This Date in Pirates History: December 26
On this date in 1953 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded young infielder Danny O’Connell to the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for six players and $100,000 cash. Danny had a strong season for the Pirates in 1953 hitting .294 with 57 walks and 88 runs scored. He was 26 at the time of the trade and had played just one prior season in the majors(1950) due to serving two years in the military. This deal, along with another trade a month later that included $70,000 cash plus the dealing away of Murry Dickson, who was one of the higher paid players on the team, gave the team financial flexibility they wouldn’t have had due to very poor attendance in the early-mid 50′s. It was done as much for the cash aspect as it was done for the players in return, despite the fact they received six players back.
O’Connell as it was, had his best seasons with the Pirates. In four years in Milwaukee he was a .248 hitter with only 127 RBI’s in 457 games so the deal turned out to be a good one for the Pirates even if the players returning weren’t that good. They received Sid Gordon back, a veteran OF/3B who had a better year in 1954 with the Pirates than O’Connell had in any year. Gordon hit .306 with 12 homers and 67 walks in 131 games. He was sold the following season to the Giants. Max Surkont was also in the deal and the Pirates got two years of starting pitching out of him. He was just 16-32 but the team was barely any better when he didn’t pitch. Curt Raydon was a 20 year old minor league pitcher at the time of the trade. It took him until 1958 to reach the majors and he played just one year there due to arm injuries derailing his career. Another pitcher, Fred Waters, pitched well for the Pirates in 25 games between 1955-56 but he was on the older side for a minor league. He pitched in the minors until 1962, winning 118 minor league games. The two other returns were Sam Jethroe, who played just two games for the Pirates in 1954 and Larry LaSalle, a minor league pitcher who retired after the 1954 season
Born on this date in 1964 was third baseman Jeff King, who played for the Pirates from 1989 to 1996. King was the first overall pick in the 1986 amateur draft by the Pirates. King struggled for years to put it all together, he was rushed through the system despite average numbers and when he made it to the majors, it took until 1993 for him to have a season worthy of his draft status. He hit .295 that season with 35 doubles, 98 RBI’s and 82 runs scored. The following season he regressed, he suffered back problems most of his career and it seemed to take a toll on him during the middle of the strike-shortened season. He drove in 87 runs in 122 games for the Pirates in 1995 then set career highs in homers with 30, RBI’s with 111(he would top that by one the following season) runs scored with 91 and doubles with 36. King was traded to the Royals along with Jay Bell in December 1996 in a trade that was covered here.
Also born on this date, in 1950, was shortstop Mario Mendoza, who played for the Pirates from 1974 to 1978. Mendoza was signed as an amateur free agent in 1970 and slowly worked his way through the minors, earning promotions based more on his defense than his hitting. He is still often referenced to this day due to his poor hitting skills, as someone who has a batting average hovering near .200 is said to be near the Mendoza line. He hit below .200 in three of his five seasons in Pittsburgh and five times overall in his nine year career. With the Pirates his best season was actually his rookie year when he hit .221 in 91 games. In was the only time in his five seasons in Pittsburgh he batted over 100 times. He played 324 total games with the Pirates, coming to the plate just 478 times which resulted in a .204 average. He was traded to the Mariners in December of 1978 in a trade that was covered here.
Finally, born on this date in 1935 was left-handed pitcher Al Jackson, who played for the Pirates in 1959 and 1961. Jackson was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1955 and got to pitch in his hometown of Waco, Texas for the Waco Pirates that first season. He was loaned to the Mexican League in 1956 and pitched just eight games in 1957 but he would break out the next year in A ball. He went 18-9 2.07 in 1958 then followed that up the next season in AAA with a 15-4 2.33 record, earning a major league call-up in early May for one game, followed by a month recall starting May 31st and then a late season appearance at the end of September. He pitched eight games that 1959 season for the Pirates, three as a starter and he had no record to go along with a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings. He spent the entire 1960 season in the minors despite a strong 3.06 ERA in 197 innings. He pitched well in 1961 back in AAA, posting a 2.89 ERA in 196 innings which earned him a September call-up and three late season appearances, two as a starter. He won his final game in a Pirates uniform, throwing a complete game during the team’s 11-6 win. Jackson was drafted by the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft. He had a 67-99 3.98 career record in 302 games, 184 as a starter.