First Pitch: You Think that Trade was Bad…

In yesterday’s history section of the First Pitch article, you probably read about George Van Haltren, who was born on March 30th. He was a great player during the 19th century and early 1900s, who spent a short time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that brief write-up, I mentioned that he was part of three bad trades with the Pirates and promised more later. It’s later.

Fans tend to focus on the bad trades all of the time. Examples now would be the 10:1 ratio between people who talk about the Gerrit Cole trade being bad and the Andrew McCutchen trade being good. The Pirates got burned in the Chris Archer deal by the team that they got Corey Dickerson from earlier that same season in a trade that they won. You hear about the Archer trade daily unless you live under a rock. No one disagrees with you, it was a bad trade. If you’re the person who loves to focus on the negative (or just someone who likes history), then this article is written specifically for you.

George Van Haltren was part of three trades that involved the Pirates. All of them went bad.

Before the 1887 season started, the Alleghenys (as the Pirates were still called then) wanted to make a splash in their first season in the National League. They had Ed Morris and Pud Galvin on their pitching staff back when teams could get by with two main starters. One a Hall of Famer, the other holds numerous franchise records for pitching. They added pitcher Jim McCormick from Chicago after he went 31-11, 2.82 in 1886. He was 30 years old, with 252 career wins, though he also had nearly 4,000 innings on his arm at that point.

The Alleghenys gave up Van Haltren, who had yet to make his big league debut, and they included cash. They lost the deal.

Van Haltren not only out-pitched McCormick, he would later turn into a star when they realized he was a better hitter than pitcher. McCormick went 13-23, 4.30 and never pitched again, partially due to a very high contract demand after having his worst career season. Pittsburgh got the worst of the player-for-player part of that deal and threw in extra cash (plus paid a higher salary) too. Advantage: Chicago

By late in the 1892 season, Van Haltren had established himself as a strong hitter. He was with the (not those) Baltimore Orioles when Pittsburgh acquired him for cash (again) and a 20-year-old outfielder with a .239 average and no homers. Van Haltren didn’t hit well to finish the 1892 season (.200 in 13 games), but he batted .339 in 124 games in 1893, scoring 129 runs. It was a high year for offense, but those are strong stats regardless.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, except for that small sample size at the end of 1892 of course, right? That would be a no. The 20-year-old outfielder they traded was future Hall of Famer Joe Kelley, who would become a star for the Orioles during the 1890s. He had a three-year run (1894-96) in which he scored 461 runs and batted over .360 each year. He had a seven-year run in which he averaged 107 RBIs each year. If they just kept Van Haltren to begin with, they could have had him and Kelley and a lot more cash to throw around. Advantage: Baltimore

Two Van Haltren trades, both times they gave up the better player, included cash, and took on a higher salary player in the process. Both times they lost bad…but was it their worst GVH trade?

The Pirates wised up by November of 1893 and decided to not include a second player in the Van Haltren trade. They sold him to the New York Giants for the pricey sum of $2,500. All he did in New York was spend the final ten seasons of his career there, putting up 25 WAR during the first eight years of that stretch. That’s right, the Giants paid $100 per 1.0 WAR to get him. Advantage: New York

Van Haltren was a career .316 hitter, with 2,544 hits, 1,642 runs scored and 583 stolen bases in 1,990 games. He’s often mentioned at the top of 19th century players who belong in the Hall of Fame.

So next time you talk about a trade that didn’t work out well, just remember that the Pirates had a star player twice and made three bad trades that involved him, while also getting just 3.2 WAR out of him. That’s bad.





By John Dreker

One trade of note and four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

On this date in 1945, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded veteran outfielder Vince DiMaggio to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Al Gerheauser. DiMaggio spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, where he hit .255 with 79 homers and 367 RBIs in 670 games. He was 32 years old at the time and coming off a 1944 season in which he hit .240 with 50 RBIs in 109 games. Gerheauser was a 27-year-old left-hander with two years of Major League experience. He had a record of 8-16 with a 4.58 ERA in 182.2 innings in 1944. The Pirates would get two seasons out of their new pitcher before trading him to the Dodgers in December of 1946. Gerheauser went 7-12, 3.93 in 67 games for the Pirates, 17 of those appearances coming as a starter. DiMaggio ended up hitting .257 with 19 homers and 84 RBIs for the Phillies in 1945, but by the middle of the 1946 season his big league career was done. He finished up with six seasons in the minors.

Carson Bigbee, left fielder for the Pirates from 1916 until 1926. He attended the University of Oregon before making his pro debut in 1916 with Tacoma of the Northwestern League. After hitting .340 through 111 games, the Pirates brought him up to the majors in August of 1916. Bigbee would stick on the Pirates roster until the end of the 1926 season, which was also the end of his Major League career. He hit .250 that rookie season in 43 games, splitting his time between second base and left field. His first full year in the big leagues saw him hit .239 with 21 RBIs in 133 games for a Pirates team that finished with a 51-103 record. From that season on, his average went up in each of the next five years to a high point of .350 in 1922. His first good season came in 1920 when he hit .280 with 78 runs scored, 15 triples and 31 stolen bases. His 1921 season was even better, as he topped 200 hits for the first time, scored 100 runs, had 17 triples and a .323 batting average.

In 1922, Bigbee had his biggest year. He hit .350 with 215 hits, a team leading 99 RBIs and he scored 113 runs. Just like his career slowly rose to one peak season, it declined each year down to a low point in 1926. Each year after 1922 he saw his batting average and his playing time decrease. He sill had a good season in 1923, hitting .299 with 54 RBIs and 78 runs scored, but by 1926 he was just a seldom-used bench player, hitting .221 and battling injuries. After being released by the Pirates in August, 1926, he played two more seasons in the minors before retiring. Bigbee finished his Pirates career with a .287 average over 1,147 games. He stolen 182 bases, drove in 324 runs and scored 629 times.  Three times (1920-22) he led NL left fielders in assists and in 1921 he led them in fielding percentage as well. His older brother Lyle was a pitcher for the Pirates in 1921.

Tom Sheehan, pitcher for the 1925-26 Pirates. He had a 4-9 record as a 21-year-old rookie for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1915, then went 1-16 for an A’s team that had a 36-117 record in 1916. Sheehan didn’t even have the worst record for that team. Fellow starter Jack Nabors, went 1-20 in 40 appearances, thirty as a starter. That team actually got 29 wins from just two pitchers, while the other 18 hurlers that took the mound that year combined for a 7-70 record. Sheehan returned to the minors, and except for 12 games with the 1921 Yankees, he spent the rest of the next seven seasons down on the farm. In 1923, he won 31 games for St Paul of the American Association, earning another shot at the majors. Sheehan pitched all of 1924 for the Reds, returned there for the following season, but pitched poorly by posting an ERA of 8.03 in ten games. On May 30th, the Pirates traded for him, giving up first baseman Al Niehaus. Sheehan finished the year pitching 23 times in relief for the Pirates with a 2.67 ERA. The Pirates won their second World Series title that year, although he didn’t appear in the series against the Washington Senators.

In 1926, he started off slow, and by the end of May the Pirates sent him to Kansas City of the American Association. He would spend the next 8 1/2 years pitching in the minors before retiring as a player. Sheehan later managed eight years in the minors and one season in the majors (1960 Giants). He won 259 minor league games and another 17 in the majors. The Pirates had another Tom Sheehan in their history, a third baseman who played for the 1906-07 Pirates.

Chick Brandom, pitcher for the 1908-09 Pirates. He started in the minors as an 18-year-old in 1905. Three years later he had pitched well enough to get a shot with the Pirates as a September call-up. For Kansas City of the American Association in 1908, Brandom went 17-13, pitching 252 innings. His contract was purchased by Pittsburgh for a hefty price at the time, $5,000 in August of 1908. For the Pirates that September, he allowed just one earned run in 17 innings pitched. He won his Major League debut by a 3-1 score over the Reds, then didn’t get another start over the last month of the season. In 1909, he pitched well when he got his chances, but he was far down on the depth chart of a very strong Pirates pitching staff. He had a 1.11 ERA in 40.2 innings, making two starts and 11 relief appearances. The Pirates went on to win their first World Series title, although he didn’t pitch in the series against the Detroit Tigers. Brandom returned to Kansas City for two seasons, struggling badly in 1911, then didn’t play the following year. He returned for two more seasons before finishing his career in the Federal League in 1915. He later managed one year in the minors. His ERA with the Pirates during his two season was 0.94 and he had a 2-0 record.

Fred Kommers, outfielder for the 1913 Pirates. In his first year in the minors, playing Class D ball (lowest level at the time) he hit .349 in 114 games. He still played two more years of class D before moving to a Class B team from Springfield, IL. Fred was in his third season with that team in 1913 and he was hitting .355 after 61 games when the Pirates traded for him. He made his big league debut on June 25th in center field during a 9-1 loss in St Louis. Kommers would play 40 games that season for the Pirates, all in center field, and he hit .232 with 22 RBIs and 14 runs scored. When the Federal League became classified as a Major League in 1914, Kommers was one of several big leaguers to jump their contract to join the new league. He spent 1914 playing for two different teams in the league. He hit .294 in 92 games, in what would be his last season in the majors. Fred played two more years in the minors (1917,1921) before retiring as a player.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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