This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 15th, Pirates Trade for Two Hall of Fame Pitchers

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note, both involving Hall of Fame pitchers.

The Trades

On this date in 1967 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Woody Fryman, minor league third baseman Don Money and minor league pitchers Bill Laxton and Harold Clem to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning. This trade didn’t work out well for the Pirates, despite Bunning coming off of a second place finish in the Cy Young voting that season. He went 14-23, 3.84 in two seasons for the Pirates, before being traded to the Dodgers for a package much smaller than what they gave up to acquire him. The Phillies didn’t get anything from the two minor league pitchers (Laxton pitched two games for them), but easily got the best of the deal with the other two players. Fryman pitched 18 years in the majors, while Money was a four-time All-Star third baseman, though his best years were after the Phillies traded him.

On this date in 1905, the Pirates traded infielder Dave Brain, first baseman Del Howard and pitcher Vive Lindaman to the Boston Beaneaters in exchange for Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis. Boston got decent production from their three players, but Willis made this trade a major win for the Pirates, despite playing just four seasons in Pittsburgh. He won over 20 games each season while averaging 302 innings pitched per year and he had a 2.08 ERA in his 160 games. He helped them to their first World Series title in 1909 by going 22-11. He compiled 22.1 career WAR during his short time with the Pirates. Getting traded to the Pirates actually got Willis into the Hall of Fame because he previously played with some very poor teams in his career. He had an 89-46 record in Pittsburgh and 160-159 with his two other teams. Brain won a home run crown in Boston in 1907, but he was out of baseball by the next year after putting up a .125 average. Howard played 1 1/2 years in Boston (with 2.3 WAR) before he was traded for two players. Lindaman pitched four years in Boston and had a 2.92 ERA in 904 innings, which turned out to be his only big league experience.

The Players

Art Howe, infielder for the 1974-75 Pirates. He began his career in 1971 when he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates. He was called him up in 1974 after he was hitting .338 in 60 games at Triple-A Charleston. Howe played 29 games his rookie season, mostly as a third baseman and he hit .243 with ten runs scored and five RBIs. He was with the Pirates for most of the 1975 season, getting 162 plate appearances in 63 games, but he hit just .171 with ten RBIs. Following the season the Pirates traded him to the Houston Astros for veteran second baseman Tommy Helms. Howe became an everyday player in 1977 and he hit .269, with 43 homers and 266 RBIs over 706 games in seven seasons in Houston. He had seasons in which he was primarily the first baseman (1980), the second baseman (1977-79) and the third baseman (1981-82). Howe received MVP votes during the strike-shortened 1981 season for hitting .296 with three homers and 36 RBIs in 103 games. His .770 OPS that year was the third highest of his career. Howe missed all of 1983 due to having both ankle and elbow surgery. He signed with the St Louis Cardinals in 1984 and hit .216 over 89 games. He was released after just four games in 1985, ending his playing career. Howe recorded 1,129 wins as a Major League manager over 14 seasons. He was at the helm of the Astros from 1989 until 1993, then took over the Oakland A’s from 1996 until 2002. His last two seasons (2003-04) were disasters with the New York Mets, putting up two 90+ loss seasons. Howe had back-to-back 100+ win seasons in Oakland during his final two seasons there. He was born in Pittsburgh and attended Shaler High School in town.

Joe Nealon, first baseman for the 1906-07 Pirates. He played three seasons in his home start of California prior to the Pirates signing him just before his 21st birthday. As a rookie in 1906 he was the only player on the team to play in all 154 games and he would lead the NL with 83 RBIs, to go along with 82 runs scored and a .255 batting average. He hit .257 in 105 games the following year, then announced his retirement and returned to his home to go into business with his father. Nealon missed extended time in 1907 with an ankle injury in April, a bad spike wound in August and an illness for much of September. Over the last 30 games of the season he had one at-bat, as a pinch-hitter. Despite his retirement announcement, he ended up playing the next two seasons in the minors in California before contracting typhoid fever and passing away at the age of 25 in April of 1910.

The Pirates were able to sign Nealon as a free agent because he had a non-reserve contract with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, which was very rare for the day. Scout George Van Haltren tipped the Pirates off that Nealon wanted to sign with an eastern team, while also letting them know that he was being scouted by two other teams, Boston Americans (Red Sox) and the New York Highlanders (Yankees). Manager Fred Clarke went to the west coast in early November to talk to Nealon about signing. Clarke was given instructions from owner Barney Dreyfuss that if they needed to up their offer for Nealon, Clarke had to see him play 1-2 games first. By the time that Clarke arrived, the Cincinnati Reds were also interested and put in an offer. Nealon decided on November 7th to signing with the Pirates. The signing of Nealon allowed the Pirates to include first baseman Del Howard in the trade for Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis, which was mentioned above.

JJ Clarke, catcher for the 1920 Pirates. He played just three games for the Pirates, but Clarke had a long career with three very interesting footnotes. Clarke came to the Pirates as a waiver claim on November 29, 1919 from the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .242 in 26 games for the Phillies in 1919, then for the Pirates he went 0-for-7 with two walks in two starts behind the plate and one pinch-hit appearance. That was the end of his big league career, but he continued on in the minors another five seasons. Clarke was not a power hitter, belting six homers in his nine-year big league career. In his last eight seasons of minor league ball, he hit a total of eight homers. So this may come as a huge surprise to most, but he holds the single game record for homers.

On June 15, 1902 while playing for Corsicana in the Texas League, Clarke came to the plate eight time and hit eight homers. The story goes, that his team wanted to play on Sunday, so to avoid Blue Laws, they moved their game to a High School field out of town. Everyone on his team hit well that day on the smaller field, but no one else came close to what Clarke did. Clarke’s second claim to fame was the fact that he caught a perfect game in 1908 thrown by Hall of Famer Addie Joss. The third footnote for him wasn’t as enviable as the first two feats. He was in the majors from 1905 until 1911, then went eight years before he played big league ball again. In 506 career games, he hit .254 with 127 RBIs.

Clarke debuted in pro ball in 1902 at 19 years old, though there is some mystery behind his age. During the 1919 season with the Phillies, his mom gave an interview and confirmed with certainty that he was 34 years old, so he may have been 17 when he started in the pros. Clarke debuted in the majors in 1905 with the Cleveland Naps (Indians). He was seeing very limited playing time that year, then got loaned to the Detroit Tigers for about a week. He returned to Cleveland on August 11th and remained there until December of 1910. After one year with the St Louis Browns, he jumped all around the minors up until 1917 when he enlisted in the Mariners during WWI. When he returned to pro ball in 1919 with Philadelphia, he was there as a coach, but worked his way into the lineup for 26 games. His three games with the Pirates were in April and he was given his unconditional release on May 13th, 19 days after his final game. Clarke played his final pro game for the Salisbury Indians of the Eastern Shore League in 1925.