On October 18, 1973 the Philadelphia Phillies swung a trade with their intra-state and National League East Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is not overstating things to say that this deal would prove to be one of the most influential in the history of the Phillies franchise.
In that trade, Phillies general manager Paul Owens sent a talented 25-year-old southpaw by the name of Ken Brett to Pittsburgh in a straight-up exchange for Cash. Brett’s kid brother, George Brett, had just debuted in Major League Baseball two months earlier as a 20-year-old with the Kansas City Royals. You’ve certainly heard of George, but may not know much about his big brother.
Let’s place the deal in the context of the times for the two ball clubs. Major League Baseball had split the National and American Leagues into two divisions each, east and west, beginning in the 1969 season.
During the early years of the Divisional Era the Pirates proved to be the ‘Beasts of the East’, capturing five of six NL East crowns after that first season and winning the 1971 World Series.
Cash was a part of each of those Pirates ball clubs. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the sixth round of the 1966 MLB Draft, Cash made his big-league debut as a 21-year-old rookie in 1969. After beginning the 1970 campaign back in the minors, he was promoted in late May and began to ease longtime Pirates star Bill Mazeroski out as the club’s starting second baseman.
Receiving his first two postseason starts that October when the Pirates were swept out of the NLCS by the early Cincinnati Reds ‘Big Red Machine’ club, Cash would appear in 18 playoff games with Pittsburgh. That included starting and playing the complete game at second base in all seven games of that 1971 World Series.
In 1973 the Pirates slipped to third place in the division. Their 80-82 record that year would be the lone losing mark for the franchise during any normal full season in a 19-year stretch between 1965-83. They still led the division as late as September 20, and were only a half-game off the NL East lead before dropping four of their last five to finish 2.5 behind the New York Mets.
Pittsburgh had a talented young utility player named Rennie Stennett who had waited in the wings over the previous couple of seasons for his own everyday opportunity. The trade by GM Joe Brown freed up second base for Stennett and filled out a Pirates rotation that included veterans Jim Rooker and Dock Ellis and young arms Jerry Reuss and Bruce Kison.
Meanwhile, Ken Brett had been the fourth overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of that same 1966 MLB Draft from which Cash had emerged. He would debut as an 18-year-old just over a year later in a one-game late September cameo with Boston’s 1967 pennant winners.
From 1969-71, Brett made 78 appearances including 24 starts with Boston. Then in October 1971 the Bosox swung a massive trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. In that 10-player deal, Brett went to Milwaukee along with Jim Lonborg, George Scott, and three others in exchange for Tommy Harper and three others.
Brett then received his first chance to join a rotation full-time, going 7-12 in the 1972 season for the Brewers. His time in Milwaukee wouldn’t last beyond that one season. On Halloween of 1972, Brett and Lonborg were sent along with two others to the Phillies in exchange for infielders Don Money and John Vukovich and pitcher Bill Champion.
Money was a coveted player, just entering his prime at age 25. He had been moved off shortstop in Philly by Larry Bowa and was now being moved off third base to make room for Mike Schmidt. Money would go on to become a four-time AL All-Star with the Brewers.
In the 1973 season, Brett went 13-9 with a Phillies ball club that was within 4.5 games of the NL East lead as late as August 21 under first-year skipper Danny Ozark. Brett had a 3.44 ERA that season in 31 games, making 25 starts and hurling 211.2 innings. He and Lonborg joined Steve Carlton, 25-year-old Wayne Twitchell, and 22-year-old rookie Dick Ruthven in giving the Phillies their best starting pitching rotation in years.
The Phillies’ starting second baseman at the time was a 29-year-old, four-year veteran named Denny Doyle. He was a scrappy player who made a strong defensive Keystone combo partner with Bowa in the middle of the Phillies infield. But Doyle was also a light hitter with a career .240/.292/.302 slash line to that point. He offered only modest speed on the bases and even less power at the plate.
Owens was building his offense around powerful 22-year-old left fielder Greg Luzinski and the 23-year-old rookie Schmidt. With Bowa already a light hitter in the middle infield, ‘The Pope’ as Owens was known was looking for a more dynamic offensive presence as well as a player with real winning experience to help push his young club to the next level.
So, all of that set up the Cash-Brett trade. Pirates looking to deepen their rotation, free up room for Stennett to become a full-time player, and return to winning the NL East Divsion. Phillies looking to bolster their offense and add an experienced winner in hopes of rising to true contention in the same division.
Cash himself commented on the deal per Paul Hagen at MLB.com back in 2016:
“People would ask me why I was going to Philadelphia, to a last place team? I said, ‘I had no choice. I got traded. Because I was going to a last-place team, I guess I was supposed to be complacent. But I tried to get the guys together and say, ‘Hey, we have a chance to win this thing. We’ve got some pretty good talent. If we can stay healthy, we’ve got a chance.’“
The deal would end up working out for both clubs. The Pirates did indeed win the NL East Division the following year, and the one after that. Brett went 22-14 with a cumulative 3.32 ERA while making 43 starts over those 1974-75 seasons. He also appeared in relief in three playoff contests.
Meanwhile, the Phillies went 80-82 in 1974. It was the club’s best record since going 82-80 in 1967. They were just 1.5 off the division lead as late as August 21 and finished third in the NL East within hailing distance – eight games – of the Pirates in the final standings.
In 1975 the Phillies put on their first really serious challenge to the Bucs divisional domination. They finished in second place that year with an 86-76 mark, leaving them 6.5 back of Pittsburgh after the two teams were tied for the lead as late as August 18.
The 1976 Phillies would finally kick down the door, winning 101 games to finish nine up on the second-place Pirates. Cash was an NL All-Star for a third straight season, leading the league in triples a year after leading the National League in hits.
“It was different from Pittsburgh, because of the crowds. The only time it seemed they came out in Pittsburgh was when we got to the playoffs,” Cash told Hagen. “What I can really remember is everybody just really rallying behind the team. It was ‘Yes We Can’ and ‘We’re going to the playoffs for the first time since God knows when.’ I think it energized the city and it brought the Phillies fever back to the town.“
That 1976 season would be the third and final season in a Phillies uniform for the man whose “Yes We Can” motto had helped inspire the team to the top of the standings. Free agency had come to Major League Baseball during that period, and Cash became one of the earliest to cash in, signing with the Montreal Expos on November 1, 1976 to a five-year, $1.5 million deal that appears tiny by today’s standards but which was big money back then. Traded by the Expos to San Diego in November 1979, Cash would finish up his career with the Padres at age 32 in 1979.
Brett, who seemed to be part of one big trade after another during his career, was swapped by the Pirates to the New York Yankees in December 1975 along with Ellis and young second baseman Willie Randolph in exchange for pitcher Doc Medich, who would earn his nickname by performing CPR on a Phillies fan who had suffered a heart attack in the stands in April of the following season.
Ironically, though both Cash and Brett each helped their respective Phillies and Pirates teams achieve the goals established by those teams at the time of their trade for one another, neither would win a World Series after the deal.
Brett ended his career playing alongside his brother in Kansas City, signing with the Royals as a free agent in August 1980. He made eight relief appearances down the stretch in September and early October for the AL West Division champs, including earning a Save on October 1 against Milwaukee.
However, Ken would not be carried on the postseason roster, and thus did not join his future Hall of Fame brother when the Royals faced the Phillies that year in the World Series. Brett wrapped his career up with 22 final relief appearances for Kansas City in 1981 at age 32.
The Ken Brett for Dave Cash trade between the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates on this very date 47 years ago proved to be a winner for both teams. Division and cross-state rivals dealing key players in their prime to one another. Kudos to Paul Owens and Joe Brown on this one.