Onward with analysis of the trades that brought in members of the 1979 Pirates.
On December 7, 1976 the Pirates sent Craig Reynolds and Jimmy Sexton to the Mariners for Grant Jackson
Bob Moose, who had both started and relieved in his career, pitched primarily in relief in 1976. He was killed in a car accident that off season, leaving the Pirates both saddened and in need of relief help. Enter Grant “Buck” Jackson. Additionally, three days after getting Buck, the Pirates traded for Goose Gossage and Terry Forster.
Jackson was signed by the Phillies in the days before the free agent draft was instituted. After a couple of seasons spent mostly in relief, Jackson became a Phillies starter in 1969 and had a pretty good year (14-18 with an ERA+ of 107). He made his lone All-Star game appearance that season while toiling for a club that lost 99 games. Jackson got off to a terrible start in 1970. Headed in to the All-Star break he was 1-7 with a 6.51 ERA. The Phillies sent Jackson and two guys I never heard of (Jim Hutto and Sam Parrilla) to Baltimore for Roger Freed. Jackson became almost exclusively a reliever for the rest of his career.
That role suited Jackson very well as he was effective for the O’s, especially in 1973 when he posted a sub 2.00 ERA, until 1976. After struggling early, the Orioles sent Jackson and some other veterans (notably Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman and Elrod Hendricks) to the Bombers for some young guys – Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey among others. Jackson was brilliant in NY, going 6-0 with an ERA of 1.69 in 58-2/3 innings pitched.
After the Bombers were swept by the Redlegs in the World Series, Jackson was left unprotected in the expansion draft and he was nabbed by the Mariners, who dealt him to Pittsburgh the next month.
In Pittsburgh Jackson continued to excel, never posting an ERA worse than league average in four plus years. He became part of a rubber armed trio with Enrique Romo and Kent Tekulve that helped the Fam-A-Lee win the Series in 1979. Jackson was the winner in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series and didn’t give up a run in 4-2/3 inning against the Orioles that year.
Jackson was still pitching well in 1981 at age 38 when the Expos acquired him for $50,000 from Pittsburgh. He didn’t pitch well for Montreal and was traded to the Royals for Ken Phelps. He continued to struggle for KC and was released. The Pirates signed him down the stretch in 1982 and he pitched in one game for the Bucs (his final ML appearance) on 9/8/82. Since retirement, Jackson has worked as a minor league pitching coach for a number of teams.
As I recall, Jackson had a nice, easy throwing motion. A couple of guys that came up in the late 1980s, like Mitch Williams and Rob Dibble, looked like they were throwing so hard there arm was going to detach at the shoulder. But Buck always seemed like he was playing catch with his backstop. Very smooth. And very effective.
Reynolds was the Pirates first round pick in 1971. Primarily a shortstop, he hit pretty well in every stop in the minors and had brief looks in Pittsburgh in both 1975 and 1976. After the trade to Seattle, he was the Mariners starting shortstop in their first game ever. He hit .292 in Seattle in 1978 and was an All-Star. The Mariners traded him to Houston after that year for Floyd Bannister. Reynolds continued to play pretty well, making the All-Star team for the Astros in 1979. But his batting average began to tail off and by 1982 Dickie Thon had taken over as the starter in Houston. Reynolds played utility infielder role until 4/8/84 (my brother’s birthday) when Thon was beaned by Mike Torrez. Reynolds yielded to Thon when he returned and then to Rafael Ramirez later in his career, becoming the Astros infield version of Terry Puhl, who was their longtime fourth outfielder.
Sexton was a free agent signee of the Pirates in 1970. He worked his way up the farm system as a shortstop. He had his best year in 1976 when he hit .324 in Shreveport. In the Show he never hit much, compiling a .218 BA in 372 ABs. He bounced from Seattle to Houston to Oakland to the White Sox to the Cardinals.
Like the Phil Garner trade, this trade is a bit tough to justify based on the data alone. Jackson pitched like a rubber armed stud in 1979 and was especially stellar in the post-season. The Pirates traded a lot more Win Shares than they received. But, I say it was worth it.
Like I said, it is tough to call this a good trade, but it is also difficult to say this is a bad trade. Ultimately both teams were helped. The Bucs won the World Series and the Astros made the playoffs twice with Reynolds on the squad.
Bill James made the point in the most recent Historical Baseball Abstract that the Pirates had a great run of second baseman between Bill Mazeroski and Johnny Ray with every regular second sacker for the Pirates during that time frame ranking in his Top 100 second basemen of all-time. The same could nearly be said for Pirate shortstops from the time of Dick Groat (1955) until the end of Tim Foli’s first tenure (1981). Groat, Gene Alley, Freddie Patek, Frank Taveras and Foli all rank in James’ top 125 shortstops. All that’s missing is a couple of years of Dick Schofield and one season of Dal Maxvill.
During that time the Pirates drafted both Reynolds and Dale Berra. Having Reynolds at shortstop between the end of Foli’s first stop in Pittsburgh and the beginning of the Jay Bell era would’ve been great. But, Reynolds, like my man Johnny Ray, wasn’t the type of player to lift a team on his back and carry them to glory. He could make a good team better, but he wasn’t going to make a bad team good. So, Reynolds or no Reynolds, the mid-80s Pirates were going to stink.
Players who started at least one game at short in Pittsburgh between 1982 and 1988:
Quite a list of marginal Big Leaguers and weak hitters. Then, unsure about Bell, the Bucs acquired Rey Quinones in 1989. He, too, didn’t work out.