Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one major trade of note.
On this date in 1959, the Pirates traded pitcher Whammy Douglass, outfielders Jim Pendleton and John Powers and third baseman Frank Thomas to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for catcher Smoky Burgess, third baseman Don Hoak and pitcher Harvey Haddix.
Burgess was just about to turn 32 years old at the time of the trade. He was a left-handed hitting catcher who got plenty of pinch-hitting appearances. In 1958, he hit .283 with six homers in a part-time role, but he had hit as many as 21 homers in a season and batted over .300 twice in his career. Haddix was a 33-year-old lefty, who went 8-7, 3.52 in 184 innings in 1958. He won a combined 38 games for the 1953-54 Cardinals. Hoak was just shy of his 31st birthday and had hit .261 with 50 RBIs in 1958, a down year compared to his 1957 season when he led the National League with 39 doubles and hit .291 with 19 homers and 89 RBIs.
The Reds were getting a 29-year-old slugger in Thomas, who had at least 23 homers with the Pirates in each of the last six seasons. Douglass was just 23 year old and went 16-10, 3.35 in Triple-A in 1958. He pitched briefly for the Pirates in 1957, his only Major League experience. Pendleton spent nearly all of 1958 in the minors. He was a 35-year-old outfielder with only 262 games of MLB experience. Powers was 29 years old and had just 90 games in the majors, all with the Pirates, spread out over four seasons. He was a .190 hitter. He would go on to play 43 games for the Reds, almost all off the bench (47 plate appearances total) before they sold him after the 1959 season. Douglass never made the majors again and Pendleton played just 65 games in Cincinnati before he was sold to the expansion Houston Colt 45’s. Thomas was supposed to be the big piece in the trade for the Reds, but he hit .225 with a career low 12 homers. They shipped him off for three marginal players after the season.
As for the Pirates return, they got more value out of each players than the Reds got out of all four combined. Burgess ended up playing six seasons in Pittsburgh, making three All-Star games, hitting .296 with 265 RBIs and more walks than strikeouts. He was also valuable as a pinch-hitter, where he hit .285 with 147 RBIs in 501 at-bats during his career. He compiled 14.5 WAR while with the Pirates. Haddix pitched five seasons for the Pirates, going 45-38, 3.73 in 166 games, 100 as a starter. He also gave the team one of their greatest games when he started a 1959 contest with 12 perfect innings. He had 9.1 WAR for the Pirates. Hoak put in just four years with the Pirates, but finished second in the MVP voting to his teammate Dick Groat during the 1960 season when the Pirates won the World Series. It goes without saying that this deal helped them greatly to get to that title. He compiled 13.7 WAR in his time in Pittsburgh. The Reds got a total of -1.6 WAR from their four players, and 7.5 WAR over seven seasons from the three players they got in the Thomas trade.
Hipolito Pena, pitcher for the 1986-87 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers at 17 years old in 1981 as an international free agent out of the Dominican, but they released him by mid-season 1983. Nearly a year later he signed with the Pirates. He pitched ten games in the Gulf Coast League in 1984, then split the 1985 season between the two full season A-ball teams, pitching 45 games total, seven as a starter. Pena had a 4.06 ERA in 115.1 innings, though he showed promise with 136 strikeouts. He went 7-4, 3.55 at Double-A in 1986, earning a September call-up to the majors. In ten games for the Pirates, he went 0-3, 8.64 in 8.1 innings. Pena had a 0.00 ERA in his first five outings (one unearned run) and a 21.60 mark in his final five games, allowing runs in each appearance. He began 1987 in Triple-A, though he would be up with the big club by late April for just over a month, posting a 3.78 ERA in 16.2 innings over 12 appearances. While the ERA was acceptable, he also walked 16 batters during that short time. Pena returned at the end of July for four games, including his only start of the season. On August 2nd, he allowed five runs over five innings in a 9-1 loss to the St Louis Cardinals. He finished up with an 0-3, 4.56 record in 25.2 innings over 16 games. Right before the start of the 1988 season he was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for first baseman Orestes Destrade. Pena pitched 16 games in relief for the Yankees in 1988, then finished his career in the minors, last playing in Independent ball in 1996. He remained with the Yankees through the end of 1991, then had brief stints in Triple-A with the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets in 1992. He was out of pro ball in 1993-94, though he played winter ball during that stretch in the Dominican. He returned to the U.S. for two seasons (1995-96) in the independent Northeast League, throwing exactly 100 innings.
Matt Alexander, pinch-runner/outfielder for the 1978-81 Pirates. He spent nine seasons in the majors, played in 374 games, but came to the plate only 195 times in his career. He was a decent minor league hitter over the years, batting .288 total, but in the majors he hit .214 with no homers and four total RBIs over those 195 plate appearances. It is a little odd the Pirates never gave him a chance to bat more because he hit .444 (12-27) for them over those four seasons he was in Pittsburgh. His specialty was speed and he actually stole more bases (30) than he had at-bats (27) with the Pirates. He has the odd career stat line of 36 hits with 111 runs scored and 103 stolen bases. In his nine-year career he played a total of 17 complete games and his name was only in the starting lineup 37 times. Alexander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1968, selected in the second round at 21 years old out of Grambling State University. He played during the 1968-69 seasons, then missed all of 1970-71 while serving in the military. It didn’t take long after he returned to make his big league debut. Alexander was up with the Cubs by August of 1973, after batting .309 in 106 games for Triple-A Wichita. He didn’t stick in the majors until he was traded to the Oakland A’s on April 28, 1975. After hitting .203 in 57 games during his time in Chicago, the A’s put him into a role that mainly involved pinch-running and not much else. He played 63 games in 1975 and batted just 11 times. In 1976, he managed 20 steals in 61 games, though he hitting in limited usage was awful. He went 1-for-30 at the plate that year. Oakland used him in 90 games in 1977 and he stole a career high 26 bases, although his 14 caught stealing negated some of his value on the bases. Alexander was released by the A’s right before the start of the 1978 season and he didn’t join the Pirates until September. They used him seven times as a pinch-runner and he had four steals and two runs scored. During the World Series winning 1979 season, he played 44 games, went 7-for-13 at the plate, 13-for-14 in steals and he scored 16 runs. In 1980 the Pirates let him bat just three times in 37 games, though he saw time in the field at three different positions. He went 10-for-13 in steals and scored 13 runs. In 1981, he went 4-for-11 at the plate in 15 games and he stole three bases. Prior to the 1982 season, he was sold to a team in Mexico, where he played the last three years of his career. Alexander has plenty of prior winter ball experience in Mexico, playing eight off-seasons before leaving the Pirates.
Vin Campbell, outfielder for the 1910-11 Pirates. He had played just one MLB game (1908 World Series winning Chicago Cubs) prior to being purchased by the Pirates in late July 1909 out of the minors. He attended Vanderbilt before going pro in 1908 and he was also a catcher at the time. The Cubs thought he needed more work behind the plate, and they had a strong catcher at the time in Johnny Kling, so Campbell was sent to the minors, which is where he would stay until joining the Pirates. It was announced on July 21, 1909 in the local Pittsburgh papers that the Pirates secured his release from Aberdeen of the Northwestern League, though he remained with his minor league team until the end of the season, hitting .290 in 158 games. He was also an outfielder by this time. He didn’t play a game for the World Championship team that year, but the next season he received plenty of playing time. He would go on to hit .326 in 97 games with 42 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He was poor defensively, especially early in his career due to changing positions often, so he had trouble finding decent playing time on a strong Pirates team. In 1911 he hit .312 in 42 games, half of them as a pinch-hitter. Campbell’s problem was that he was a business man as well as a baseball player, something that would severely shorten his career. After the 1911 season he was traded to the Boston Braves in exchange for Mike Donlin, a 34-year-old who was a .333 career hitter, but just like Campbell he was also known to just leave baseball on a whim for long periods at a time. Campbell would play three more seasons in the majors with three different teams, batting .310 career in 546 games before retiring. He spent the 1912 season in Boston, the 1914 season in the Federal League with Indianapolis, and the 1915 season in the FL with Newark. He was just 27 years old at the time and hit .310 in 1915, but never played pro ball again. In 1913, he retired from baseball and worked in Pittsburgh, but returned in 1914 when he was offered a strong salary to play in the Federal League. When the Federal League folded, he received many offers to play, but none were close to the pay he received in the FL, so he retired for good.
Charlie Heard, pitcher/outfielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was just 18 years old at the time Pittsburgh debuted him in the majors on July 14, 1890. The team was on a ten-game losing streak that put their record at 16-51, but things would get worse and Heard had a hand. The Alleghenys acquired him on June 24th for pitcher Bill Sowders in a deal with a minor league team, the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western Association. Heard was considered to be one of the top minor league pitchers at the time. He didn’t report to the Alleghenys until three weeks later due to being home with an illness. He would end up making six starts between July 14th and August 30th and he lost all six games. On July 21st he gave up all 20 runs in a 20-7 loss to the Phillies. His first four starts all took place in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pa., and he never actually pitched in Pittsburgh. He also played another six games in the outfield when the team was short-handed due to injuries and he hit .186 with no RBIs in 43 at-bats. Heard had a sore arm after his third start and stayed home to rest for over a month. When the Alleghenys returned to Philadelphia, he rejoined the team and pitched the first game of the series. There were rumors that he was released, but he was just given time to recover according to the Pittsburgh owner, J. Palmer O’Neil. Just over a week after his return, he played his last game, a 7-3 loss to the New York Giants. The team finished with a 23-113 record and Heard never played in the majors again. In 1891 he was found pitching well for a semi-pro team in Ohio named the Massillion Russells, but he has no know pro experience after (or before) his 1890 season.
Heard actually pitched for Pittsburgh four days after his last game, in what is now called an exhibition game, though my own personal research says that it was a real game played in Altoona with the Cleveland Spiders. The league had a rule back then that two teams couldn’t play in-season exhibition games until their head-to-head schedule was over. Cleveland and Pittsburgh had more games left after the September 3rd game, which the local papers referred to as a championship game (another way of saying a regular season game back then, meaning a game played towards the league championship race). Heard should have one more loss credited to him and his opponent that day was a rookie pitcher named Cy Young, who should have an extra win to his credit.