Continuing the bill of indictment chronicling the Pirates’ trading habits over the last century. In this fourth and final installment, four more bad trades and twelve good ones.
VETS TO GET DIFFERENT VETS
With the left center-field fence over 400 feet from home plate and the leftfield gap rolling on for over 450 feet, Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field was not a friendly place for righty hitters. Elliot had largely been stymied by the park, hitting only 50 home runs in over 1,000 games as a Pirate (home/road: 15/35, with no homers at home in 1941 and 1946). However, he had lashed 68 triples over the same span despite not being particularly fast, hinting at his power potential in a neutral park. As soon as he got to Braves Field (ironically, another pitcher’s park, but with different nuances) the triples turned into home runs and a just-decent third baseman turned into the NL MVP. The Pirates’ take included superannuated second baseman Herman, automatic out shortstop Wietelmann, and 19-year-old, never-to-be-seen-again Wentzel.
With the addition of Jackie Robinson to the major league roster, the intolerant Walker went from being “The People’s Cherce” to “The People’s Headache,” or more accurately, “Branch Rickey’s Headache.” If Rickey was good at anything, it was taking his headache and passing it along to someone else. Walker had 200 games to go; Roe would go 93-37 (.715), 3.26 with the Pirates through 1954, including 22-3 in 1951. Cox was a mediocre hitter but was said to be the best third baseman in the National League.
Cards got 50-22, 2.55 ERA from Tudor through 1988; Hendrick was a Pirate for 59 games, Barnard didn’t happen.
THE MARTE PINATA
Marte was just a minor league free agent the Yankees tossed out for Wilson. The Pirates didn’t want him and the Yankees did, a little. It’s doubtful that either side thought highly of Marte…
3/27/2002: Damaso Marte to White Sox for RHP Matt Guerrier
…But they were wrong. As of this writing, Marte has held batters to a .220 average in 144 career games. Lefties have been held to .196.
THE GOOD ONES
If Willie Stargell is counted as an outfielder, then Fletcher was probably the best first baseman in Pittsburgh history. It’s not as bad as it sounds – Fletcher lacked power but hit .280 with 110 walks a year. You’ll take that over Kevin Young.
Branch Rickey really thought Del Greco was going to be something more than trade bait. He was wrong, supplying more proof that the Rickey sojourn in Pittsburgh was an example of a genius being maligned by himself. After Rickey had vacated the Cave of Winds for the last time, the Pirates redeemed the money invested in local product Del Greco by swapping him for Gold Glove centerfielder Virdon.
A busted Yankees prospect due to arrested plate judgment, Robinson finally showed hitting ability with the Phillies in 1973. Wayne Simpson was just 26 but essentially finished. The Pirates got eight years of Robinson’s .276/.313/.477 production, including a .304-26-104 season in 1977.
A key move in the march to the 1979 championship, acquiring Madlock, a career .320 hitter to that point, allowed the Pirates to get Rennie Stennett’s .292 slugging percentage out of the lineup by shifting Phil Garner from third to second base. Madlock would hit .375 in the World Series, .297 in 801 games in a Pirates uniform. The Giants’ take included Whitson, who would have a few good moments in an erratic career, none of them in San Francisco, Holland, a pretty good lefty reliever, and prospect Breining, who looked promising but succumbed to a shoulder injury after being dealt to the Expos for Al Oliver.
Rhoden was a good pitcher in his fading years, Guante in one pitch, both ended the career of Billy Martin and ushered the Yankees out of the 1988 AL East race, and Clements had some sporadic moments as a middle reliever. In return, the Pirates got Drabek, which meant a 92-62, 3.02 record and the 1990 Cy Young award.
Pena was one of the best backstops in baseball, but the kind of BA-dependent hitter that typically does not have a long shelf life – especially in catchers. Pena had a .738 OPS (vs. .717 league) as a Buc, .645 (against .716 league) as a Card. Whitey Herzog didn’t know quite what to do with Van Slyke, who might show up at third base, first base, or the outfield depending on the day. The Cards were also looking for a catcher to replace Darrell Porter, and LaValliere had hit .233 with no power in 1986. Stationed in center field, Van Slyke won five Gold Gloves and, despite persistent platoon splits, became a .283/.353/.458 hitter. LaValliere was a big slow fat guy who took walks and hit for good averages. Dunne, a 1984 Olympian, went 13-6, 3.03 in his first Pirates season before backsliding to numbers more consistent with his weak minor league performances. Along with the reacquisition of Bobby Bonilla and the emergence of Barry Bonds, this was a key moment in the construction of the 1990-1992 division winners.
Fermin was a 24-year-old gloveman who eventually evolved into a 30-year-old gloveman (four career home runs, 903 games. Bell, perceived as a flop in Cleveland, was slotted at number two in the batting order by manager Jim Leyland. At first he was given the bunt sign twice a game, but later he evolved power. Bell’s .741 OPS during his stay in Pennsy was just a tick better than league average, but in those days you would take that from your shortstop.
Slaught hit .305/.370/.421 in six seasons as a platoon backstop. Robinson rapidly lost effectiveness, Smith went on to star in “Men in Black” rather than baseball.
Bonifay’s first deal. Miceli was KC’s best prospect at the time (at least, Baseball America thought so), and Lieber would evolve into a solid starting pitcher. Belinda, a middle man doing a poor imitation of a closer, was a Missouri bust.
Situational lefty for all-star slugger: you can’t make this stuff up. Giles’ ability was on display for all to see, and the Indians just missed it.
Released by the Twins, the Pirates signed Ritchie and got just one strong season out him. Nonetheless, they were able to turn him into three young pitchers courtesy of Sox’ GM Kenny Williams.
Steven Goldman writes The Pinstriped Bible for www.yesnetwork.com, where he waxes snarky about the adventures of the New York Yankees, plus almost anyone and anything else that comes to mind. Steve’s book on the early career of Casey Stengel will be published by Brassey’s in 2004. Questions, comments, suggestions, photos for our epic 14-part series, “All the Trades Gabe Paul Ever Made” welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.