This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 12th, More Bad Trades

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a few major trades of note, two that did not go well.

The Trades

On this date in 1941 the Pirates traded away superstar shortstop Arky Vaughan to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for catcher Babe Phelps, pitcher Luke Hamlin, infielder Pete Coscarart and outfielder Jimmy Wasdell. The only reason this trade didn’t look so bad was that Vaughan retired for three years (1944-46) before coming back to play two more seasons as a part-time player. The best value they got (by far) in return for one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history was Coscarart, who hit .245 with 262 runs scored in 531 games for Pittsburgh. The Pirates were worried about losing players to the war effort, so they felt it was best to get four players to fill out holes in their roster, as opposed to getting upside for their All-Star shortstop. Hamlin had one mediocre year before he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics. The 1943 season was one of the most watered down due to talent lost to the war, but Hamlin still spent the entire season in the minors. Babe Phelps played one season in Pittsburgh before he was traded for Babe Dahlgren in a deal that worked out well for the Pirates. Wasdell hit .266 in 126 games before being sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in April of 1943, meaning that 16 months after this deal was made, only Pete Coscarart was still with the Pirates. Vaughan hit .305 in 1943, leading the league in runs scored and stolen bases.

On this date in 1913 the Pirates traded pitcher Hank Robinson, outfielders Chief Wilson and Cozy Dolan and infielders Art Butler and Dots Miller to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Bob Harmon, first baseman Ed Konetchy and third baseman Mike Mowrey. Owner Barney Dreyfuss had a long-time man-crush on Konetchy that he didn’t hide and he gave up way too much to get him. He was a target of the Pirates for many years before this deal. In fact, this deal was so bad that Dots Miller alone outperformed that combined value of the three players Pittsburgh got in return. Chief Wilson played well for his first two (of three) seasons in St Louis and the other three players in the deal all were regulars with the Cardinals, while the Pirates went through a down stretch until the early 1920s. The Cardinals added 30 wins in 1914 over their 1913 total, while the Pirates went from 78-71 to 69-85 in one year. Konetchy rewarded Dreyfuss by jumping to the Federal League after one season with a .634 OPS, while Miller also played first base and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting in 1914. Mowrey played just 79 games with the Pirates and he too jumped to the FL. Harmon provided the most value with a 2.60 ERA over four seasons, though it was the height of the deadball era and he had a losing record each year.

On this date in 1932 the Pirates traded pitcher Glenn Spencer and outfielder Gus Dugas in exchange for future Hall of Famer, Freddie Lindstrom. It was a three-team trade that also involved the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies. This trade worked out for the Pirates, as neither player they gave up amounted to much after the deal, while Lindstrom put in two solid seasons before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in a deal that didn’t work out as well, but not due to Lindstrom’s production, as he put up -0.3 WAR after the trade. He hit .302 with 129 runs scored and 104 RBIs in 235 games for the Pirates. Spencer had a 5.13 ERA in 47.1 innings for the 1933 Giants, which ended up being his final big league season. Dugas hit .139 in 37 games for the Phillies in 1933, then he went 1-for-19 in 24 games for the Washington Senators in 1934. In comparison, the Pirates got 5.0 WAR from Lindstrom, while giving up two players who combined for -2.3 WAR. Then they were able to trade him (along with Larry French) for three solid players.

The Players

Jose Osuna, outfielder/infielder for the 2017-2020 Pirates. Osuna signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela at 16 years old in 2009 and he was famously known by the last name “Ozuna” during his first season in the system. It took him until the middle of his eighth season before he debuted in the majors. Osuna played with the Pirates over four straight years, with his best results coming in 2019 when he had a .766 OPS in 95 games. In 660 at-bats over 276 games, he hit .241 with 24 homers and 88 RBIs. Osuna was a solid defender at first base, but the Pirates also used him at third base and in both corner outfield spots. On July 6, 2017, he threw out three runners at second base while playing left field. While he provided decent offense despite a low OBP (.280 career), his defense was below average every season. His best year for WAR was 2018 when he had a 0.0 mark and his total over four years was -1.1 WAR. His .641 OPS in 26 games during the shortened 2020 season was his lowest season mark. After being let go by the Pirates following the 2020 season, Osuna signed to play in Japan for the 2021 season.

John Gammon, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1884 when they were in the American Association and then again when they were in the NL in 1890. His birth name was John Gammon but he is better known as Phenomenal Smith. He got the nickname from a reporter after an amazing 16-strikeout performance while in the minors in 1885 and the name stuck despite the fact he posted just a 54-74 record over eight Major League seasons. During his first stint with Pittsburgh he lost his only game 10-5 to the Richmond Virginias, a franchise that won just 12 games total in their history. Smith returned to the Alleghenys in mid-September 1890, near the end of the worst season in franchise history. He pitched five games, lost three, one ended in a tie, and then in game 136 of the year for the team, he beat the Phillies 10-1 for Pittsburgh’s 23rd win of the year. He began the year with the Philadelphia Phillies, but he was released on September 10th. He had an 8-12, 4.28 record in 204 innings at the time. His signing with the Alleghenys was a bit confusing. Days later it was said that he would sign for $500 for the rest of the season, but Pittsburgh owner J. Palmer O’Neill was satisfied with his pitching at the time (and who wouldn’t be on a 113-loss team) and he was looking for hitters instead. The very next day, it was announced that Smith signed. After his brief stint with the team in 1890, which included some postseason exhibition games, Smith was still reserved for the 1891 season. However, when the Player’s League folded after one season, the Alleghenys were strengthened by returning players and pirated players from other teams, so they no longer needed Smith’s services. He went back to the Phillies, for what turned out to be his final three big league games. His career in pro ball was far from over though. He played until age 41 in 1906, most of that time as an outfielder for Manchester of the New England League. He ended up living out his life in Manchester, passing away in 1952 as one of the last players who played during the 19th century. Smith never had a winning record during any of his eight seasons in the majors, though he did win 25 games and pitched 491.1 innings for Baltimore of the American Association in 1887.

Bill Howerton, outfielder for the 1951-52 Pirates. Howerton was part of a big seven-player deal between the St Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in mid-1951 that sent five players to Pittsburgh, while Cliff Chambers and Wally Westlake headed to the Cardinals. With Pittsburgh, Howerton hit .279 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs in 79 games. He saw time at all three outfielder positions and third base. During the 1952 season, he was put on waivers and picked up by the New York Giants. He played only 11 games in New York and never played in the majors again. He played a total of 11 seasons in the minors, finishing out his career in 1955. He originally signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1943 at 21 years old. He was playing semi-pro ball on the west coast before signing his first affiliated pro contract. While he didn’t serve during WWII, he was in minors during that tell and well beyond the end of the war, debuting with the Cardinals in September of 1949. He put up strong stats in 1950 as a regular, hitting .281 with 38 extra-base hits in 110 games. At the time of his acquisition by the Pirates, he was batting .262 in 24 games, with a homer and four RBIs. He played more center field than anything else in Pittsburgh, though he also received ten starts in right field and he played a few games each at third base and left field in 1951. In 1952, he made one start at third base and committed two errors. He was batting .320 through 13 games at the time he was lost on waivers. During the 1952 season, teams started the year with 30 active players, but they needed to cut that down to 25 by May 15th. Howerton was the first cut on May 7th. He hit 145 homers in the minors and had three seasons with 100+ RBIs.

Clyde Kluttz, catcher for the 1947-48 Pirates. The Pirates purchased Kluttz from the Cardinals in December of 1946, after he hit .271 with no homers and 15 RBIs in 57 games that season. He ended up having the best season of his nine-year career in 1947, hitting .302 with six homers and 42 RBIs in 73 games. He also threw out 56.1% of stolen base attempts. A home plate collision on June 8th caused him to miss five weeks with a hand injury. In 1948, his batting dropped off significantly. He played 94 games that year and hit .221 with four homers and 20 RBIs, while watching his OPS drop from .790 in 1947 to .600 in 1948. He still played strong defense according to modern metrics, which credits him with a career best 0.9 dWAR. He also threw on 54% of base runners. Kluttz ended up spending the entire 1949 season in the minors, then joined the St Louis Browns near the end of the 1950 season, though he didn’t play in the majors again until 1951. He actually had a lot of movement to get from Pittsburgh to St Louis in a short time. The Pirates released him outright to Indianapolis of the American Association on January 29, 1949. They had a working agreement with the Pirates at the time, but some of the players were also their own property. The Baltimore Orioles of the American Association then purchased his contract on December 6, 1949 from Indianapolis, before the Browns claimed him in September of 1950 under a working agreement with the Orioles. Kluttz played just four games for the Browns, then moved on to the Washington Senators, where he played the final 111 games of his MLB career over the 1951-52 seasons. He played back in Baltimore (AA) in 1953, then he finished his pro career as a manager in 1954-55 for Savannah of the South Atlantic League. Kluttz played two games in 1954. He was a .268 hitter in 656 career games. He hit 19 homers in his career, with more than half (ten) coming while with the Pirates. His career mark for throwing out runners was 50.3%, which ranks as the 14th best percentage all-time.

Joe Rickert, left fielder for the 1898 Pirates. He played just two games for Pittsburgh at the end of the 1898 season, going 1-for-6 at the plate. Three years later, he got his only other chance in the majors, playing 13 games for the Boston Beaneaters. He went 10-for-60 at the plate with them, giving him a .167 average in both of his big league stints. He played over 1,800 minor league games from 1898 until he retired in 1915 (his first two years of stats are unknown, so he actually played more). Rickert was lucky to get into a game when he did for Pittsburgh. The Pirates had three of their last four games rained out, so when he was used during a doubleheader on October 12th, it ended up being the only day he played for the team. He was said to be weak at the plate, but he performed well in the field, catching all ten balls hit his way. He first career hit came off of Cy Young. Rickert debuted in pro ball at 19 years old in the Interstate League and ended up playing for three different teams in the league during his first year. He spent the 1897 season with a fourth Interstate League team, playing the full year for the Youngstown Puddlers. In 1898, he was with the New Castle Quakers, still in the same league, though he played with New Haven during his first season. Rickert hit .277 with 41 extra-base hits, 112 runs scored and 55 stolen bases in 1949 games in 1898 before joining the Pirates on September 30th. He was one of three players picked up that day, along with Tully Sparks, who shares his birthday (see below). The Pirates loaned Rickert to Worchester of the Eastern League for the 1899 season and he rejoined the team on September 12, 1899 while they were playing in Brooklyn. It was said that he might play some games in left field for the Pirates, but he never played over the final 26 games. Rickert was back in Worchester for the 1900 season.

Tully Sparks, pitcher for the 1899 Pirates. In his third year of pro ball, he made his Major League debut at 22 years old with the Philadelphia Phillies in September of 1897, getting hit hard in his only game with the team. Sparks allowed nine earned runs on 12 hits and four walks in eight innings. He spent the 1898 season in the minors with Richmond of the Atlantic League before being purchased by the Pirates on September 30th, the same day as Joe Rickert, who shares his birthday (see above). There was word that Sparks could appear in one of the remaining games, but he didn’t debut with the Pirates until 1899. He would make 17 starts and 11 relief appearances during the 1899 season, going 8-6, 3.86 in 170 innings. Prior to the 1900 season, the Pirates sold him to their former catcher/manager Connie Mack, who managed the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League. Sparks spent all of 1900 in the minors, then pitched with the Brewers in the first season that the American League was considered a Major League in 1901. After splitting the 1902 season between the Boston Americans (Red Sox) and the New York Giants, he ended up back with the Phillies for a second time in 1903, and this time he stuck with them for eight seasons and 95 wins. Sparks won 121 games total over his 12-year career, including 22 wins in 1907 for the Phillies. He posted a 2.82 ERA over 2,343.2 innings, led by his 22-8, 2.00 season in 1907, yet he still finished 16 games under .500 with 137 losses. He topped 200 innings in six straight years (1903-08), including 316.2 innings in 1906. His big league career ended in 1910, but he remained active in pro ball until the 1913 season.

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