Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History: The Brooklyn Dodgers Edition

This is the tenth Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History article I’ve posted and up until this point I’ve been avoiding the original National League teams that have been around since before 1900. The reason is quite simple, they are much bigger articles than the other ones. While eight American League franchises have been around for over 100 years, trades between the two leagues were very rare in the early days. In fact, when I did the Baltimore Orioles edition, I left “St Louis Browns” out of the title because there were no trades between the two franchises until the Browns relocated to Baltimore.

Since teams weren’t making many trades between the two leagues, they made all of their trades with teams in their own league (technically there were a lot of trades with minor league teams before affiliated days). With that in mind, I’m splitting up the Dodgers between Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The Pirates were in the same league with Brooklyn in 1884-86 when they were both in the American Association, then again from 1890-1957 in the National League. In 1958, the franchise moved to Los Angeles. They didn’t make any trades during the American Association days, but the first NL trade didn’t take too long.

As a quick reminder before we get into the 13 trades, I’ll point out the guidelines for inclusion here. The trade had to involve players on each side and at least one of them played in the majors. No minor league deals, no player purchases, no waiver claims. Just straight up trades involving players, with at least one MLB player in the group.

We go back to 1895 for the first deal, back when Brooklyn went by the team nickname “Grooms”. That was actually the first year that the Pirates used the nickname Pirates as well. You hear 1891 as the date, but the team itself never embraced the name until spring of 1895. Those first four years it was used mostly by writers from a few of the other NL towns. The Pirates gave up pitcher Ad Gumbert for catcher Tom Kinslow. Back when the pitching distance changed in 1893, a lot of pitchers struggled with the new rules. Gumbert was one and he had a 5.71 ERA in two seasons with the Pirates. He was only slightly better in his 1+ seasons with Brooklyn, going 11-20, 4.92 in 265 innings. Kinslow was a solid defensive catcher, who hit .305 in 1892 and 1894. The Pirates got one partial season out of him and he didn’t see much playing time. This deal didn’t work out for either team.

The next trade didn’t happen until 23 years later and it was a big one involving two Hall of Famers. The Pirates gave up pitchers Burleigh Grimes, Al Mamaux and infielder Chuck Ward for second baseman George Cutshaw and outfielder Casey Stengel. If Grimes didn’t move around so much due to salary demands, this could have been a major disaster. He ended up coming back to the Pirates twice in his career, which saw him win 270 games. Cutshaw was a solid player in Brooklyn, who did slightly better in Pittsburgh. He’s credited with 7.4 WAR over four seasons. The Pirates lost him on waivers in what seems like a surprising move (he hit .340 in 98 games in his final season in Pittsburgh), but he had negative WAR numbers in his remaining two seasons, so they parted ways at the right time. Stengel put up 3.0 WAR in 128 games with the Pirates before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Possum Whitted, who had a nice little three-year stretch with the Pirates.

Mamaux was considered to be a can’t miss phenom when he signed. He played 12 years in the majors and had a 2.90 ERA, but a large bulk of his playing time came in the deadball era and he had trouble staying healthy. Brooklyn got six years out of him, though it amounted to 541.2 innings total. He pitched more innings for the 1915-16 Pirates. He had 6.4 WAR in Brooklyn, so while he was far from a star, he was a nice contributor. Ward was a starter as a rookie for the 1917 Pirates and a seldom-used bench piece for five seasons in Brooklyn. He played more games in his one year in Pittsburgh. He was a -1.6 WAR for Brooklyn. These two players combined put up 4.8 WAR in 11 seasons for Brooklyn, so without Grimes, the Pirates did very well in the deal.

Unfortunately, Grimes was very good right away and lasted nine seasons in Brooklyn before beginning his jumping around the majors. He changed teams eight times in eight years and had two big seasons for the Pirates in 1928-29. Brooklyn got 158 wins and 28.3 WAR from him, making this a one-sided deal. These two teams would have another one-sided deal involving a Hall of Famer, and sadly for the Pirates, they were on the wrong end again.

Ten years after the Grimes deal, the Pirates sent catcher Johnny Gooch and first baseman Joe Harris to the Brooklyn Robins (still not called Dodgers in 1928) for catcher Charlie Hargreaves. The Pirates were getting a veteran catcher who could hit for average and had a strong arm. They were giving up a similar catcher with more much experience behind the plate and a 37-year-old on his last legs. This trade had a chance to go bad, with Gooch being the better catcher and Harris being a nice bench piece who hit well in limited time in Pittsburgh. As it turned out, Brooklyn got very little from their acquisitions (-0.1 WAR combined) and Hargreaves was slightly below average in his three seasons in Pittsburgh.

Six months after the previous deal, the Pirates sent star shortstop Glenn Wright to Brooklyn for pitcher Jesse Petty and infielder Harry Riconda. This deal had a chance to be very bad, but Wright had two big injuries after the trade, which really slowed him down. Pirates were giving up a player who put up 12.4 WAR in his first five seasons, for an older veteran backup infielder and a pitcher who did well in 1926-27, but had a down year in 1928 at 32 years old. The Pirates got a good season out of Petty in 1929, but he fell off big in 1930 and Riconda was just a role player for a short time. Wright had 6.6 WAR in 299 games in Brooklyn, but without the injuries, things could have been much worse. The Pirates basically got the results you would expect, so there was never really a chance to win this trade.

In 1936, the Pirates traded infielder Cookie Lavagetto and pitcher Ralph Birkofer to the Dodgers for pitcher Ed Brandt. I covered this deal in a recent in depth article about Lavagetto, so I’ll keep this short. The Pirates won the pitcher-for-pitcher part of this deal, but they included a young infielder with high potential, who went on to become a four-time All-Star. They only reason this trade didn’t turn into a disaster (it was still bad) is that Lavagetto served four years during WWII and wasn’t the same when he came back.

Hey Pirates, how about you stop helping the Dodgers with trades? No? You’re going to give them Arky Vaughan for four role players. The second best shortstop of all-time and he’s worth four role players? Bold move, let’s see how that worked out.

The Pirates moved Vaughan after the 1941 season and the reason given was that they believed they would has a lot of losses to the military and needed to reinforce their lineup. I guess that makes sense, but giving up Vaughan for pieces with no upside had no chance of working out well. Only thing that helped this deal is that Vaughan decided to join the war effort on his own, but if he stayed in Pittsburgh, that may not have happened. He had a tough time with Leo Durocher, the Brooklyn manager, so that helped his decision to leave.

If you overlook that part and only look at results, Vaughan put up 8.3 WAR before leaving and 2.1 WAR after the war. Not big numbers obviously, but that wasn’t the player who the Pirates were trading. They gave up a 29-year-old with 67.8 WAR in ten seasons. The returns were infielder Pete Coscarart, pitcher Luke Hamlin, catcher Babe Phelps and outfielder Jimmy Wasdell. Coscarart stayed five seasons and had 3.2 WAR. Wasdell had 0.1 WAR in two years. Phelps had 0.9 WAR in one season. Hamlin had 0.1 WAR in one season. Even with Vaughan leaving baseball for three years, he still won this deal easily. The others combined for 4.3 WAR in nine years. There was a saving grace here. Pirates flipped Phelps for Babe Dahlgren. Phelps never played in the majors after the deal, while Dahlgren had a strong 1944 season. It still doesn’t give the Pirates an excuse for this deal.

In December of 1946, the Pirates traded pitcher Al Gerheauser for infielder Eddie Basinski. Gerheauser never pitched for Brooklyn and only appeared briefly in the majors after the deal with poor results. Basinski hit .199 in 1947, then never played again. The best part about this deal is that the Pirates didn’t lose. As a side note, Basinski is the oldest living Pirates player and he turns 98 tomorrow.

In May of 1947, the Pirates traded Al Gionfriddo and $100,000 for pitcher Hank Behrman, pitcher Kirby Higbe, catcher Dixie Howell, infielder Gene Mauch and pitcher Cal McLish. Part of this deal was nixed when Behrman under-performed and was sent back to Brooklyn for cash. The cash in this deal isn’t 100% clear, but the most widely used source said it ended up being $50,000 sent back. Basically what we are looking at here is Gionfriddo for four players, while remembering that $50,000 was quite a sum back then. Gionfriddo wasn’t a star by any means, so this was mostly Brooklyn getting rid of some salary and getting cash back. The Pirates won the player part of the deal thanks to one player. Gionfriddo contributed an amazing World Series catch (look it up if you don’t know) and that’s about it, seriously. He barely played in 1947 and that was the end of his career.

Higbe had a great 1947, good 1948 and poor 1949 before he was traded. McLish lasted six awful innings with the Pirates before he was traded. Howell put up 0.5 WAR in 1947, then was traded to the minors. Mauch did very little in his abbreviated season with the Pirates, then was traded back to the Dodgers (see below). Basically, the Pirates got 4.4 WAR from Higbe for $50,000 and then all four players had minor trade value. Not sure if that’s a clear win, but I’ll claim it as one.

In December of 1947, the Dodgers and Pirates made two trades. The first involved infielders Vic Barnhart and Jimmy Bloodworth for infielder Monty Basgall. Neither player going to Brooklyn actually played in Brooklyn. Pirates got three seasons out of Basgall, but the records show -1.6 WAR for his time in Pittsburgh. Kind of feels like a win and loss at the same time.

The bigger deal happened five days later, when Pirates sent infielder Billy Cox, infielder Gene Mauch and pitcher Preacher Roe to Brooklyn for pitcher Hal Gregg, pitcher Vic Lombardi and outfielder Dixie Walker. Mauch was in the previously mentioned deal and played seven years after this deal, but he compiled 0.0 WAR during that time. Cox did well in three seasons for the Pirates and was more of a solid player on some great teams after the deal. He had 5.8 WAR in eight seasons after the trade. Preacher Roe was a great pitcher over the next four seasons, averaging 5.2 WAR per year. He went 93-37 in Brooklyn. That was after -0.6 WAR combined in 1946-47 for the Pirates.

The Pirates needed quite a return from their three players to make this a decent deal. They didn’t get it from Gregg, who pitched 35 games in three seasons and had -0.1 WAR. Lombardi had a nice 1948 season, mediocre 1949 and poor 1950. He gave them 2.9 WAR. Walker was an All-Star player, but by the time the Pirates got him, he was 37 years old. He had a nice 1948 season and did okay as a part-time player in 1949, then was done with the majors. He helped much more with the bat than the defense. His contribution amounted to 1.8 WAR. So yeah, without Roe, this was an even deal I suppose. With Roe, it was a lopsided win for Brooklyn.

A trade in 1949 was voided shortly after it happened, but it’s worth mentioning. The Pirates traded outfielder Johnny Hopp and cash for outfielder Marv Rackley. Reportedly, Rackley claimed that he had a sore arm, so the Pirates wanted the deal voided and the Dodgers accepted. When he returned to Brooklyn, Rackley claimed his arm was fine. It appears that he just didn’t want to be in Pittsburgh.

In 1949, the Pirates acquired minor league infielder Nanny Fernandez for infielder Grady Wilson and pitcher Ed Bahr. All three had previous MLB experience, but only Fernandez played in the majors after the deal. However, it was just 65 games in 1950 and he didn’t do anything special. Take the win though, Pirates need it.

The final deal between Brooklyn and Pittsburgh happened on October 1, 1949. The Pirates gave up Jack Cassini and $50,000 for infielder Danny O’Connell. This is really the only clear cut win for the Pirates here. O’Connell played two solid seasons before the Pirates traded him for a haul of cash and players from the Milwaukee Braves. Cassini never played in the majors after the deal. The Pirates got twice as much cash in the Braves deal, so that part didn’t hurt them. PIRATES WIN!