1985 Pirates Retrospective – Part 4

Some major story lines from the 1985 season:
Who’s At Short?
Dale Berra had been traded to the New York Yankees in the off season. Former Buc Tim Foli was reacquired in that deal. But questions arose almost immediately about his physical condition. During Spring Training skipper Chuck Tanner stated that he wanted healthy bodies playing and that if Foli could only play somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 games, then so be it. Apparently, he was worse off than everyone thought. Foli only managed to play in 19 games and made just 8 starts at short. His last game of the season and in his ML career was 6-15-85.
Apparently GM Pete Peterson must’ve been counting on Foli to be healthy, because the Pirates had nobody capable of playing shortstop at an acceptable level. Rafael Belliard was up briefly in 1984 and demonstrated that he was over matched by Big League hurlers. In 1984 he managed five singles in 22 ABs. In 1985 he got another shot, since he was slick with the glove. This time he only got 20 at bats and managed just four hits.
The Pirates picked up Jerry Dybzinski as a free agent after the White Sox released him. He appeared in five games, making one start at short on 4-21-85. He played in his final ML game on May 1 of that year.
Super utility guy Bill Almon made several starts at short throughout the year and probably was the best option as a full time player at that position. His versatility and the fact that so many players were struggling offensively prevented that from becoming a reality. He played every position except catcher (where Tony Pena held down the job), second (with Johnny Ray doing fine) and right field during the 1985 season. He made just one start at short after the All-Star break.
At the end of May, the Pirates acquired Johnnie LeMaster from Cleveland for Scott Bailes. LeMaster was the starting second baseman beginning May 31 and for much of June. But he collected just eight hits in 53 ABs, including his final ML home run in Cincinnati on 6-5-85 (I was in the house that night to see it – the ball barely cleared the wall). A couple of other interesting LeMaster notes: his first ML hit was an inside the park homer and he played for three teams in 1985 – SF, Cleveland and Pittsburgh – and all three teams finished last in their division).
The Pirates first round draft pick in 1982, Sam Khalifa, was the next rider on the merry-go-round. He held down the position for the remainder of the year, starting in late June, getting 94 starts at shortstop. He didn’t hit very well at all, compiling a pedestrian .238 BA with two homers in 320 ABs.
For the season, Bucs shortstops hit .226 in 554 ABs with five homers, 53 RBIs and 47 runs scored. Their collective OPS was sub-.600. As bad as that was, it was about as good as Berra had done in 1984 – 450 ABs, .222 BA with 10 homers, 52 RBIs and 31 runs scored and a sub-.600 OPS.
Somehow things managed to get worse. Pirate shortstops hit just .219 in 1986, .259 in 1987 and .216 in 1988. Not until Jay Bell was acquired in 1989 was the Pirates situation at short resolved.
It has been my long held belief that the Pirates might have won the division in 1988 (as it was they finished 15 games in back of the Mets – so maybe I’m dreaming) if they had held onto Ray, instead of dealing him to the Angels in 1987, and moved Jose Lind to short.
Help is on the Way
On June 3, with their record a sad 17-29 and already 12 games behind the front running New York Mets, the Pirates selected Barry Bonds with the sixth pick of the draft. Less than one year later, Bonds would make his ML debut for the Pirates.
Four of the first five picks of the draft also went on to successful careers. B.J. Surhoff was #1, taken by the Brewers. Will Clark was #2, grabbed by the Giants. The Rangers took Bobby Witt. Probable future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin was the Reds choice at #4. Then, the White Sox picked somebody named Kurt Brown, who never made the Show, with the #5 pick.
The selection of Bonds was probably the best move made by interim GM Joe L. Brown, who was lured out of retirement in May when Peterson was fired. Brown had been the Pirates GM from 1956 through 1976. The Pirates hired Syd Thrift to be GM in November and Thrift became instrumental in turning the ship around.
The next installment will have info on the messed up bullpen and on the performance of the imports.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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