This Date in Pirates History: December 9

On this date in 1980 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Bert Blyleven and catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Gary Alexander and pitchers Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez. Blyleven was the key piece to the deal, he was unhappy in Pittsburgh, where he went 34-28 over three seasons while helping them win the 1979 WS. For the Indians he went 11-7, 2.88 in 20 starts during the strike shortened 1981 season then missed most of the 1982 season with an elbow injury. He struggled at times in the 1983 season, going 7-10, 3.91 but put it all together for Cleveland in 1984, winning 19 games for a 75 win team and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. The Indians traded him away the following season to the Twins for four players. Bert won 287 career games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011

Blyleven won 2 games during the 1979 postseason

Sanguillen, the long time Pirates catcher, was released just two months after the trade while Vasquez, who was previously Pirates property for four years, never pitched in the majors for them. Cruz pitched well in his only season in Pittsburgh,posting a 2.65 ERA in 22 games out of the bullpen. He was traded away for Nelson Norman in 1982. Owchinko was traded to the A’s before he could ever play for the Pirates although he also rejoined the team later on during the 1983 season, only to pitch to two batters in his only game for the Pirates. Alexander played just 21 games in 1981 for the Pirates, his last season in the majors, leaving Blyleven as the only player with his new team in 1982.

On this date in 1957 the Pirates traded pitcher Bob Purkey to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Don Gross. Purkey was 28 at the time of the trade and had gone just 16-29, 4.52 in 100 games over four seasons with the Pirates. Gross was two years younger and had a 3.69 ERA in 79 games with the Reds over three seasons. After the trade Gross pitched 66 games for the Pirates, almost all in relief and he won just six while recording nine saves. Purkey on the other hand, broke out for the Reds, winning 103 games over seven seasons including a 23-5 record in 1962. He returned to the Pirates to finish his career, going 0-1, 1.37 in 10 games in 1966.

Born on this date in 1948 was pitcher Doc Medich, who came to the Pirates in exchange for Dock Ellis, Ken Brett and a rookie second baseman named Willie Randolph. Doc started his career with the Yankees in 1972 and went 49-40 in three full seasons. He won 19 games in 1974 and went 16-16, 3.50 in 37 starts in 1975 with 15 complete games. The Pirates traded three players for the young workhorse pitcher on December 11,1975(there will be much more about this trade on the 11th) and he went 8-11, 3.52 in 26 starts and three relief appearances. He pitched nearly 100 less innings than he did the prior season and he finished 3-0 in his last eight games to get his record to that 8-11 mark. From June 17 to August 14 he went 0-6 in eight starts. Just prior to the 1977 season the Pirates traded him away in a nine player deal to the Oakland A’s, with six players going the other way including Tony Armas and Dave Giusti, while the Pirates got Phil Garner in return. In Medich’s 11 year career he won 124 games playing for seven different teams.

Todd Van Poppel (1971) Pitcher for the 1998 Pirates. He came to the Pirates in July of 1998 from the Texas Rangers, along with Warren Morris, in exchange for Esteban Loaiza. Van Poppel went 1-2, 5.36 in seven starts and 11 relief appearances. He signed with the Pirates for 1999, but spent the entire season in the minors. Van Poppel was a first round draft pick out of HS in 1990 and was in the majors by the next season. He never put it together in his 11 year big league career, finishing with a 40-52, 5.58 record with six different clubs.

Also born on this date, in 1905, was Pirates outfielder Adam Comorosky, who played for the team from 1926 to 1933. Following the 1933 season he was traded to the Reds along with Tony Piet in exchange for Red Lucas and Wally Roettger in a trade that was covered here. In his eight seasons in Pittsburgh he hit .293 over 627 games with 363 RBIs. Comorosky spent most of his time in left field, though he also saw time at each of the other two outfield spots. His best season came in 1930, when he led the NL in triples with 23, a year in which he scored 112 runs and drove in 119, while also picking up 47 doubles and posting a .313 batting average. With all those extra base hits, he was still able to lead the National League with 33 sacrifice hits. He drove in 97 runs and batted a career high .321 in 1929, his fourth season in the majors, but the first year in which he saw regular playing time. Comorosky was a strong player in his own right, but he played alongside some impressive names in the Pirates outfield. At one time or another, he played with Hall of Famers Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler and Freddie Lindstrom. After playing two seasons in Cincinnati, Comorosky played minor league ball until his retirement in 1940. His 23 triples in 1930 is tied for the highest total in baseball since Cuyler had 26 in 1925.

Mike Mitchell (1879) Outfielder for the 1913-14 Pirates. Mitchell was a star outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but by the time he got to the Pirates, he was on his downside. The Pirates selected him off waivers in July of 1913 from the Chicago Cubs and Mitchell became their everyday center fielder. He played 54 games, hitting .271 with 16 RBIs, but he was a singles hitter that didn’t take many walks and he had lost a step on the bases. Mitchell moved to right field in 1914 and saw his average drop, which led to the Pirates putting him on waivers after 71 games. In his eight year career, he was a .278 hitter with 202 stolen bases. Mitchell finished with both 514 runs scored and 514 RBIs. He led the league in triples twice with the Reds.

Henry Camelli (1914) Catcher for the Pirates from 1943 until 1946. Camelli had a minor league career that stretched from 1935 until 1951, in between he spent parts of five years in the majors, four with the Pirates. With Pittsburgh, he played a total of 107 games, hitting .252 with 15 RBIs in 226 at-bats. He had his best season with the Pirates in 1944, when he hit .296 in 63 games. It should be noted, that during his time with the Pirates, the competition in baseball was watered down due to WWII, so some players like Camelli had big years during this period, then dropped off when players returned from war. At the end of the 1946 season, Camelli was part of a six player deal that brought HOF second baseman Billy Herman to the Pirates from the Boston Braves.

Finally, born on this date in 1871 was outfielder Joe Kelley, who played for the 1892 Pirates before they traded him away in September of that year for star outfielder George Van Haltren. Kelley signed his first pro contract at age 19 in 1891 and was given a major league tryout later that year by the Boston Beaneaters. Despite the youth and pro inexperience they released him after just 12 games. In 1892 he signed with Omaha of the Western League, a top minor league of the day. He hit .316 in 58 games prompting the Pirates to purchase him from Omaha in early July. In 56 games for Pittsburgh he hit .239 with 28 RBIs and eight stolen bases. In September of that year the Pirates traded Kelley for outfielder George Van Haltren from the Baltimore Orioles. The deal was done to help the Orioles out financially(they were last in the NL in attendance) as they got rid of the bigger salary and also got cash back in the deal but the young Kelley helped ease the pain of losing a star player for an unproven rookie by becoming a star player in his own right the very next season.

Kelley would play six full seasons in Baltimore(plus 10 games in 1892). He scored 768 runs there, drove in 653 and hit .351 with 290 stolen bases, helping lead them to three straight NL pennants in 1894-96. He finished his 17 year career with a .317 average, 1194 RBIs and 1421 runs scored which got him elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971. Van Haltren had similar career numbers hitting .316 career in 17 years. He had less RBI’s with 1015 total but scored over 200 more runs and he stole 583 bases, 140 more than Kelley. Van Haltren didn’t have the defensive skill Kelley had but he did have a better arm which allowed him to pick up 349 outfield assists, fourth most all-time and over 200 more than Kelley. The part that is hard to believe is that Kelley has been in the HOF for 40 years now while Van Haltren hasn’t got any HOF support since 1936. It should also be noted that George started his career as a pitcher and went 40-31 before moving to the outfield. Also, the most similar player to him all-time? The Pirates Hall of Fame outfielder, Fred Clarke.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • Anonymous

    Trading away Byleven for a bunch of scraps is probably in top 10 of worst deals made by team after 1950 (maybe ever).  Randolph, Ellis and Brett for Medich is right up there too.

  • Anonymous

    This was a bad day for the pirates as far as trades were concerned dating the whole way back to the 19th century.  The trade of Bert to the Indians was terrible.  The trade of Bob Purkey was terrible.  The trade for Medich was awful.  Those were all Joe Brown trades.  Then we overpaid for Garner who was terrific for us, but still we definitely overpaid.  That was a Harding Peterson trade.  Then we traded a hall of famer for Van Haltren which seems to make some sense, but then we got rid of him after one year. 

    And people complain about NH.  WOW!  Joe Brown had his good and bad trades.  Peterson was a below average GM who made some good trades, but overall, hurt the team with his deals.

    If you put all the players whom NH has traded for on one side, and all the ones that he traded on the other, and did that with all the Prrates’ GMs going back to Roy Hamey, you might be surprised how well NH has done.