This Date in Pirates History: December 28
On this date in 1957 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Dee Fondy to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Fondy was veteran the Pirates had acquired from the Cubs during the 1957 season. At age 32 he hit .313 in 95 games for Pittsburgh to finish out his only season with the team. He wasn’t the typical corner infielder, he had more speed and less power than you would normally see at that position and by 1956 he was on the downside of his career. Kluszweski was a big time slugger at one point in his career, hitting 171 homers from the left side over a four year stretch from 1953-56. Unfortunately for him, he had hurt his back in 1957 and his power disappeared for the season. He hit just six homers in 69 games for the Reds that year but the Pirates were hoping he could regain his form.
Fondy lasted just one season in Cincinnati and he was mainly used off the bench, only starting 20 games all year. It would be his last seasons in the majors, he played in the minors in 1959 before retiring. Kluszewski failed to regain his power and while his .292 average in 100 games was strong, his four homers all year was not, especially not from a first baseman. The Pirates brought him back for the 1959 season, although he was traded away before the season ended. In 60 games with the Pirates that year he managed to hit two homers, giving him a total of six in his 160 games in Pittsburgh, a far cry from the slugger their pitchers faced since 1947 in Cincinnati.
Born on this date in 1960 was pitcher Zane Smith, who pitched for the Pirates from 1990 to 1994 then again in 1996. Smith began his career in the Atlanta Braves system as a third round draft pick in 1982. He made his major league debut two years later and stayed in Atlanta until he was traded to the Expos on July 2, 1989. A year later the Pirates acquired him in a trade for pitcher Scott Ruskin, infielder Willie Greene and a player to be named later that unfortunately turned out to be Moises Alou. Smith went 6-2 1.30 the rest of the way, helping the Pirates to the playoffs. His regular season success failed to carry over as he went 0-2 6.00 in nine innings against the Reds in the NLCS. Zane set a career high in wins in 1991, going 16-10 3.20 in 35 starts, helping the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. This time he pitched great in the playoffs against his old team, the Braves. In two starts he posted an 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, allowing just one run.
In 1992 Smith injured his throwing shoulder and made just two starts after July 11th which cost him a spot on the playoff roster. He was having a fine season up until the injury, posting a 3.06 ERA over 141 innings on the year. Zane had a rough season in 1993, starting the year on the disabled list and also missed the last month of the season. When he did pitch the results weren’t there as he went 3-7 4.55 in 83 innings. He pitched well in 1994 going 10-8 3.27 but he was allowed to leave via free agency when the season ended. He signed with the Red Sox for 1995 and struggled badly in the AL, posting a 5.61 ERA in 21 starts and three relief appearances. The Pirates resigned him for 1996 early in spring training. He pitched poorly and was released by early July. He had a 47-41 3.35 record in six seasons in Pittsburgh and overall he went 100-115 3.74 in 13 major league seasons.
Also born on this date, in 1949, was 1B/LF John Milner who played for the Pirates from 1978 until 1982. He was originally draft by the New York Mets in 1968 and he spent seven seasons in the majors for them, hitting .245 with 94 homers and 338 RBI’s in 741 games. The Pirates acquired him as part of a four team, 11 player trade in December of 1977 that was mentioned here. Milner was used mostly in LF his first season in Pittsburgh, starting 82 games while hitting .271 with eight homers and 34 RBI’s. In 1979 he had his best season in Pittsburgh, playing 128 games and hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBI’s. He went hitless in the NLCS that year but hit .333 with two walks in the World Series won by the Pirates in seven games.
In 1980, Milner took on more of a bench role with the team, getting just 292 plate appearances in 114 games. He had a similar role in 1981 until the Pirates traded him to the Expos for Willie Montanez in August. After playing just under one full year with the Expos he was released and the Pirates resigned him to finish out the 1982 season. He was released just prior to opening day in 1983, ending his pro career.
Harry Sweeney (1915) First baseman for the 1944 Pirates. Sweeney played one game in the majors, going 0-for-2 and handling all ten plays he had at first base. His one game was the last game of the season, a doubleheader played on October 1st against the Philadelphia Phillies. Babe Dahlgren started the game at first place and after one at-bat, Sweeney came in to take his place. The 28-year-old Sweeney was coming off the best season of his nine year minor league career when he joined the Pirates. Playing for York of the Interstate League that year, he hit .334 with 14 homers and 39 doubles in 129 games. Despite that strong season and his first trip to the big leagues, Sweeney played just 93 more games in his pro career before retiring.