly out of the bullpen with just five spot starts. But with a four-win June and the Cardinals in contention, Broglio was promoted back to the rotation. He pitched 136 innings after the All-Star Game and posted 12 second-half wins.

The Cardinals faded down the stretch, falling from second place at the beginning of September to a third place finish, nine games behind the eventual World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. But Broglio got wins in seven of his last nine decisions and finished 21-9 with a 2.74 ERA and a career-best 188 strikeouts. The season earned him a third-place finish in the Cy Young Award balloting and ninth for MVP. His 7.1 WAR would have been the fourth best in the National League — behind Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks — had that statistic been kept back then.

Broglio was the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter in 1961, which is when he felt the first pangs of shoulder trouble. In a 2016 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Broglio said it took 18 cortisone shots to get him through the season — “That’s five year’s worth,” he said his doctor later told him. He fell to 9-12, but rebounded with 12 wins in ‘62, then went 18-8 with a 2.99 ERA in ‘63.

By June 15 of the following year, the Cardinals were stuck in a deep slide. They had lost five in a row — including Broglio’s tough-luck 3-0 loss to Dodgers’ ace Sandy Koufax in Los Angeles — and their 6-17 stretch knocked them from second place to eighth.

With the endorsement of manager Johnny Keane, General Manager Bing Devine orchestrated the five-player deal that sent Broglio to Chicago and made Brock a fixture in the Cardinals’ outfield for 16 seasons. Count owner Gussie Busch among those who were not impressed — he fired Devine shortly after the trade.

But the Cardinals won 21 games in September to close an 11-game difference that separated them from the first place Phillies. Brock batted. 348 with 33 stolen bases along the way and St. Louis surprised the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

Broglio, meanwhile, believes the Cardinals knew his arm was shot, though Red Schoendienst, a Cardinals assistant coach at the time, later disputed that. Either way, Tommy John surgery wouldn’t be an option for another 10 years and, after just three seasons and a 7-19 record, Broglio was retired at age 30, a footnote in Cardinals’ history.

That was OK with Brogio, though, who had long ago made amends with his infamous place in baseball lore.

“You live with it,” Broglio told the San Jose Mercury News in 2016. “You go along with it. I mean, here you are 50-some years later after the trade and we’re talking. And I’m thinking, ‘What trade is going to be remembered for 50-something years?

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