May 10, 1979: A Day Off and a Look at How the Pirates Assembled Their Bullpen

The Pirates got a day off to return home for a series against Cincinnati.  Bert Blyleven was set to face Bill Bonham in the first game.  The Pirates came into the series at 11-15, in fifth place in the NL East.  The Reds were 17-13 and second in the West.

The Pirates under Chuck Tanner, well known for having a quick hook, relied heavily on their bullpen.  This was, of course, before the days of the 17-man bullpen and pitching changes every minute or so.  The Pirates generally carried a ten-man staff, which meant five, sometimes six, relievers.  Their relievers at this point were:

Jim Bibby:  Bibby was a big guy, especially for the 1970s, at 6’5″, 235.  Ironically, his younger brother Henry, was 6’1″ and became a basketball star.  Jim went to Lynchburg College and Fayetteville State University, but signed with the Mets for no bonus as the result of a tryout.  At the time, he threw hard but had little control.  He struggled to throw strikes in his first year, in 1965, then got drafted.  He missed the 1966-67 seasons, spending part of that time as a truck driver in Vietnam.  Showing improved control when he returned in 1968, Bibby made it to AAA in 1969, only to miss 1970 due to back surgery.  After the 1971 season, the Mets traded him to St. Louis in an eight-player deal, of which Bibby turned out to be the most consequential player.  He finally reached the majors in 1972 with the Cards, at age 27.  In 1973, he reached the majors to stay, mostly with Texas because the Cards traded him in June of that year.  In 1974, he started 41 games for the Rangers, going 19-19 with a high ERA of 4.74.  He struggled early in 1975 and Texas traded him to Cleveland for Gaylord Perry.  Bibby pitched well in two and a half years with the Indians, partly due to pitching coach Harvey Haddix.  After the 1977 season, though, the Indians, short on cash, failed to pay Bibby a $10,000 bonus he’d earned that year and an arbitrator ruled he was a free agent.  He signed with the Pirates and became a swing man under Chuck Tanner, enjoying a good year in 1978.

Grant Jackson:  The Phillies signed Jackson out of an Ohio high school in the pre-draft days, in 1961.  He wasn’t a standout in the minors, but the Phillies moved him up quickly so he was generally young for his levels.  He reached the majors at age 22, in 1965, then made it to stay the next year.  A starter in the minors, Jackson mostly relieved for the Phillies, but he moved to the rotation in 1969 and had a strong year for a bad team, going 14-18, 3.34.  The next year he regressed to 5-15, 5.29, and Philadelphia traded him to Baltimore for Roger Freed, who flopped with the Phillies.  That was 1971 and Earl Weaver had four 20-game winners in his rotation, so Jackson pitched in relief and stayed there.  He pitched two-thirds of an inning against the Pirates in the World Series.  He was very successful in the bullpen, posting 39 saves and a 2.81 ERA in six years with the Orioles.  In the middle of the 1976 season, though, Baltimore included him in a big, ten-player deal with the Yankees that included a lot of familiar names (Doyle Alexander, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor).  Jackson got in the playoffs and World Series with the Yankees, then after the season Seattle selected him in the expansion draft.  He never pitched for the Mariners, because a month later the Pirates acquired him for infielders Craig Reynolds and Jimmy Sexton.  He quickly settled in as the main, sometimes the only, lefty in Chuck Tanner’s bullpen.

Enrique Romo:  Romo started his career in Mexico in 1966 at age 18.  He pitched very successfully at various levels of Mexican ball for many years, including summer and winter ball, and the Caribbean Series.  Only 5’11”, he threw a variety of pitches, with the key one being a screwball that he added for the 1976 season.  He went 20-4, 1.89 that year and finally attracted MLB attention.  Romo signed with the expansion Mariners and opened their initial season in the rotation.  After three starts he went on the disabled list with a hamstring problem.  After he returned, he served as the most frequent closer in their initial season, finishing second on the team with 3.2 bWAR.  He didn’t have quite as good a season in 1978 and, afterward, he went to the Pirates in a six-player deal.  The only other players in the deal of any consequence were right-hander Odell Jones and shortstop Mario Mendoza, both of whom went to Seatte.  Jones had just one rough season with the Mariners and Mendoza continued to be Mendoza.  As for Romo, stay tuned.

Kent Tekulve:  As we all know, Teke was one of the most unique players in baseball history.  The skinny sidearm thrower didn’t reach the majors until age 27, yet he now ranks ninth all-time in games pitched.  Nobody drafted Teke out of Marietta College, but in the summer of 1969 the Pirates invited him to Forbes Field for a tryout and signed him.  According to Teke’s SABR bio, the team’s farm director, Harding Peterson, told both Teke and Bruce Kison, during camp in 1970, to stop throwing sidearm.  Fortunately, neither listened.  Pitching in relief from the start, Teke generally put up strong numbers in the minors, but the Pirates moved him up only gradually and he didn’t reach the majors until 1974.  Even then, they sent him back down after a brief stretch and he was eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season.  Nobody picked him up and he returned to AAA in 1975, dominated there and got called up in June.  Starting in 1976, he topped 100 innings in relief every year prior to 1979, reaching 91 games and 135.1 IP in 1978.  He took over as the team’s primary relief ace that year following the departure of Goose Gossage and saved 31 games.

Ed Whitson:  The Pirates drafted Whitson out of a Tennessee high school in the sixth round in 1974.  He had a big year in 1976 in class A, going 15-9, 2.53, with 186 strikeouts in 203 innings, and the Pirates jumped him to AAA the following year.  He pitched well enough there to earn a September callup, debuting in the majors at age 22.  Whitson had been a starter in the minors, but the Pirates had a lot of rotation depth, with Bruce Kison and Jim Bibby serving as swing men.  In 1978 the Pirates called Whitson up two months into the season and he spent the rest of the year pitching out of the bullpen.  In 43 games he posted a 3.28 ERA and even had four saves.