This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 30th, the Trade of Babes

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1943, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded catcher Babe Phelps to the Philadelphia Phillies for first baseman Babe Dahlgren. Phelps hit .284 in 95 games for the Pirates in 1942, but he did not play during the 1943 season, opting to voluntarily retire because he wasn’t sure that baseball would last during the ongoing war and he didn’t want to leave his off-season job. The Pirates also included cash in this deal, which ended up being all that the Phillies received.  Phelps never did play a game for the Phillies, continuing his voluntary retirement. The Pirates actually agreed to sell Phelps to the Phillies during the  early part of the 1943 season, but Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis wouldn’t allow the sale because Phelps was on the voluntary retired list.

Dahlgren played for six different teams from 1940-43. He settled in Philadelphia in 1943 and hit .287 with 50 walks and 56 RBIs in 136 games. Dahlgren played 158 games for the Pirates in 1944, the highest game total in the majors in a single season since 1915. He hit .289 that year with 101 RBIs and a team leading 12 home runs, earning himself MVP support, finishing 12th in the voting. The following year he hit .250 with 75 RBIs in 144 games. The Pirates sold him to the St Louis Browns in the off-season and he hit just .175 in 28 games before being released, which ended his 12-year career. We posted an article here taking an in depth look at his 1944 season.

The Players

Jim Viox, infielder for the 1912-16 Pirates. Viox played three seasons in the minors for Lexington of the Blue Grass League before joining the Pirates at the beginning of the 1912 season. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 22, 1911 from Lexington, though he was allowed to finish the season with his old team. He was called the best shortstop in the league at the time and one source reported his purchase price to be $600. There was word that he would show up in Pittsburgh after the minor league season ended, but there was no mention of him joining the team that September. The Pirates expected to give the 21-year-old a tryout during Spring Training and then farm him out to a better minor league team to get more experience. Viox had other plans though. He made the team on Opening Day and stayed around as a bench player. He played just 33 games that year, hitting .186 while playing some time at second, third, shortstop and right field.

Viox became the everyday second baseman the next year and did well, hitting .317 (third in NL) with 86 runs and 65 RBIs. He became the first Pirates starter other than Honus Wagner to lead the team in batting average since 1902. In 1914 his numbers slipped, although he played 143 games. He hit .265 with 63 walks and 57 RBIs. During both the 1913 and 1914 seasons, he finished 13th in the NL MVP voting. Viox played a career high 150 games in 1915, drawing 75 walks, which was the third highest total in the National League. Despite the amount of playing time he received in 1915, he only lasted until late July of 1916 before he was let go by the Pirates. At the end of his time in Pittsburgh, he was nursing a sore left hip that was bothering him for some time and he didn’t play during his final three weeks with the Pirates. Viox was transferred to Toronto of the International League on option on August 13th. He returned to the minors and hit .313 in 42 games in 1916, then .315 in 92 games the following year, but never made it back to the majors. He hurt his slim chances in return in 1919 when he refused to report to his minor league team, which got him suspended for the entire season. He finished his playing career in 1924 and also managed six seasons in the minors. He was a player-manager for a brief time in 1928 for Raleigh of the Piedmont League, where he hit .542 in 14 games. Viox had a .273 average in 506 career Major League games. Viox received a $4,000 salary with the Pirates during the 1916 season.

Ovid Nicholson, teammate of Viox on the 1912 Pirates team. Nicholson just finished his third season in the minors when the Pirates called him up in mid-September 1912 to make his Major League debut. He played six games over a ten-day stretch, hitting .455 in 11 at-bats with three RBIs. He played four games in left field and two off the bench. Nicholson returned to the minors where he finished out his playing days in 1917, though he did see brief action in 1926 as a player/manager. He later coached and managed in the minors, last taking the helm in 1935. He is the only player in Major League history with the name Ovid. The Pirates acquired him via the Rule 5 draft from Frankfort of the Blue Grass League in early September of 1911 and announced that he would be with the team during the following spring. However, on January 25, 1912, he was sold outright to Springfield of the Central League. He ended up back in Frankfort and stole 112 (some sources say 116) bases that season before rejoining the Pirates. He was hitting .350 shortly before the season ended. Pittsburgh purchased him back from Frankfort on August 21st and expected him to join the team sooner, but Frankfort made the playoffs and kept him until the end of the season. On December 14, 1912, Nicholson was released to Louisville of the American Association, ending his time with the Pirates. The word from the Pirates was that he was too small and inexperienced to play in the majors at the time. He was listed at 5’9″, 155 pounds.

Sean Gallagher, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was purchased from the San Diego Padres on July 7, 2010 and finished the season in the Pirates bullpen. He posted a 6.03 ERA in 34.1 innings over 31 appearances for the Pirates, after posting a 5.40 ERA in 15 games for the Padres earlier in the season. Gallagher pitched for the Pirates in Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011 and he went 5-12, 5.11 in 29 games, 23 as a starter. He became a free agent after the season signed with the Cincinnati Reds for 2012, then ended up playing pro ball until 2016, seeing time with the Colorado Rockies, as well as playing winter/summer ball in Mexico, winter ball in Venezuela and four years in independent ball. However, his time with the 2010 Pirates was his last big league action. He had a 5.64 ERA in 207.1 innings over four seasons in the majors. Gallagher was a 12th round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2004 at 18 years old out of high school in Florida. At one point before his big league debut, he was considered to be a top 100 prospect in baseball. He played his first big league game in June of 2007 at 21 years old. He remained with the Cubs through the middle of the 2008 season when he was traded to the Oakland A’s as part of a deal to acquire Rich Harden. Gallagher spent just over a full year in Oakland, before being dealt to the Padres on July 28, 2009. He made 21 big league starts in 2008, but just two other starts over his other three seasons in the majors.