Pirates History

This Date in Pirates History: February 23

This Date in Pirates History: February 23
John Dreker

On this date in 2000, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Al Martin for two minor leaguers and John Vander Wal. Neither of the two minor leaguers the Pirates got made the majors. James Sak was a 26 year old reliever who had just pitched in AAA for the first time in 1999. He struggled badly with the Pirates AAA team, was sent to AA and did just as bad before the Pirates got rid of him after only 15 games. Geraldo Padua was a 23 year old starter in A-ball when the Pirates got him. He posted a 5-15 5.06 record in 2000, then out of the AA bullpen in 2001, he had a 9.69 ERA through ten games before he was released. Vander Wal was 33 at the time of the trade. He had hit .272 in 1999 with the Padres, setting career highs in homers with six and RBIs with 41. Martin had hit .277 with a career high 24 homers in 1999. He had spent eight years with the Pirates, hitting .280 with 107 homers and 152 steals in 897 games.

After the trade, Martin started off strongly for the Padres hitting .306 with 11 homers and 62 runs scored through 93 games before they traded him to the Mariners. His stats fell off greatly there, hitting .237 in 142 games through the end of the 2001 season. He didn’t play in 2002, then returned for 100 games with the Devil Rays in 2003, his last year in the majors. Vandel Wal had a breakout season in 2000 with the Pirates. He hit .299 with 24 homers and 94 RBIs. He had been used as a pinch-hitter often his entire major league career but given the chance to start in Pittsburgh, he excelled. His stats would drop off though in 2001, then at the trading deadline the Pirates sent him to the Giants in the Jason Schmidt deal.

Four former Pirates players born on this date, but one stands out above the rest. Bobby Bonilla(1963) played for the Pirates from 1986 until 1991. He was originally signed by the Pirates in 1981 as an undrafted free agent, playing in Europe. He worked his way slowly through the minors, topping out at AA after five seasons, including the 1985 season in which he was injured most of the year. On December 10,1985 he was taken by the White Sox in the rule 5 draft. Bonilla spent half the year there before the Pirates reacquired him in exchange for Jose DeLeon. His rookie stats were not that impressive, in 138 games he hit .256 with just three homers. In 1987 he had a strong sophomore showing, hitting .300 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. He was playing third base and outfield prior to 1988 but that season he took over full-time at 3B and put up a strong season at the plate. He drove in 100 runs, scored 87 times, hit 24 homers and drew 85 walks. He made the all-star team that year, finished 14th in the NL MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger award.

In 1989 Bonilla hit .281 with 24 homers and 96 runs scored. He made his second straight all-star game(he would run that streak to four) and finished 16th in the NL MVP voting. The 1990 season was the best of his career. He set career highs in both runs scored with 112 and RBIs with 120. He finished second to teammate Barry Bonds in the MVP voting, as they helped the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since winning the 1979 World Series.  In the six game NLCS that year he hit .190 with one RBI. In 1991 Bobby had another outstanding season, scoring 102 runs, driving in 100 and leading the league in doubles with 44 all while taking a career high 90 walks on the year. In the NLCS that postseason he hit .304 with six walks. In that off-season that followed, he signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Mets, that due to a deferred payment from 2000, he is still getting paid on and will continue to be for the next 23 years. Bonilla played in the majors through the 2001 season, finishing with a .279 average, 1084 runs scored, 2010 hits, 1173 RBIs and 287 homers.

Other Pirates players born on this date include:

Jason Boyd(1973) pitcher for the Pirates in 1999 and then again in 2004. He was originally an 8th round draft pick of the Phillies in 1994. Boyd was then picked by the Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft. The Pirates acquired him from Arizona on August 25,1999 in the Tony Womack trade that happened exactly six months earlier. Jason made his major league debut two weeks later, pitching a total of four games in relief that September. Near the end of spring training in 2000 the Pirates put him on waivers where he was taken by the Brewers who immediately put him back on waivers where he was picked up by his original team, the Phillies. After pitching parts of three seasons in the majors with three different teams, the Pirates took him off waivers from the Indians on October 1,2003. In 2004 for the Pirates, he pitched 12 games in the majors going 1-0 5.54 in 13 innings. He was granted free agency following the season and he finished out his pro career in AAA for the Rangers in 2005.

Mike Smith(1961) pitcher for the Pirates in 1989. He was signed by the Reds as an undrafted amateur free agent in 1981. By 1984 he had made the Reds opening day roster but over the 1984-86 seasons, despite playing in the majors all three years, he pitched just 12 total games. The Reds traded him to the Expos, who he played five games with in 1988. On November 14, 1988 the Expos traded him to the Orioles, who in turn dealt him to the Pirates on June 22,1989 in exchange for longtime Pirates minor league outfielder Tony Chance. Smith pitched 16 games in relief for the Pirates, 24 innings total and he went 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA. That loss was the only one of his major league career. His pitched 33 games in the majors over his five seasons and his teams went 8-25 in those games. He was released by the Pirates after the 1989 season and pitched one more year in the minors before a five year layoff. He returned to play in Independent ball in 1996, then again from 1998 until 2000.

Eddie Vargas(1959) first baseman for the Pirates in 1982 and 1984. He originally signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1977, spending that first season in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .315 in 47 games. The following season in A-ball he hit just .236 with seven homers in 117 games. Repeating the level in 1979 Vargas had a breakout season, hitting .282 with 31 homers. Up in AA the next year he slugged 24 homers and drove in 87 runs. Despite those strong power numbers he repeated AA in 1981 and put up very similar stats. He raised his batting average three points to .274 and hit 25 homers with 84 RBIs. He reached AAA for the first time in 1982 and hit .311 with 28 homers and 80 RBIs. The Pirates called him up in September and gave him nine plate appearances in eight games, allowing him to start one game at 1B. He singled in his first two AB’s in the majors, both as a pinch hitter. He was injured to start the 1983 season with a pinched nerve in his neck. He went to the minors in early June, first to AA on rehab and then to AAA. In 73 games he hit .338 with 14 homers that year. The Pirates recalled him in September with 23 games left on the schedule but he sat on the bench the entire time. Vargas began the 1984 season on the opening day roster but struggled in limited playing time and was sent down to the minors. The Pirates called him back up in August and he hit .333 the rest of the way, finishing with a .226 average in what would be his last season in the majors. He spent all of 1985 in the minors before the Pirates released him. After taking off from pro ball for two seasons he played two more years in the minors,1988 with the Reds and 1989 with the Angels.

Pirates History
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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