Over the next two weeks, in conjunction with the run-up to the July 31 trade deadline, Phillies Nation will be presenting the Top 10 Trades in Phillies History. Consideration was given to the performance of the players traded with their new club v. the performance of the players acquired with the Phillies in addition to heavily weighing the success of the Phillies once the trade was completed.
This series will be immediately followed by the Top 10 Worst Trades in Phillies History, starting approximately on July 7.
Rusty Staub was a fine outfielder and first baseman in the National League. From 1963 through 1974, Staub hit .279/.366/.430 with 178 homers, earning MVP votes five times and making five-straight All-Star squads from 1967 through 1971. Staub was often the best player on bad teams, spending 1963 through 1968 with the expansion Houston Colt .45s and Astros, 1969-1971 with the expansion Montreal Expos, and then with the recently-created Mets from 1972 through 1975.
The Phillies, sensing an opportunity to improve in 1975, had signed veteran first baseman Dick Allen for a return to the team. Third baseman Mike Schmidt was coming off one of the single-greatest seasons in Phillies history (MLB-leading 36 homers, NL-leading .546 slugging) and Bob Boone, Larry Bowa, and Greg Luzinski all were developing into cornerstone pieces for the franchise. After signing Allen, incumbent first baseman Willie Montanez became redundant and the club attempted to trade Montanez to the Mets for Staub.
It resulted in one of the best non-trades in club history.
Things weren’t great because Montanez became a superstar (he didn’t) or because Staub flamed out (he didn’t). No, the Mets reluctance to trade Staub for Montanez became a huge win for the Phillies because of the direction they were forced to move in instead. On May 4, 1975, the Phillies acquired center fielder Garry Maddox from San Francisco for Montanez.
Maddox was a second round pick in the January 1968 amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants. At age 18, Maddox would perform well enough in Rookie ball to earn a brief cameo in Single-A Fresno. The defensively-gifted outfielder would be drafted into the Vietnam War midway through the 1968 season and would serve his country in the conflict until he returned to baseball for the 1971 season. After hitting 30 homers with a .299/.356/.562 line for Single-A Fresno despite not playing competitive baseball for two-plus seasons, Maddox spent 11 games in Triple-A Phoenix in 1972 before earning a permanent spot on Major League rosters in 1972.
In his best seasons, Maddox was as close to being a five-tool player as there was in baseball. There were hints of the player Maddox could become scattered in his early stats, too: in his age 22 through 24 seasons, 1972 through 1974, Maddox would hit .292/.324/.431 with San Francisco, averaging 10 homers and 19 steals a season. After a slow start in 1975 where Maddox hit just .135/.237/.212 with one steal and one homer through his first 17 games, Maddox was shipped to Philly for Montanez.
After one season, the trade looked like a small win for San Francisco. Montanez earned MVP votes by hitting.302/.353/.415 across the whole season with 10 homers and 101 RBI. Meanwhile, Maddox rebounded from his slow start but finished with a line of just .272/.344/.406 with five homers and 25 steals but did snag his first Gold Glove.
It was during the 1976 season, however, that Maddox definitely became the better player in the trade and left the pretty solid Montanez in the dust. Maddox would hit .330/.377/.456 with six homers and a career-high 29 steals while winning his second of eight-consecutive Gold Gloves in a row and earning a fifth-place NL MVP finish. Maddox frequently hit seventh between right fielder Jay Johnstone and catchers Boone and Tim McCarver, helped lead the Phillies to a 15-win improvement and was a big piece of their first-ever 101-win season in 1976.
Maddox’s strong performance contributed to a squad that would make its first playoff appearance since 1950. Maddox was not only terrific in the regular season but his numbers translated about as well as you would expect to the postseason, hitting .271/.307/.374, driving in the eventual pennant-winning run in the 1980 NLCS, winning a World Series ring in 1980, and hitting a memorable homer in the 1983 World Series. But beyond his above-average offensive, Maddox was an other-worldly defender.
Sure, many remember the slogan “Two-third of the world is covered by water. The other one-third is covered by Garry Maddox” or the catchy, Harry Kalas-appointed nickname, the Secretary of Defense. Yet, somehow, Maddox lived up to that billing. From 1975 through 1986, Maddox led center fielders in FanGraphs’ version of defensive runs saved, led the NL in Total Zone Runs in 1976 and 1979, put outs in center in 1976 and 1979, assists in center 1975 and 1976, Total Zone Runs as a center fielder in 1976, 1978, 1979, and 1980, and led the NL in range factor as a center fielder in 1975, 1976, 1978, and 1979. Maddox ranked fourth among his NL contemporary center fielders in WAR while with the Phillies, eighth in batting average, 14th in SLG, and fifth in steals.
Maddox has longevity and an eye-popping accomplishment, eight-straight Gold Gloves in the defensively-difficult center field, in his corner. The man he was traded for, Montanez, would be an All-Star more times than Maddox, once, but would play through only 1982 while Maddox lasted in the Majors through 1986. Montanez would put up a .275/.322/.392 line while averaging 10 homers and two steals a season as a first baseman from 1976 through 1982 against Maddux’s line of .287/.318/.416 with an average of 10 homers and 22 steals a season across the same time period while playing parts of an additional four seasons.
While the numbers are surprisingly similar, Maddox’s fantastic speed, best-of-class defense at a premium defensive position, and his ability to carry his regular season numbers into the playoffs make this trade a huge win for the Phillies.