CHICAGO -- The trade went nearly unnoticed, even though it involved the most successful Chicago Cubs pitcher in nearly the last decade going to the New York Yankees.
The deal that shipped burly right-hander Rick Reuschel to the Yanks might have received more extensive notice had it not been announced June 12 -- the day the players' strike began.
It was two months before the players involved could pitch and be compared but the initial reaction in Chicago ranged from horror to disgust: Reuschel, the team's ace, for journeyman Doug Bird and an unknown infielder named Pat Tabler.
Actually, the deal was as complex as it was controversial. Bird was to be considered something of a 'rent-a-player' with the Yanks having the option to regain him at season's end.
Tabler, one of the jewels of the Yankee farm system, was considered on loan to the Cubs' Iowa farm team. The only thing certain was the amount of money involved: $400,000 from the Yanks to the Cubs.
It later was learned the Cubs would get another player instead of Tabler, reliever Mike Griffin. As it turned out, the Cubs also acquired Tabler later in a separate deal that gives New York the option of another player or $200,000 by February of next year.
Bird, for one, was surprised at some of the negative reaction from the trade.
'I'm a good pitcher, and I couldn't understand why some Cubs' fans were upset that they were getting me, Griffin and Tabler,' said Bird, who has pitched for Kansas City and Philadelphia. 'I know I can throw. Rick Reuschel is an outstanding pitcher, but I haven't just been sitting around lately.'
Bird lived up to his statements, winning his first two starts for the Cubs and pitching strongly in a third. Reuschel, meanwhile, did not record his first victory for the Yankees until Aug. 22.
Bird, used as a spot starter and long reliever for New York, put together a 17-game winning streak over two seasons. Ironically, the streak was snapped on June 11 in Chicago against the White Sox, the last game played in baseball's first half.
Asked if he minded coming from a team in first place to a team with the worst record in the National League, Bird was adamant.
'I was glad to have the opportunity to pitch anywhere. Besides, this is a good young team that has some promise.'
Griffin was pitching in the minor leagues before he got the call to come to the Cubs varsity.
'I kept thinking that I was finally going to get a chance to pitch, which is all important,' Griffin said. 'I knew I had kept in shape during the strike and I was ready to do whatever the Cubs wanted.'
What the Cubs wanted was a strong reliever, someone who would fill the still unfilled shoes of the since departed Bruce Sutter. Griffin saved Bird's first win and became one of Manager Joey Amalfitano's most dependable men out of the bullpen.
'Both Bird and Griffin showed right away they could pitch,' Amalfitano said. 'I know Griffin has a strong arm and can throw hard. Bird's a smart pitcher, he can mix it up with the best of them. Obviously, they're a great addition to our pitching staff.'
Tabler was hitting .300 at Iowa when he was called up in mid-August and spent little time sitting on the Cubs' bench. Amalfitano placed him in the starting lineup the first day he arrived at Wrigley Field and the second baseman responded with a hit in his first at-bat.
'We know the kind of talent Tabler has,' said General Manager Herman Franks, who engineered the Reuschel deal. 'He can play.'
Reuschel, who had won 128 games in nine-plus seasons with the Cubs, had insisted earlier in the year he didn't want to be traded away from Chicago despite the team's dismal record in his tenure in the Windy City.
'We hated to lose Rick,' Amalfitano said. 'He did everything anyone can ask, but it's an old saying that in order to get talent you have to give up something of talent.'