Back When Things Went Right — Part Two
The Pirates were one of MLB’s dominant franchises in the 1970s. Their record that decade included two world championships, six division titles, three second-place finishes, and one third-place finish. With the exception of the 1973 team, which went 80-82 in the wake of Roberto Clemente’s tragic death, their worst record was 88-74 in 1974, and they still won the division.
The 1970s teams started off with a strong core from the Pirates teams of the early and mid-1960s in Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Steve Blass, but the team’s success was built on a long run of top-flight production from its farm system. In fact, while frustrated fans often accuse today’s Pirates of serving as a farm system for other teams, that was far more true of the ‘70s Pirates, who were always in contention and thus often traded away young players. Oakland and Philadelphia were especially fortunate beneficiaries of the Pirates’ scouting aptitude. Meanwhile, the Bucs themselves seldom if ever traded for prospects.
As I pointed out in Part One, the 70s Pirates’ teams really came together at the major league level in 1969, but the groundwork was laid in 1964. MLB instituted its amateur draft in 1965, but the Pirates really made hay the preceding year, signing Al Oliver, Bob Robertson and Dock Ellis as amateurs out of high school, and Manny Sanguillen out of Panama. That’s three very good everyday players and a front-of-the-rotation starter in one year.
Once the draft was instituted, the Pirates’ strong scouting continued. Oddly, they weren’t that adept at using their first round picks. In the first eleven years of the draft, they used their top picks on such luminaries as Doug Dickerson, Joe Grigas, Dick Sharon, John Morlan, John Bedard and Dwayne Peltier. The closest thing to a star they acquired in the first round during those years was Richie Hebner. They also picked up Craig Reynolds, Dale Berra, Steve Nicosia and Rod Scurry. Still, just in the first two years of the draft, apart from Hebner (1966) they added Freddie Patek and Bob Moose (1965), and Dave Cash and Gene Clines (1966). They also signed Don Money as an amateur free agent in 1965.
Another impressive stretch was 1970-72, although some of the players they picked up had most or all of their success elsewhere. In 1970, the Pirates drafted two regulars on the 1979 champions, Dave Parker and Ed Ott. In 1971, they drafted Craig Reynolds and Doug Bair, signed Art Howe as a 24-year-old amateur free agent, and signed Tony Armas out of Venezuela. In 1972, they hit it big, drafting John Candelaria and Willie Randolph, as well as brief major leaguer and future manager Ken Macha. In the January phase of the draft that year, they picked up Larry Demery, who had two strong seasons as a swing man for the Pirates at a young age, but unfortunately blew out his arm.
What follows is a list of the significant players the Pirates signed to pro contracts from 1964 to 1975, with some brief notes. It shows how a steady stream of talent coming through their farm system produced a decade of success at the major league level. There wasn’t a single year in which they failed to acquire at least one good major league player and often it was more than one.
Al Oliver (.303 career average, 2743 hits, traded for Bert Blyleven)
Bob Robertson (OPS+ of 149 and 135 in 1970-71, career shortened by back problems)
Dock Ellis (138-119, 3.46, traded in disastrous deal for Doc Medich)
Manny Sanguillen (caught 1114 games, .296)
Bob Moose (18th round) (76-71, 3.50, career shortened by death in accident)
Freddie Patek (22nd) (1650 G, 385 SB, traded for Bob Johnson)
Don Money (.261, 176 HR, traded for Jim Bunning)
Richie Hebner (1st) (.276, 203 HR)
Dave Cash (5th) (1422 G, .283, traded for Ken Brett, who was later included in Medich deal)
Gene Clines (6th) (batted .308 and .334 in 1971-72)
Gene Garber (20th) (833 G, 218 Sv, traded for Jim Rooker)
Richie Zisk (3rd) (.287, 207 HR, traded for Goose Gossage and Terry Forster)
Milt May (11th) (.263, 77 HR)
Bruce Kison (14th) (115-88, 3.66)
Frank Taveras (Dominican Republic) (174 SB from 1976-78)
Kent Tekulve (Reached majors at age 27, 1050 G, 184 Sv, 132 ERA+, traded for Al Holland)
Omar Moreno (Panama) (244 SB from 1978-80, 487 career)
Rennie Stennett (Panama) (.276, career shortened by severe leg injury at age 26)
Dave Parker (14th) (.290, 339 HR, 1493 RBI)
Ed Ott (23rd) (caught 502 games)
Mario Mendoza (Mexico) (go ahead, laugh, but he played in 686 major league games over nine years)
Craig Reynolds (1st) (1240 games at SS, traded for Grant Jackson)
Doug Bair (2nd) (81 Sv, 3.63, traded in huge deal for Phil Garner)
Art Howe (signed at age 24) (891 games, .260)
Tony Armas (Venezuela) (79 HR and 230 RBI in 1983-84, 251 career HRs, included in Garner deal)
John Candelaria (2nd) (124-87, 3.17 with Pirates, traded for not much)
Willie Randolph (7th) (2210 hits, .276, lost in Medich trade)
Larry Demery (7th, Jan. phase) (17-12, 3.05 in 1975-76, major league career ended at age 24 due to arm injury)
Miguel Dilone (Dominican Republic) (800 G, 267 SB, traded for Sanguillen)
Steve Nicosia (1st) (113 OPS+ in 1979)
Mitchell Page (3rd) (154 and 134 OPS+ in first two seasons, included in Garner deal)
Rick Langford (54 wins, 75 CG from 1979-82, traded with 352 other players for Garner)
Rod Scurry (1st) (34 Sv, 3.15 ERA with Pirates, 1.74 ERA in 1982, career and life shortened by substance abuse problems)
Ed Whitson (6th) (126-123, 3.79, included in trade for Bill Madlock)
Dale Berra (1st) (591 games at SS, traded with Jay Buhner for Tim Foli)
Don Robinson (3rd) (109-106, 57 Sv, 3.79, traded for Mackey Sasser)
Al Holland (78 Sv, 2.98, included in trade for Madlock, reacquired six years later for Tekulve)