This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 22nd, the Pirates Acquire Roberto Clemente

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, and the second biggest transaction in team history behind the deal that brought in Honus Wagner and company in 1899.

The Transaction

On this date in 1954, the Pirates selected 20-year-old outfielder Roberto Clemente with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, taking him from the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s considered to be the best Rule 5 pick in baseball history, but at the time most of the press put emphasis on the MLB players selected in that draft because he was an unknown player. Clemente batted .255 in 124 games as a rookie in 1955. Prior to his selection by the Pirates, he had one year of pro experience, playing for Montreal of the International League, where he hit .257 in 87 games. Many scouts saw him play more often in winter ball in Puerto Rico, so his overall abilities were known around the baseball inner circles, even if his game was still rough around the edges during his first season in Pittsburgh. Clemente of course went on to huge things in his Hall of Fame career, spent all with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Players

Dick Bartell, shortstop for the 1927-30 Pirates. In four seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .308 with 168 RBIs in 348 games. He went on to play a total of 18 years in the majors, collecting 2,165 hits and scoring 1,130 runs, while receiving MVP votes in six seasons. He also missed two years serving during WWII, which may have cost him a chance at the Hall of Fame. He was still an effective player going into 1944-45, and while he was getting up there in age, the talent level in the league was dropping due to all of the players serving in the war. He finished his career with 40.5 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Bartell had six seasons in which he was among the top four defensive players (by dWAR) in the National League. He signed with the Pirates at 19 years old prior to the 1927 season and he needed just one year in the minors to convince them that he was big league ready. He debuted with one game in 1927, then hit .305 in 72 games during the 1928 season. Bartell saw regular time in 1929 and responded with a .302 average and 55 extra-base hits. Bartell then put up a career best .845 OPS in 129 games during the 1930 season.

Despite his success, the Pirates sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies on November 5, 1930 for infielder Tommy Thevenow and pitcher Claude Willoughby. The Pirates wanted to improve their defense and add depth to their pitching. It turned out to be a disaster for the Pirates, as Willoughby lasted 25.2 innings before being released, while Thevenow saw a slip in his defense after his first year and his bat was very weak. The Pirates got -2.4 WAR from their return, while Bartell had 35.9 WAR left in his career. He was also outplaying Thevenow on defense by their second seasons with their new team. We posted an in depth article on Bartell’s time with the Pirates here.

Mike Benjamin, infielder for the 1999-2000 and 2002 Pirates. In three seasons in Pittsburgh (he was injured for all of 2001), he batted .239 in 311 games and played five different positions. He was a career .229 hitter, but his defense kept him around for 13 seasons in the majors. In 1985, Benjamin passed on signing as a seventh round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins while attending Cerritos College. Two years later after he transferred to Arizona State, he was a third round pick of the San Francisco Giants. It took him just two years to make the majors, though he had a very little bench role in 1989, batting six times in 14 games. He was in San Francisco for seven seasons, though he high for at-bats was 186 during that time and he had four seasons with fewer than 100 plate appearances. Benjamin played 35 games for the 1996 Phillies and 49 games for the 1997 Boston Red Sox, before he got his first real shot at playing full-time. At 32 years old in 1998, he played 124 games for the Red Sox, hitting .272 with four homers and 39 RBIs, which were all career highs.

The Pirates signed Benjamin for two years at $700,000 a year in November of 1998, then traded Tony Womack to make room at second base. It was a move that paid off for both players. Womack went on to win a World Series ring, while Benjamin played full-time (when healthy) and put up the better stats (2.4 WAR vs 0.8 WAR for Womack in 1999-2000 combined). The Pirates got better production for 1/3 of the cost. The Pirates signed Benjamin to a two-year extension in August of 2000, but only got one year out of him.  In 2001, Benjamin had an elbow injury when he came to Spring Training and tried to play through it, but he was shut down just before Opening Day and he had surgery in May, which cost him the entire season. He played 108 games in his final season, but he made just 23 starts and received 130 plate appearances. He retired after the 2002 season and he has recently managed for four season for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

John Morlan, pitcher for the 1973-74 Pirates. In seven starts and 42 relief appearances, he had a 4.16 ERA in 106 innings with the Pirates, which ended up being his entire big league career. Morlan was drafted four times before he signed, including twice in the first round by the Pirates. He was first drafted out of high school in 1965 by the Cleveland Indians in the eighth round. Two years later at Ohio University, the Pirates took him 12th overall, but could not reach an agreement to sign. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the fourth round in 1968, then the Pirates took him fifth overall in the amateur free agent draft over the 1968-69 off-season (called the January Secondary draft) and signed him to a deal for 1969. He was an outfielder at the time. After two years of poor results at the plate in the lower levels, he switched to pitching in 1971. After 62 innings in High-A in 1972, he skipped over Double-A in 1973 and it took him just three months to reach the majors. Morlan went 2-2, 3.95 in seven starts and three relief appearances for the 1973 Pirates. He spent the entire 1974 season in the majors, making 39 relief appearances, posting a 4.29 ERA in 65 innings. Morlan spent the next three years in Triple-A and saw a huge drop in his effectiveness, finishing with 13 runs over five innings in his final season.

Walt Tauscher, pitcher for the 1928 Pirates. In 17 appearances as a 26-year-old rookie in 1928, he had a 4.91 ERA in 29.1 innings. His only other big league experience was six relief appearances for the 1931 Washington Senators. In 23 seasons in the minors between 1924 and 1948, he won 263 games. The Pirates purchased Tauscher from Williamsport of the New York-Penn League on August 18, 1926 at the same time they also purchased his teammate Adam Comorosky, who went on to big things in the majors. Tauscher remained with Williamsport through the end of their season. He was with the Pirates for Spring Training in 1927 and had some strong moments, but they sent him to Columbia of the South Atlantic League, where he went 12-19, 3.04 in 287 innings. He actually made the Opening Day roster, but didn’t pitch in a game before being shipping out on April 23rd, nine games into the season. Tauscher also returned on September 7th and didn’t appear in any of the final 26 games.  He was with the Pirates for all of 1928, but often went 2+ weeks in a row without making an appearance. Tauscher was often used in mop up roles, with the Pirates losing 15 of his 17 appearances. He pitched the final two innings of a one-sided win on August 3rd. He went to Spring Training in 1929, but he was released to Dallas of the Texas League on April 8, 1929, ending his time with the Pirates as a player. Tauscher was a manager in the minors for five seasons, including four years (1948-51) in the Pirates system.