This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 11th, Jay Bell and Bad Trades

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates were born on December 11th, plus they have made three major trades that did not work out well.

The Trades

On this date in 1975 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitchers Ken Brett, Dock Ellis and rookie second baseman Willie Randolph to the New York Yankees for pitcher Doc Medich. Both Brett and Ellis had better 1976 seasons than Medich, though none of the three were still with their new team in 1977. That would have been enough to make the trade a win for the Yankees, but Randolph made this extremely one-sided. He posted a 66.2 WAR in 17 seasons after the trade. The Pirates were trying to add an ace to their pitching staff and Medich had 49 wins during the 1973-75 seasons, but his ERA during his last two seasons was just slightly under league average, so his record benefited from pitching for a good team. With the Pirates he was 8-11, 3.51 in 179.1 innings, which was well below the 262 innings per season average he had during his last three years. After the season, Medich was sent to the Oakland A’s in a trade to get Phil Garner. While Garner was a key member of the 1979 Pirates, the trade worked out much better for the A’s as far as return value.

On this date in 1928 the Pirates traded star shortstop Glenn Wright to Brooklyn for veteran pitcher Jesse Petty and infielder Harry Riconda. The Pirates received solid results from Petty in 1929, but by 1930, his career really fell off. Riconda played just eight games with the Pirates. That was an awful return for a star player, but it ended up not hurting the Pirates as much as it could have because Wright had injuries in 1929 and 1931 that really slowed down his effectiveness. He had a big 1930 season just like almost every other batter because it was a huge year for offense in baseball, but he only played 434 games total for Brooklyn over five season and compiled 8.5 WAR. In five seasons in Pittsburgh, he had 16.8 WAR.

On this date in 1906, the Pirates traded center fielder Ginger Beaumont, pitcher Patsy Flaherty and second baseman Claude Ritchey to the Boston Beaneaters for second baseman Ed Abbaticchio. This trade was three players for one and all three did better than the return, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. Abbatacchio was a veteran who sat out the entire 1906 season and wasn’t a star player before the deal. In fact, he was probably the worst player in the deal at the time. Owner Barney Dreyfuss seemed to make two major trades due to man-crushes that went south and this was the first one, followed by a horrendous 1913 trade to acquire first baseman Ed Konetchy. One of the reasons mentioned by Dreyfuss for acquiring Abbaticchio was that he was Italian (the only one in baseball at the time) and that would help draw attendance from that segment of the local population. Abbaticchio was a starter for two years and a bench player for two more, compiling a total of 6.1 WAR with the Pirates. One of the ironic parts about the two trades Dreyfuss made for players that he coveted more than their value suggested was that Abbaticchio lost his starting job to Dots Miller, who was then the best player they gave up on the deal to get Ed Konetchy. Boston got 14.1 WAR out of their players, then they were able to get a player and cash (2x) in deals getting rid of them, while also getting Abbaticcio back in a cash deal during the 1910 season.

The Players

Jay Bell, shortstop for the 1989-96 Pirates. For three seasons Bell was a light-hitting shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, so when the Pirates got him as a player to be named later in a 1988 trade for Felix Fermin and Denny Gonzalez, it didn’t seem like a big deal. He ended up playing 1,106 games over eight seasons at shortstop in Pittsburgh, where he was part of three NL East pennant winning teams during his time. He batted .269 with 78 homers, 423 RBIs and 623 runs scored for the Pirates. During the 1993 season, he won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger award and was named to the NL All-Star team. He hit .414 (12-for-29) with a homer during the 1991 NLCS. Bell averaged 158 games played and 92 runs scored during the 1990-92 playoff run, then hit .310 with 102 runs scored during his big 1993 season. The Pirates traded him to the Kansas City Royals along with Jeff King on December 13, 1996 in return for four players, the best among them being Joe Randa. Bell had an .829 OPS, with 21 homers and 92 RBIs in his only season with the Royals, then moved onto the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent in 1998 and put together five solid seasons. He was an All-Star in 1999 when he hit .289 with 38 homers, 112 RBIs, 132 runs scored and 82 walks. During the World Series winning 2001 season, Bell hit .246 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs. In 2003, he signed with the New York Mets for his final season in the majors. Bell finished his career with a .265 average and 195 homers in 2,063 games. He had 159 sacrifice hits, twice leading the league in that category while with the Pirates. He led all NL shortstops in assists five times, games played five times, put outs three times and fielding percentage twice. Bell was the eighth overall pick in the 1984 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of high school in Florida. A year after he signed, he was part of a trade with the Indians to acquire Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. Bell needed just two full seasons to make the majors, debuting in September of 1986. He hit .223 in 116 games with the Indians before joining the Pirates. He had 23.9 WAR while with the Pirates, which ranks him 26th in team history for position players, putting him between Gene Alley and Bob Elliott.

Joe Blanton, pitcher for the 2015 Pirates. In a partial season with the Pirates, he went 5-0, 1.57 in 34.1 innings over 21 appearances. In a 13-year career that ended in 2017, Blanton made 252 starts and 175 relief appearances, posting a 101-97, 4.38 record in 1,767.2 innings. He pitched in the postseason six different years, though he didn’t get to pitch during the Pirates wild card game in 2015. Blanton was a first round pick (24th overall) by the Oakland A’s out of college (Kentucky) in 2002. He was up in the majors just two years later, debuting in September of 2004. He would be a regular in the A’s rotation until a trade in 2008 sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies. During his time in Oakland, Blanton went 47-46, 4.25 in 118 starts and four relief outings.  He spent 4 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia, posting a 34-25, 4.47 record in 100 starts and five relief outings. He was part of their 2008 World Series winning season. From mid-2012 until the time he reached the Pirates, Blanton moved around a lot. He went from the Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. He moved across town to the Angels as a free agent until Spring Training of 2014, when he got released. The A’s signed him and released him within a short time, then he signed with the Kansas City Royals, where he went 2-2, 3.89 in 41.2 innings before being acquired by the Pirates for cash on July 29, 2015. He left the Pirates via free agency after the season and spent 2016 with the Dodgers and 2017 with the Washington Nationals.

Johnny O’Brien, infielder/pitcher for the 1953 and 1955-58 Pirates. He was a .260 hitter over five seasons in Pittsburgh, while also posting a 5.03 ERA in 59 innings. His twin brother Eddie also played for the Pirates during the 1953 and 1955-58 seasons (see bio below). The twins, who starred at both baseball and basketball in school, signed for a bonus said to be $80,000 total, reportedly getting $40,000 each. Due to the Bonus Baby rules of the time, which said that higher bonus signings had to spend two years in the majors before they could be sent down to the minors, both players made the Opening Day roster for the 1953 Pirates just a month after they signed. The Bonus Baby rule was in place to keep the wealthier teams from stockpiling prospects, while a last place team like the Pirates could afford to stick with players who probably needed minor league time because they had no chance to compete. The 1953 Pirates definitely qualified as a team that was eliminated from contending before the season started. As a rookie, O’Brien played 89 games (same as his brother) and hit .247 with two homers and 22 RBIs. He mostly played second base, but did see some time at shortstop. On September 11, 1953, he was inducted into the Army alongside his twin brother Eddie. They both returned in 1955 and Johnny hit .299 in 84 games. His numbers fell off tremendously in 1956, hitting .173 with no homers and three RBIs in 73 games, mostly off of the bench. He started to pitch this year and did well at first, posting a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings over nine relief appearances. In 1957, he saw more mound time, though he struggled, with a 6.08 ERA in 40 innings. In the middle of the 1958 season, O’Brien was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in the deal that brought Dick Schofield to the Pirates. O’Brien played for the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 and spent the 1960 season in the minors before retiring. He turns 90 years old today.

Eddie O’Brien, infielder/outfielder/pitcher for the 1953 and 1955-58 Pirates. He was a .236 hitter over five seasons with the Pirates, while also posting a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 innings. He was the twin brother of Johnny O’Brien. Both players signed as amateur free agents in March of 1953 and went right to the majors with the Pirates, then they both missed the 1954 season due to military service. O’Brien played 89 games as a rookie (same as his brother) and he was the starting shortstop in 75 of those games, often forming the double play combo with his brother at second base. As a rookie, he batted .238 with no homers and 14 RBIs. After returning from the service, he was tried as a center fielder, while also seeing time at shortstop, third base and left field. It didn’t go well, as he was below average defensively and on offense. He played 75 games and hit .233 with a .544 OPS. O’Brien was a bench player by 1956, getting just 58 plate appearances over 63 games, while spending the whole season on the active roster. His Bonus Baby requirements were up by this time, but the Pirates stuck with him in the limited role. He hit .264 that season and played six different positions, including two innings on the mound. Most of his at-bats came during a nine-game stretch over eight days in late July when he was the starting shortstop in every game. He spent most of 1957 in the minors, where he pitched 36 innings when he wasn’t at shortstop. When he came up to the Pirates in September, he played three games, all as a pitcher. In 1958, he was a full-time pitcher in the minors and made his final big league appearance with the Pirates on April 19th, which was his only game of the season. On October 14, 1958, he was traded to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, ending his time with the Pirates. He never played for Seattle, as he decided to retire a month earlier and take a job working at Seattle University.

Art Wilson, catcher for the 1916 Pirates. Wilson played 14 seasons in the majors and was mostly used as a backup, though he got some good time in during his two years in the Federal League, a Major League that existed during the 1914-15 seasons. The Pirates purchased his contract from Chicago of the Federal League in February of 1916 and in 53 games that season with Pittsburgh, he hit .258 with 12 RBIs. In late-July, Wilson was traded to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Frank Schulte and catcher William Fischer. Schulte was the MVP in 1911 and the first man to reach 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season, something that has been done four times ever. In 812 Major League games, Wilson batted .261 with 226 RBIs. His pro career began in 1906 at 20 years old, playing his first of three seasons for the Bloomington Bloomers of the Three-I League. He had a Moonlight Graham start to his big league career, playing one game without an at-bat for the 1908 New York Giants. Unlike Graham, Wilson stuck with the Giants, hitting .266 over 230 games during the 1909-13 seasons. He jumped to the Federal League, which many players did during that time. They didn’t all get a chance to return to the majors once the FL folded. Wilson was a lucky one, seeing time with the Pirates, Cubs, Boston Braves and Cleveland Indians over the next six seasons. He led the FL in 1914 by throwing out 56.7% of attempted base stealers. He had a 46.4% success rate throughout his career. His played his final big league game in 1921, then spent two seasons as a player-manager in the minors before retiring.

Derek Bell, outfielder for the 2001 Pirates. Bell is well known for his departure from baseball, leaving the Pirates because he felt like he didn’t need to compete for a job during Spring Training in 2002. He went into what was called “Operation Shutdown”, walked out on his contract and never played ball again. Bell played one season for the Pirates and it was a disaster between missed time and poor performance. He hit .173 in 46 games, while playing below average defense. He was a second round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school in 1987 and it took him four years to make the majors. After 79 games over two seasons, he was traded to the San Diego Padres. Bell had two solid seasons there before moving on to the Houston Astros in 1995, which is where he excelled. During the strike-shortened 1995 season, he hit .334 and drove in 86 runs in 112 games. That was followed by 113 RBIs during the 1996 season, then he put everything together in 1998 when he hit .314 with 22 homers and 108 RBIs. Bell saw a sharp decline in his stats in 1999, then moved on to one season with the New York Mets in 2000, before signing his free agent deal with the Pirates. He was an excellent base stealing threat, swiping 170 bases in his career in 221 attempts. Bell hit .276 in 1,210 big league games, with 134 homers and 668 RBIs.