This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 15th, The Phil Garner and Mike Easler Trades

Two trades of note, plus five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

The Trades

On this date in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded minor leaguers George Hill and Martin Rivas to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Mike Easler. There was also cash involved in the deal, going to Boston. This trade brought back Easler before he could play a game for Boston. He was sold to the Red Sox on October 27, 1978 after spending two years in the Pirates organization. At the time, Easler had already played parts of five seasons in the majors (three with the Houston Astros, one with California Angels) totaling just 57 games. During the 1979 World Series winning season for the Pirates, Easler was the ultimate bench player, getting three starts over the entire year and 52 appearances off of the bench. He had one at-bat in the NLCS and two plate appearances in the World Series. Easler played for the Pirates until the end of the 1983 season, when he would be traded back to the Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. While with the Pirates, Easler was a .302 hitter, twice batting over .300, including his 1980 season that saw him hit .338 with 21 homers. He was an All-Star during the 1981 season.

On this date in 1977, the Pirates and Oakland A’s hooked up for a nine-player deal. The Pirates acquired Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and Chris Batton. They gave up six players, including Tony Armas, a 23-year-old rookie in 1976 that would go on to win two home run crowns and have a productive 13-year career. Also included in the deal was Doc Medich (who the Pirates just gave up three players for prior to the 1976 season), Mitchell Page, Rick Langford, Doug Bair and longtime reliever, Dave Giusti. Garner was the key return and he was a big part of their 1979 title run, batting .293 in 150 games, with 32 doubles, 17 stolen bases, 76 runs scored and 59 RBIs. He hit .417 in the NLCS and .500 in the World Series. Garner spent five years in Pittsburgh before being traded for Johnny Ray, which turned out to be a great deal.

While Garner really helped the Pirates, they did not win this deal. Helm was released in June and Batton never played in the majors, so it was basically Garner for six players. Tony Armas alone would have been enough to give up. He had 13.4 WAR in Oakland before they used him as a trade chip in a similar deal to the Pirates bringing in Ray. Garner and Helms had 13.0 WAR combined. That would have been a great deal for both sides. Oakland got seven years out of Mitchell Page, including a huge rookie season that saw him earn 6.1 WAR. He was average after that point and finished his career with a short stint with the 1984 Pirates. Langford pitched ten years in Oakland and had 11.4 WAR, though they would have been much better off keeping him nine years because his final season was -1.7 WAR. Bair put in one solid season in Oakland before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. He eventually returned to the Pirates in 1989. Medich got off to a mediocre start and then was sold mid-season to the Texas Rangers. The Pirates gave up Willie Randolph to get him, along with pitchers Ken Brett and Dock Ellis, who both pitched better than Medich in 1976, so Doc was part of two bad trades. Giusti pitched well through August before he was sold to the Chicago Cubs.

The Players

Steven Jackson, pitcher for the 2009-10 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after being selected in the tenth round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Clemson. He had been selected in two previous drafts, taken in the 38th round out of high school by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000, followed by a 32nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2003. He debuted in pro ball as a reliever, then moved to the starting rotation for the 2005 season in Low-A. He had a 5.33 ERA in 28 starts during his first year. Despite that performance, he moved up to Double-A in 2006 and had a 2.65 ERA in 149.2 innings. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and pitched poorly, putting up a 7.11 ERA in six starts. Arizona sent him to the New York Yankees, along with Ross Ohlendorf, as part of the trade for Randy Johnson prior to the 2007 season. He had a 5.40 ERA in 90 innings, splitting the 2007 season between Double-A and Triple-A, then attended the Arizona Fall League again and got roughed up a bit as a reliever in 16 innings of work. The 2008 season saw him move back to relief full-time, and he once again split the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He didn’t pitch well, in Double-A, but he put up a 3.17 ERA in 48.1 innings, with 54 strikeouts, after being promoted. The Pirates picked Jackson up off of waivers on May 18, 2009 after he posted a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings at Triple-A for the Yankees. He made his big league debut two weeks later, making 40 relief appearances for the Pirates before the season was over. He had a 2-3, 3.14 record in 43 innings. In 2010 he bounced between Triple-A and the majors, getting called up four different times during the season. In 11 appearances, he had an 8.74 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. The Pirates let him leave after the 2010 season and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in March 2011. Los Angeles released him two months later, then he signed on with the Cincinnati Reds, who traded him back to the Pirates one month later. He had a 5.86 ERA in 39 minor league games in 2011, pitching for four different teams. That was his last season of pro ball.

Nellie King, pitcher for the 1954-57 Pirates. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals in 1946, before joining the Pirates farm system two years later. King was cut twice during his first year of pro ball and had to go through tryouts to get a third shot in 1947, this time playing for Geneva of the Alabama State League, where he went 8-11, 3.06 in 194 innings. He went 20-13, 3.14 in 284 innings his first minor league season with the Pirates in 1948, spending that season in Class-D ball with New Iberia of the Evangeline League. Moving up two levels the next year to York of the Interstate League, he had 16 wins and a 2.25 ERA in 214 innings. After the 1950 season, which saw him reach Double-A after going 9-10, 3.41 in 145 innings for Charleston of the South Atlantic League, King spent all of 1951-52 serving in the military during the Korean War. When he returned to pro ball in 1953, he went to a relief role, pitching 50 games in A ball, while posting a 2.00 ERA and a 15-3 record. King started the 1954 season with the Pirates, but after pitching seven innings over four relief outings, he returned to the minors. Playing for New Orleans of the Southern Association, he won 16 games and had a 2.25 ERA in 184 innings. He began the 1955 season with the Pirates and pitched well, with a 2.98 ERA in 54.1 innings, but again he finished the season in the minors. He was sent down on June 24th and didn’t return, but he managed to pick up a big league loss four days later when a game from April 24th was resumed and he was the pitcher of record on the losing side at the time. King would finally play an entire Major League season in 1956, throwing 38 games and 60 innings, all in relief. He went 4-1, 3.15 and picked up five saves (not an official stat at the time). King injured his arm during that 1956 season, and although he pitched all of 1957 with the Pirates as well, he was forced to retire due to the injury following that year. He was said to be suffering from a dead arm in 1955 as well, but it got worse during the following season. In 36 appearances in 1957, he had a 4.50 ERA in 52 innings. King retired with a 7-5, 3.58 record in 173.1 innings. After his playing days, he became a radio announcer for the Pirates from 1967 until 1975. During his playing days, he was mainly referred to as Nelson, not Nellie.

Whitey Wietelmann, infielder for the 1947 Pirates. He played eight seasons with the Boston Braves prior to coming to Pittsburgh in a six-player deal on September 30, 1946. That deal also included future Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Herman, who finished his career in 1947 with the Pirates as a player/manager. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they gave up Bob Elliott, who would win the MVP during the 1947 season. Wietelmann wasn’t much of a hitter during his nine-year career in the majors. His highest batting average was .271 in 1945, and his career average prior to coming to the Pirates was .232, with just six homers in 532 games. He had a rough time breaking into the lineup, playing a total of 87 big league games during his first four season, including just 42 starts. He finally got playing time in 1943 when the war opened up roster spots for the players who weren’t drafted. Wietelmann started all 153 games at shortstop for the Braves that season, playing all but 20 innings that entire year. He hit just .215, but his 2.5 dWAR was the fifth highest total for all National League players that year. In 1944, he batted .240 in 125 games, setting a career high with 18 doubles. His .271 average in 1945 also came with a career best .683 OPS, as well as career highs with 53 runs scored, 116 hits and four homers. In 1946 he hit .205 in 44 games, receiving only 92 plate appearances all season. Whitey (his first name was William) played 48 games for the Pirates in 1947, seeing time at all four infield positions (shortstop was the position he played the most during his career). He batted .234 with seven RBIs in 128 at-bats that year. That would be his last season in the majors, but his playing days were far from done. Wietelmann played 580 big league games, hitting .232 with seven homers, 122 RBIs and 170 runs scored. He had a rough time on the bases, going 14-for-33 in steal attempts during his career. He played another nine years in the minors before finally retiring at 37 years old in 1956. Wietelmann was a player-manager during his last four years of pro ball. While he had moved all the way down to Class-C ball by the end, he had quite an impressive season in 1955. That year he went 21-13, 4.86 in 257.2 innings for Yuma of the Arizona-Mexico League. While he had some previous pitching experience, he didn’t begin to pitch often until 1953, when he had a 3.47 ERA in 114 innings for Wichita Falls of the Big State League. Prior to his big 1955 season on the mound, Wietelmann threw just 34 innings in 1954. He pitched four times in relief in the majors with Boston, giving up 14 runs in 7.2 innings. He began pro ball at 18 years old in 1937, starting a 20-year career with Beaver Falls of the Pennsylvania State Association, where he hit just .233 in 88 games.

Fred Bennett, outfielder for the 1931 Pirates. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he had just seven games of Major League experience, all off the bench for the 1928 St Louis Browns. Bennett was a great minor league hitter, who never got a full chance in the majors. His lowest batting average over his first six seasons in the minors was .345, which he reached during each of his first two seasons. He wasn’t just a singles hitter though. He hit 32 homers in 1925, then smacked 38 the next year. He had a .385 average and 90 extra-base hits for Tulsa of the Western League in 1927, then hit .371 with 35 homers in 1928 back at Tulsa after his stint with the Browns. The 1930 season that earned him a job the following year with the Pirates was actually well below his norm, though he was playing at the upper level of the minor league system for the first time that year. Playing for Milwaukee of the American Association, he hit .302 in 92 games. He also hit just four homers, after hitting a total of 153 home runs over the previous five seasons. For the Pirates, he sat the bench almost all of late April and May before getting more time in June. He ended up playing 32 games before being released outright to Fort Worth of the Texas League on July 29th. Bennett hit .281 with seven RBIs and seven walks in 97 plate appearances, during what would be his last season in the majors. He played minor league ball until 1939, finished with a career .342 average over 1,369 games. He finished his pro career at 37 years old playing Class-D ball, which would be the same as playing for a short-season team now, five levels below the majors. There was some controversy over his signing with the Pirates that ended in a court case with commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. During July of the 1930 season, Landis ruled that the Browns farmed Bennett out too many times without asking waivers on him and he became a free agent immediately. However, he couldn’t sign with any team until the suit was settled. He didn’t officially join the Pirates until the second week of the 1931 season, signing a deal immediately after the case was settled on April 25th. The Browns appealed the decision, but Bennett debuted with the Pirates just three days later as a pinch-hitter. He didn’t make his first start until June 2nd. In consecutive games on June 10-11, he collected a total of seven hits against the New York Giants.

Bill Hallman, outfielder for the 1906-07 Pirates. He had played two previous seasons in the majors prior to joining the Pirates, 1901 for the Milwaukee Brewers and 1903 for the Chicago White Sox. Hallman debuted in pro ball in 1894 at 18 years old, playing for two different teams in the Pennsylvania State League. During the 1895 season he tried his hand at pitching, going 16-13, 2.95 in 256 innings for Portsmouth of the Virginia League. He was a pitcher for part of 1896 as well, before taking up outfield full-time. Hallman pitched just three games during his final 18 seasons of pro ball. He bounced around a lot during his first five seasons of pro ball, before settling down with Utica of the New York State League in 1899, where he hit .299 with 41 extra-base hits. He ended up with Milwaukee of the American League in 1900, the year before the league reached Major League status. Hallman remained with the team and he hit .246 with a .629 OPS in 139 games during his rookie season in the majors. The Milwaukee franchise moved to St Louis after just one season and Hallman stayed in town, playing for Milwaukee of the American Association, where he hit .324 in 143 games. That earned him his second look in the majors, where he hit .208 in 63 games for the 1903 White Sox. He was back in the American Association in 1904, where he put up a .307 average for the Louisville Colonels. He hit just .279 during the 1905 season. Hallman began the 1906 season still playing in Louisville. In 147 games that year, he had 196 hits and a .343 batting average. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 17th, though he didn’t join the Pirates until his minor league season was over three weeks later.  Over the last 23 games of the 1906 season, Hallman hit .270 with 15 walks and 12 runs scored. In 1907, he split his playing time over all three outfielder positions, getting into 94 total games. He hit .222 with 21 stolen bases and 33 walks. Off-season conditioning was apparently a major issue and it was thought that the added weight kept his performance down. He was returned to the American Association in 1908, playing for the Kansas City Blues, which started a stretch of seven more years in the minors before he retired as a player. Hallman played a total of 18 years in the minors. He batted .235 in his 319 Major League games. His uncle, also named Bill Hallman, played 14 seasons in the majors and had a pro career that stretched from 1886 until 1909. They were both in the American League for a short time in 1901 and on April 29th they were on opposing sides, with the elder starting at shortstop for the Cleveland Blues, while the nephew was in left field for the Brewers.

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