This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 28th, John Milner, Zane Smith and the Ted Kluszewski Trade

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1957 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Dee Fondy to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Fondy was veteran who the Pirates had acquired from the Chicago Cubs during the 1957 season. At age 32 he hit .313 in 95 games for Pittsburgh, in what was his only season with the team. He wasn’t the typical corner infielder, he had more speed and less power than you would normally see at that position, and by 1956 he was on the downside of his career. Kluszweski was a big time slugger at one point in his career, hitting 171 homers from the left side over a four-year stretch from 1953-56. Unfortunately for him, he hurt his back in 1957 and his power disappeared for the season. He hit just six homers in 69 games for the Reds that year, but the Pirates were hoping he could regain his form.

Fondy lasted just one season in Cincinnati and he was mainly used off the bench, starting just 20 games all year. It would be his last seasons in the majors. Kluszewski failed to regain his power. His .292 average in 100 games was strong, but his four homers all year was not, especially not from a first baseman. The Pirates brought him back for the 1959 season, although he was traded away before the season ended. In 60 games with the Pirates that year he managed to hit two homers, giving him a total of six in his 160 games in Pittsburgh, which was a far cry from the slugger their pitchers faced since 1947 in Cincinnati.

The Players

Dario Agrazal, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates.  The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2013 out of Panama, where he grew up pitcher under the tutelage of his father, who was a famous pitcher and pitching coach in Panama. Agrazal came up through the minors as a finesse pitcher with an easy delivery and excellent command of his pitches. He began to add velocity in Low-A in 2016, and then added even more in High-A in 2017, while also racking up strikeouts, which earned him a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Just when he prospect star seemed to be getting its brightest, Agrazal suffered a pectoral injury in his first start with Altoona that cost his the rest of the season. A forearm strain cost him time during the 2018 season, then a back injury knocked him out of the Arizona Fall League after one game. All three injuries caused him to miss extended time, including missed off-season training time. When he returned in 2019, he was back to being the finesse command pitcher, losing all of his added velocity. However, he was able to make it to the majors due to the Pirates using 14 pitchers during the season. Agrazal had his share of issues in Triple-A and he was only slightly better in the majors, though his ERA was second best among the seven starters with 11+ starts for the Pirates. Agrazal went 4-5, 4.91 in 73.1 innings. After the season, the Pirates sold him to the Detroit Tigers. He missed the 2020 season due to forearm tendinitis and the Tigers designated him for assignment after the season. He cleared waivers and became a free agent.

Zane Smith, pitcher for the Pirates from 1990 to 1994 then again in 1996. Smith began his career in the Atlanta Braves system as a third round draft pick in 1982. He made his MLB debut two years later and stayed in Atlanta until he was traded to the Montreal Expos on July 2, 1989. Smith had a 39-58, 4.06 record in Atlanta. His best season was 1987 when he went 15-10 and led the NL with 36 games started. His ERA that season was slightly higher than his overall mark with the Braves, yet he was just 29-48 in his other five seasons combined. With the Expos, he moved to the bullpen in 1989 and had a 1.50 ERA over 48 innings and 31 appearances. A year after the Braves/Expos deal, the Pirates acquired him in a trade for pitcher Scott Ruskin, infielder Willie Greene and a player to be named later, which unfortunately turned out to be Moises Alou. Prior to the trade, he had a 6-7, 3.23 record in 139.1 innings for the 1990 Expos. Smith went 6-2, 1.30 in 76 innings the rest of the way, helping the Pirates to the playoffs. His regular season success failed to carry over as he went 0-2, 6.00 in nine innings against the Reds in the NLCS. He set a career high in wins in 1991, going 16-10, 3.20 in 35 starts, helping the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. This time he pitched great in the playoffs against the Braves. In two starts he posted an 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, allowing just one run.

In 1992, Smith injured his throwing shoulder and made just two starts after July 11th, which cost him a spot on the playoff roster. He was having a fine season up until the injury, posting a 3.06 ERA over 141 innings. He had a rough season in 1993, starting the year on the disabled list, then missing the last month of the season. When he did pitch the results weren’t there, as he went 3-7, 4.55 in 83 innings. He pitched well in 1994, going 10-8, 3.27 before the strike ended the season early. He was allowed to leave via free agency when the season ended. Smith signed with the Boston Red Sox for 1995 and struggled badly in the AL, posting a 5.61 ERA in 21 starts and three relief appearances. The Pirates re-signed him early in Spring Training in 1996. He pitched poorly during his second stint with the Pirates and was released by early July. He had a 47-41, 3.35 record in six seasons in Pittsburgh and overall he went 100-115, 3.74 in 13 Major League seasons.

John Milner, 1B/LF for the Pirates from 1978 until 1982. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 14th round in 1968 out of high school. Milner made it to the majors at age 21 in 1971 as a September call-up, and he was a regular in the lineup by the next season. He spent seven seasons in the majors with the Mets, hitting .245 with 94 homers and 338 RBIs in 741 games. He set a career high with 23 homers in 1973, and he had highs of 70 runs, 128 hits and 66 walks during the 1974 season. In 1976, he set personal bests with 25 doubles, four triples and 78 RBIs. The Pirates acquired him as part of a four-team, 11-player trade in December of 1977 that also included Bert Blyleven coming to the Pirates, while Al Oliver was sent to the Texas Rangers. Milner was used mostly in left field during his first season in Pittsburgh, starting 82 games while hitting .271 with eight homers and 34 RBIs. In 1979 he had his best season in Pittsburgh, playing 128 games and hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs. That batting average was his single season best during his 12-year career. Milner went hitless in the NLCS in 1979, but hit .333 with two walks in the World Series, which was won by the Pirates in seven games.

In 1980, Milner took on more of a bench role with the team, getting just 292 plate appearances in 114 games. His batting average dipped to .244, but his walk rate went up, helping him set a season high with a .378 OBP. He had a similar role in 1981 until the Pirates traded him to the Montreal Expos on August 20th for veteran first baseman Willie Montanez. After playing just 57 games over two seasons with the Expos, Milner was released on July 6, 1982. He re-signed with the Pirates to finish out the 1982 season, then was released just prior to Opening Day in 1983, which ended his pro career. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, he batted .263 with 34 homers and 149 RBIs in 417 games. He was a career .249 hitter with 131 homers and 498 RBIs in 1,215 games.

Harry Sweeney, first baseman for the 1944 Pirates. Sweeney played one game in the majors, going 0-for-2 and handling all ten plays he had at first base. His one game was the last game of the season, a doubleheader played on October 1st against the Philadelphia Phillies. Babe Dahlgren started the game at first base, then after one at-bat, Sweeney came in to take his place. The 28-year-old Sweeney was coming off the best season of his nine-year minor league career when he joined the Pirates. Playing for York of the Interstate League that year, he hit .334 with 14 homers and 39 doubles in 129 games. Despite that strong season and his first trip to the big leagues, Sweeney played just 93 more games in his pro career before retiring. The Pirates purchased his contract from York on August 30, 1944, though he was allowed to remain with his team for two more weeks while they finished out their season. The press release from the day said that he was two years younger than his actual age, and he was third in the Interstate League in batting average at the time. York ended up making the playoffs, which delayed his arrival with the Pirates by two weeks. It likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as manager Frankie Frisch said that he wanted to make sure that the Pirates secured a second place finish (which had bonus money involved for everyone on the team) before he used any of the new players. That didn’t happen until the Pirates won the first game of their doubleheader on the final day of the season (the Cincinnati Reds also lost that day which may have been the clincher depending on completion time). In Spring Training of 1945, Sweeney was supposed to compete for the first base job. He was a no show in camp and on March 25th, he was sent to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League to complete an earlier trade for pitcher Bill Salkeld. Sweeney missed the 1942 season serving in the Army during WWII.