This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 28th, Mark Melancon and Chief Yellow Horse

Two Pittsburgh Pirates trades and five former players born on this date, all of them pitchers.

The Trades

On this date in 1989, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Brett Gideon to the Montreal Expos in exchange for veteran lefty starter Neal Heaton. Gideon pitched for the Pirates in the majors in 1987, throwing 29 games in relief with a 4.66 ERA. He went 4-8, 2.53 with 15 saves in 49 games in the minors in 1988. Heaton had already played seven seasons in the majors, putting up double figure win totals three times, with a high of 13 victories in 1987. In 1988 he went 3-10, 4.99 in 97.1 innings over 32 games, 11 as a starter.

Gideon spent most in 1989 in the minors, getting four appearances for the Expos in June. In 1990 he made the team out of Spring Training. In the second game of the season, a 4-2 loss to the St Louis Cardinals in which he allowed one run in one inning, he injured his elbow and would require surgery that put him out the entire season. Gideon never pitched in the majors again and lasted just 23 more minor league appearances before retiring. Heaton made this trade a one-sided win for the Pirates, sort of. They were only trading for one year of his service, but he re-signed with the Pirates after briefly testing free agent waters. In three seasons he had a 21-19, 3.46 record in 114 games, 43 as a starter. He won 12 games and made the all-star team in 1990, the first time the Pirates made the playoffs since the 1979 season. Then he made 41 relief appearances for the 1991 Pirates, the second straight NL East winner for the city of Pittsburgh. During Spring Training of 1992, the Pirates traded Heaton to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Kirk Gibson, in a deal that didn’t work out for either team.

On this date in 1969 the Pirates traded pitcher Tommie Sisk and catcher Chris Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Ron Davis and infielder Bobby Klaus. Sisk, at age 26, had spent seven seasons with the Pirates, compiling a 37-35, 3.69 record in 264 games, 85 of them as a starter. He went 5-5, 3.28 in 96 innings during the 1968 season. Cannizzaro, age 30, played in the majors from 1960-65 before spending two full seasons in the minors. The Pirates traded for him in November of 1967 and he played just 25 games with the team in 1968. Davis was 26 years old and had split the 1968 season between the St Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, hitting .203 with one homer and 17 RBIs in 85 games. Klaus was 31 years old and had spent the last three seasons in the minors, after spending all of 1964-65 in the majors.

The Pirates didn’t get much from this deal. Klaus played one season at Triple-A before retiring. Davis in 1969 hit .234 with four RBIs in 62 games, with just ten of those games coming as a starter. He spent the 1970-71 seasons playing for the Pirates in Triple-A before retiring. The 1969 Padres were an expansion team in their first season and they were bad. They finished with a 52-110 record and Sisk saw his performance fall off greatly with his new team. He went 2-13, 4.78 in 13 starts and 40 relief appearances. The Padres traded him to the Chicago White Sox in 1970, and by 1971 his career would be over. Cannizzaro made the All-Star team in 1969, though he didn’t exactly have a great season on offense. He was strong defensively, but he hit .220, with a .587 OPS in 134 games that season. His career lasted six seasons in the majors after the trade. In 1970 he hit .279 with 42 RBIs in 111 games, posting a career best .745 OPS.

The Players

Bryan Morris, pitcher for the 2012-14 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who joined the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade during the 2008 season. The Dodgers selected selected Morris 26th overall out of Motlow State Community College in Tennessee in 2006. It’s a school that has produced just 18 draft picks since 1972 and David Weathers is the only MLB player in that group. Morris passed on a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays just one year before being taken by the Dodgers. He made 14 starts as a rookie in pro ball in 2006, then missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. The Pirates received him in July of 2008 after he made 17 starts in Low-A, posting a 3.20 ERA in 81.2 innings. Morris made three starts after joining the Pirates, pitching for Low-A Hickory. In 2009, he spent the entire year in High-A, though he missed some time due to an off-season shoulder surgery. He had a 5.57 ERA in 72.2 innings over 15 starts upon his return. Healthy in 2010, Morris started the year in High-A, before spending most of the season at Double-A with Altoona. Combined he had a 3.03 ERA in 133.2 innings, with 124 strikeouts. He spent the entire 2011 season in Altoona, converting to relief during the year. Morris had a 3.35 ERA in 78 innings. He pitched the 2012 season in Triple-A, where he had a 2.67 ERA in 81 innings over 46 appearances. Morris made it to the majors in 2012, pitching five innings in September over five appearances, with one run allowed. He was with the Pirates for most of the 2013 season and made 55 appearances (all in relief), putting up a 3.46 in 65 innings. Morris had a 3.80 ERA through 21 outings in 2014, when the Pirates traded him to the Miami Marlins. He lasted in the majors through the 2017 season, posting a 20-12, 3.13 record in 236 innings over 231 appearances. He had a 3.46 ERA in 93.2 innings with the Pirates. His best season was 2015 with the Marlins, when he had a 3.14 ERA in 63 innings over 67 appearances. Back surgery limited him to 44 games over his final two seasons, the second spent with the San Francisco Giants, who designated him for assignment in June of 2017, ending his baseball career when he declared free agency instead of accepting his minor league assignment.

Mark Melancon, pitcher for the 2013-16 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school in the 30th round in 2003 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Melancon decided to attend the University of Arizona, where he was selected in the ninth round by the New York Yankees three years later. His career got off to a slow start due to Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2007 season. He moved quickly to the majors upon his return, pitching at three different levels in 2008, ending the year at Triple-A. He combined for a 2.27 ERA over 95 innings. In 2009, Melancon debuted in the majors in late April. Over three stints with the Yankees, he had a 3.86 ERA in 16.1 innings. He struggled in a brief stint in the majors in 2010 and ended up getting traded to the Houston Astros mid-season for Lance Berkman. Melancon did much better in Houston, posting a 3.12 ERA in 20 appearances. In 2011, he had a big season for the Astros. He went 8-4, 2.78 with 20 saves in 74.1 innings over 71 outings. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the off-season and struggled badly in his only year with the club. He joined the Pirates from the Red Sox prior to the 2013 season in the six-player Joel Hanrahan deal made on December 26, 2012. Melancon posted a 6.20 ERA in 41 appearances with Boston, then immediately turned things around with the Pirates. He was an All-Star in 2013, thanks to a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings over 72 appearances. He took over the closing role mid-season and saved 16 games. Melancon saved 33 games in 2014 while compiling a 1.90 ERA. For the second straight season, he pitched 71 innings over 72 appearances. His ERA went up to 2.23 in 2015, but it came with a second All-Star appearance and 51 saves, which led the National League and set a Pirates team record for saves in a season. Melancon had a 1.51 ERA and 30 saves through the trading deadline in 2016 when he was traded to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. Melancon performed great in his short time with the Nationals, posting a 1.82 ERA in 29.1 innings with 17 saves. He signed with the San Francisco Giants after the season and injuries affected him over the next two years. He was limited to a total of 73 appearances and 69 innings during the 2017-18 seasons. Melancon saw his ERA go up to 4.50 in 2017, then come back down a bit to 3.23 in 2018. He split the 2019 season between the Giants and Atlanta Braves, combining to go 5-2, 3.61, with 12 saves in 66 appearances and 67.1 innings. Melancon made 23 appearances during the shortened 2020 season, putting up a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings. He signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in February of 2021. He has pitched 12 seasons in the majors, posting a 2.85 ERA and 205 saves in 606 appearances.

Steve Sparks, pitcher for the 2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted in the 38th round of the 1995 draft at 20 years old, selected out of Faulkner University in Alabama by the Chicago White Sox. Three years later, the Pirates selected him in the 28th round after he transferred to the University of Southern Alabama. It didn’t take Sparks long to make the majors after signing. He spent most of his first season playing in the New York-Penn League after being drafted. He finished the year with two starts in Low-A, and he had a combined 4.65 ERA in 71.2 innings. In his first full season of pro ball, Sparks spent most of the year at Low-A Hickory, adding in five starts for High-A Lynchburg. He combined to go 6-9, 4.87 in 114.2 innings over 17 starts and 13 relief appearances. He began the 2000 season in Double-A, but on July 20th he was called upon to help a worn out bullpen. He made three appearances and allowed three runs over four innings on four hits, five walks and two strikeouts. Sparks was sent back to Altoona on August 5th, which ended his big league career. Sparks went 6-7, 4.77 in 109.1 innings for Altoona in 2000. On December 19th, he was designated for assignment when the Pirates signed infielder Enrique Wilson as a free agent. Sparks split the 2001 season between Double-A and Triple-A for the Pirates, combining to go 4-9, 5.50 in 113 innings, spread out over 16 starts and 22 relief appearances. He split the 2002 season between Triple-A for the St Louis Cardinals and Triple-A/Double-A for the San Francisco Giants, struggling in brief stints at all three spots. He had an 11.88 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP in 11 games, posting an ERA over 10.00 with all three teams. That ended his pro career. During the 1995-2004 seasons, there was another right-handed pitcher (knuckleballer) named Steve Sparks, who spent a majority of his career in the American League.

Bill Macdonald, pitcher for the Pirates in 1950 and 1953. He originally signed as an amateur with the Detroit Tigers and pitched two years in the minors before signing with the Pirates as a free agent in early 1949. MacDonald struggled in his first season of pro ball with Lubbock of the West Texas-New Mexico League. He went 12-9, 4.85 in 185 innings, with 114 walks. He put up much better numbers in 1948 while moving up two levels to play for Flint of the Central League. He went 15-7, 2.64 in 177 innings that year. The Tigers broke MLB rules about having players under contract in the minors in 1948 and Macdonald was among a group of players who became free agents according to a ruling by MLB commissioner Happy Chandler.  Just 19 years old at the time, MacDonald had 13 big league teams bidding for his services after becoming a free agent and he signed with the Pirates because they offered the most money, giving him a three-year deal worth $26,000. He went 13-11, 3.28 in 217 innings for New Orleans of the Southern Association in 1949. He made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1950, but was used just once the first month of the season. On May 23rd, he made his first Major League start and he threw a shutout with seven strikeouts over the Philadelphia Phillies. A week later he made his second start and couldn’t make it out of the third inning before he was chased from the game. Macdonald ended up making twenty starts and 12 relief appearances, finishing with a record of 8-10, 4.29 in 153 innings. His .444 winning percentage that year was the best on the team during one of the worst years in franchise history. During the 1951-52 seasons, MacDonald served in the military. Returning to Pittsburgh in 1953, he went 0-1, 12.27 in four games for the Pirates before they shipped him to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, where he had a 3.42 ERA in 84.1 innings. He was released outright to Hollywood on May 25, 1953, the day after his final big league appearance. Just four appearances into the 1954 seasons for Hollywood, after allowing eight runs in 2.2 innings, he retired from baseball. The reason was said to be an arm issues, which was bothering him since returning from his military service.

Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse, pitcher for the 1921-22 Pirates. He was a full-blooded Pawnee Indian, one of a handful of American Indian Major Leaguers during the early years of baseball, though he is recognized as the first full-blooded American Indian player. He pitched just one full season in the minors before the Pirates signed him for the 1921 season. In 1920, pitching for Little Rock of the Southern Association, he went 21-7 in 46 games, pitching 278 innings, with 55 walks and 138 strikeouts. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 15, 1920. At the time it was said in the papers that he never saw a professional game of baseball until he joined Little Rock that spring, but he actually had some brief experience with the Des Moines Boosters of the Western League in 1918. The papers also claimed that he was 19 years old at the time, but research has uncovered that he was three years older at the time. His name back then was also spelled Yellowhorse, but it’s currently written out as two words, which is another hat tip to research. With the Pirates in 1921, he went 5-3, 2.98 in 48.1 innings. Yellow Horse made four starts and six relief appearances that year, with his time limited due to a groin strain suffered in early July, which required surgery. He pitched just one inning after July 5th, making a scoreless relief appearance on September 16th. Yellow Horse actually pitched eight days earlier in an exhibition game, then saw action in a benefit game on September 28th for the NL All-Stars against the AL All-Stars, 12 years before the first official All-Star game. He had a bigger role with the 1922 Pirates after pitching well in Spring Training. He would again make four starts on the year, but he made 24 relief appearances and ended up pitching 77.2 innings. At the plate, he batted .316, after going 0-for-17 in 1921. On September 26th in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, Yellow Horse hit Ty Cobb with a pitch that knocked him out of the game, forcing him to be carried from the field. Two days later, Yellow Horse pitched in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians. He hadn’t pitched a regular season game since one inning of work on September 9th, and he ended up pitching just one inning more before the season ended, but he was used during exhibition games to save the arms of pitchers seeing regular action.  He was traded to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League on December 13, 1923 for pitcher Earl Kunz, who lasted just 45.2 innings in the majors. The Pirates gave up four players and $7,500 in the deal. Yellow Horse went 22-13, 3.68 in 311 innings pitched during the 1923 season for Sacramento. An elbow injury that bothered him for most of 1923 and took away some velocity on his fastball, effectively ended his career. He would pitch briefly in  1924, 1925 and 1926 in the minors before retiring. His time with Sacramento ended during Spring Training in 1925 when he broke team rules. He was soon sold to Mobile of the Southern Association, where he lasted four games. He finished his career with Omaha of the Western League in 1926.