1985 Pirates Retrospective – Part 2
Continuing the series of posts on the 1985 Pirates…
The Pirates prospects for 1984 certainly weren’t strong. Following 1983 Dave Parker left for his hometown of Cincinnati after a couple of years of jeers and batteries being thrown at him in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also traded Mike Easler to Boston for John Tudor. The Pirates were hoping to replace some of that offense with Amos Otis, who was signed as a free agent from Kansas City, but that didn’t work out so well.
The offense struggled and finished 10th in runs scored, last in walks and failed to hit 100 homers. Pitching was a different story as Pirate hurlers lead the NL in ERA and were third in strikeouts.
The team’s top hitters were veterans Lee Lacy and Jason Thompson along with a trio of younger players – Tony Pena, Johnny Ray and Marvell Wynne.
Rick Rhoden led the pitching staff with a 14-9 record and an ERA of 2.72. He was backed by a trio of pitchers with good ERAs but with identical 12-11 records – John Candelaria (2.72 ERA), Larry McWilliams (2.93) and the newcomer Tudor (3.27). 2nd year pitcher Jose DeLeon showed flashes of brilliance. He threw a complete game one-hitter in a loss to Cincinnati on August 24th. He had lost a no hitter in the 9th inning in just his third ML start in 1983.
Thanks to a poor April and an even worse June, the club was all but out of it by the All-Star break. They were 20 games under .500 and 16.5 games out of first. The club went on a tear as the season wound down, winning 10 of the final 12 contests to finish at 75-87, in last place and 21.5 games out of first.
Sensing an abundance of pitching and a lack of offense, the Pirates made some ill-fated moves in the off-season designed to get some bigger bats. First Tudor was traded to St. Louis for George Hendrick. The Pirates traded Dale Berra and two prospects – Alfonso Pulido and Jay Buhner – to the Yankees for Steve Kemp and 1979 hero Tim Foli. Needless the say, the Pirates got the raw end of both of those deals. They also signed Sixto Lezcano as a free agent. The only move that panned out was signing Rick Reuschel on the free agent market.
Opening Day 1985
The Opening Day lineup was as follows:
Marvell Wynne – CF
Johnny Ray – 2B
Bill Madlock – 3B
Jason Thompson – 1B
George Hendrick – RF
Tony Pena – C
Doug Frobel – LF
Tim Foli – SS
Rick Rhoden – P
Marvell Wynne was acquired from the Mets in a deal that sent Junior Ortiz to the Big Apple. Wynne was a light hitter with good potential speed. But he was a poor base stealer. In 1984 he swiped 24 bags but was caught 19 times. He got off to a horrible start in 1985 and was hitting .200 at the end of May. He hit .184 combined for July and August and batted just 11 more times the rest of the season as newly acquired players were given a try out. Wynne was traded at the end of Spring Training in 1986 to San Diego for Bob Patterson
Switch hitting Johnny Ray was a consistent performer who did all the things that don’t get noticed very well. He hit for a good average, rarely whiffed and made few errors in the field (after his rookie season). He came to Pittsburgh from Houston for Phil Garner at the end of 1981 and was robbed of the Rookie of the Year trophy in 1982 by Steve Sax and the big market-biased baseball writers. Ray won the Silver Slugger award in 1983 and was fifth in the NL in batting average in 1984 at .312. But he had the worst season of his career in 1985. He was hitting just .263 at the All-Star break. As Jose Lind was on his way up in 1987, Ray was traded to the Angels for two guys who basically did nothing in their ML careers. He finished his career with a couple of seasons in Japan.
Despite winning four batting titles, Bill Madlock only played in three All-Star games. Madlock was the final piece in the Fam-A-Lee puzzle, coming over mid-season from San Francisco in 1979. Madlock was coming off the worst season of his career in 1984 and 1985 was actually worse. He hit just .175 in April and was batting .251 when he was dealt to LA on September 9th. He surged down the stretch for the Dodgers, batting .360 after they acquired him, and he smacked three HRs in the NLCS against St. Louis. In the deal, the Pirates received Sid Bream, R.J. Reynolds and Cecil Espy from LA.
Jason Thompson was one of the first players to hit 30 homers in each league. He had accomplished the feat in Detroit in 1977 and in Pittsburgh in 1982. The Pirates got him from the Angels in 1981 for Ed Ott and Mickey Mahler. A good trade for the Pirates as Thompson logged his 30 homer season in 1982 to go along with 101 RBIs and 101 walks. However, his home runs, RBIs and batting average went down each of the next three seasons, though he did continue to walk at a high rate. With Bream in the mix, Thompson played sparingly during September of 1985 and was dealt to Montreal in the off season for two career minor leaguers. Thompson is employed by Wachovia Securities and also runs instructional camps. Has his own web site, too.
George Hendrick is the poster boy for 1980s ineptness in Pittsburgh. After a couple of good seasons in St. Louis, Hendrick was sent packing following a subpart 1984. For the three complete seasons from 1980 to 1983, Hendrick averaged over 20 HRs and over 100 RBIs. But he failed to reach double digits in taters and only knocked in 69 runners in 1984. Whitey Herzog and the St. Louis front office must’ve known something. And they got John Tudor in return. In 1985 in 256 ABs for Pittsburgh, Hendrick’s slugging percentage was a less than stellar .313. Along with John Candelaria and Al Holland, Hendrick was sent packing in late July in a deal with the Angels.
Along with Ray, Tony Pena was one of the mainstays in Pittsburgh in the post-drug trial era. Pena was signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic. Early in his career the Pirates thought he’d be capable of winning a batting title. But he caught a lot of games (over 130 in 9 out of 10 seasons both with the Pirates and other clubs) and his hitting skills peaked early. Nonetheless, he made five All-Star teams and was stellar with the leather, winning four Gold Gloves. He set career highs in practically every category except batting average in 1984. He tailed off quite a bit in 1985, failing to hit .250. He was traded before 1987 to St. Louis (the Pena trade worked out better in Pittsburgh than the Hendrick trade did. The Pirates got Andy Van Slyke and Mike LaValliere, along with Mike Dunne).
More than 20 years before Jason Bay arrived in the Steel City, the Pirates had another highly thought of Canadian outfielder. His name was Doug Frobel and he was no good. Signed out of an open try out camp, Frobel hit better than 20 homers in three straight minor league seasons. Frobel was the starter in right field on Opening Day in 1984, replacing Dave Parker. Frobel’s numbers in 1984 were terrible. In 276 ABs he hit .203 and the sum of his hits and walks was less than his number of strikeouts. In 1985 he was again on the Opening Day lineup card. This time he was in left field. In 109 ABs in 1985, Frobel failed to smack one over the wall. He was bought by Montreal in August. At that time his average stood at .202.
I’m not sure what the Pirates thought they were doing when the re-acquired Tim Foli. Steve Kemp was the cornerstone of the deal, but I’m not sure what they hoped for in getting Foli back. Maybe they were hoping that a link to the 1979 World Series Champs would put butts in the seats. Foli was a scrappy, tough, gritty ball player. The kind of guy you loved to have on your team and the kind of guy you hated to compete against. He wasn’t really a dangerous hitter – he hit for a low average with few walks and almost no power. But he was a solid fielder. It was obvious to the Pittsburgh brass early on that he was done as a player. Foli was released in mid-June as the Pirates went through a string of shortstops. He hit less than .200 in 37 ABs and never played in the Bigs again. He was a coach on Bob Boone’s staff in Cincinnati where he got into a fight with fellow coach and equally scrappy Ron Oester a few years ago.
Opening Day starter Rick Rhoden was a pretty good pitcher and a very good hitting pitcher. He appeared as a pinch hitter numerous times and actually started at DH late in his career. Success came early as he went 12-3 in his second full season and made the All-Star team. The following year, 1977, he won 16 games. LA traded him to Pittsburgh even up for Jerry Reuss prior to 1979. Rhoden missed most of that year with shoulder surgery but returned and continued to pitch well in the 1980s, finishing in the top 10 in ERA both in 1983 and 1984. He was traded to the Yankees following 1986 in the deal that brought Doug Drabek to Pittsburgh. Since retirement he has had success on the celebrity golf tour.
Opening Day looked like 1984. The pitching was solid and the offense was nowhere to be found. The Pirates faced the defending NL East champs and the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the NL. Cubs starter Rick Sutcliffe combined with Lee Smith to hold the Pirates to six hits (Rhoden had one of the hits) and one run. Meanwhile, Keith Moreland drove in both Chicago runs with a single and a solo homer. Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win – 2-1.