This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 5th, Rennie Stennett and the Bill Robinson Trade

One Pittsburgh Pirates trade of note and five former players born on this date.

The Trade

On this date in 1975, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Wayne Simpson to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for outfielder Bill Robinson. Simpson, a 26-year-old starting pitcher, played four seasons in the majors (1970-73) prior to the trade, going a combined 29-19, 4.08 in 88 games, 79 as a starter. He was an All-Star as a 21-year-old rookie in 1970, going 14-3, 3.02 in 26 starts, After coming over from the Kansas City Royals in a March 1974 trade, he spent the entire 1974 season at Triple-A for the Pirates, where he went 9-10, 3.32 in 160 innings. Robinson was 31 years old, coming off a 1974 season in which he hit .236 with five homers in 100 games. Just one season earlier, he had hit .288 with 25 homers for the Phillies.

Following the trade, Robinson played eight seasons for the Pirates. He saw plenty of time at each of the four corner positions over the years. In 805 games with Pittsburgh, he hit .276 with 109 homers and 412 RBIs. In 1977, he hit .304 with 26 homers and 104 RBIs, with all three being career high numbers during his 16 seasons in the majors. Simpson pitched just seven games for the Phillies in 1975, then was sold to the California Angels prior to the 1976 season. After a full season in the minors, Simpson pitched 122 innings for the 1977 Angels, posting a 6-12, 5.83 record. That was his last season in the majors.

The Players

Jung-Ho Kang, third baseman for the 2015-19 Pirates. Kang was a major international signing for the Pirates during the 2014-15 off-season. He was already an established star in Korea before joining Pittsburgh at 28 years old. Kang debuted in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2006 at 19 years old. He saw limited action during his first two seasons, batting .143 in 30 games. He went from the Hyundai Unicorns to the Woori Heroes in 2008 and batted .271 with eight homers and 47 RBIs in 116 games. The next season he hit .286 with 23 homers, 81 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 133 games. Woori changed to the Nexen Heroes in 2010 and Kang batted .301 with 12 homers and 30 doubles in 133 games. He put up a .754 OPS during the 2011 season, before finally establishing himself as a star in 2012. That year he batted .314 with 32 doubles, 25 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He hit 22 homers and drove in 96 runs in 2013, then had his best season right before joining the Pirates. Kang hit .356 with 40 homers and 117 RBIs in 2014, finishing up with a 1.198 OPS. As a rookie in 2015, he hit .287 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs. A late season knee injury cost him the end of the 2015 season and the start of the next year. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. In 103 games in 2016, he hit .255 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs. Kang would miss the following year due to suspension for drunken driving, then he played winter ball in the Dominican, which did not go well. In 24 games, he batted .143 with one homer. He returned to the majors in 2018 at the end of the season for three games. He was scheduled to come back earlier, but a wrist injury and subsequent surgery limited him to just 16 minor league games as he prepared to return to the majors. Kang was with the Pirates for part of 2019 and hit ten homers in 65 games, but he had a .169 batting average and was released in early August. He was handed a one-year suspension by the KBO in 2020 for his prior DUI’s (he had three), but he will be eligible to return to the league in 2021. In his four seasons with the Pirates, he batted .254 with 46 homers and 144 RBIs.

Lastings Milledge, outfielder for the 2009-10 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the New York Mets in 2003, taken 12th overall out of Lakewood Ranch HS at 18 years old. He played just seven games during his draft year because he signed late. Milledge split his 2004 season between Low-A and High-A, hitting .315 in 87 games, with 28 doubles, 15 homers, 66 RBIs and 28 steals. He split the 2005 season between High-A and Double-A, doing well at both levels. He combined to hit .318 in 110 games, with 32 doubles, eight homers and 29 steals. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and hit .330 with 23 RBIs in 24 games. He split the 2006 season between Triple-A and the majors. He didn’t dominate Triple-A like he did the lower levels, but he still put up an .828 OPS in 84 games. With the Mets that season, Milledge batted .241 with four homers and one steal in 56 games. He was injured for half of the 2007 season, which limited him to 59 games with the Mets and 11 rehab games in the minors. He hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in his limited big league time. After the 2007 season ended, New York traded him to the Washington Nationals for two players, one of which was Ryan Church, who would end up on the Pirates with Milledge in 2010. In 2008, Milledge played his first full season in the majors, hitting .268 with 14 homers, 24 stolen bases and 65 runs scored in 138 games. He was sent to the minors early in the 2009 season after a poor start and then the Pirates acquired him, along with Joel Hanrahan, in exchange for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett on June 30, 2009. Milledge hit .291 with 20 RBIs in 58 games for the Pirates in 2009. In 2010, he played 113 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .277 with a .712 OPS and 34 RBIs. He was granted free agency after the season, then signed with the Chicago White Sox, where he played two games during the 2011 season, which ended up being his final big league games. He spent the rest of the season in Triple-A, where he hit .295 with 12 homers and 27 steals in 123 games. Milledge signed to play in Japan for the 2012 season and remained there for four seasons. He batted .300 with 21 homers in 2012, but his stats dropped during each of the following seasons. He played winter ball in Mexico in 2016 and then finished his pro career in independent ball in 2017 with Lancaster of the Atlantic League. In the majors he was a .269 hitter, with 33 homers, 167 RBIs and 40 steals in 433 games.

Rennie Stennett, second baseman for the 1971-79 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an international amateur free agent out of Panama at 17 years old in February of 1969, and it took just two seasons for him to have an impact in the majors at 20 years old. Stennett debuted in Low-A with Gastonia of the Western Carolinas League in 1969, where he hit .288 in 107 games, with a .709 OPS. He moved up to Salem of the Carolina League in 1970 and he hit .326, with 20 doubles, nine triples and five homers in 131 games. Stennett jumped over Double-A in 1971 and it proved to be a smart move. He tore up Triple-A, batting .344 with 30 extra-base hits in 80 games before joining the Pirates. After coming up in early July, he hit .353 in 50 games, including 33 starts at second base. The Pirates went on to win the World Series, but he didn’t play in any postseason games.  In 1972, Stennett saw time at shortstop, second base and all three outfield spots. He hit .286 in 109 games, though it came with a .683 OPS due to minimal power and a very low walk rate. The 1973 season saw Stennett mostly playing middle field, while seeing just five games in the outfield. He played 84 games at second base and 43 at shortstop. He struggled at the plate, hitting .242 with only 16 walks in 128 games, although he did connect for a career high ten homers.

Stennett had a strong season in 1974 as the Pirates everyday second baseman. He played 157 games, hitting .291 with 84 runs scored and 196 hits. In the playoffs however, he hit .063 in the four-game series against the Dodgers. The 1975 season was much like the prior year. He hit .286 with 62 RBIs and 89 runs scored, helping the Pirates to the playoffs again. This time against the Reds, he went 3-for-14 with three singles and no runs or RBIs. On September 16, 1975, the Pirates beat the Cubs 22-0 and Stennett went 7-for-7 at the plate with five runs scored, tying Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson’s record for seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1976, Stennett batted .257 with career highs of 31 doubles and nine triples. He also stole 18 bases in 24 attempts. However, his low walk rate led to a .277 OPS, which resulted in a .613 OPS for the season. In 1977, he finished second to teammate Dave Parker in the National League batting race, hitting .336, while also adding 28 stolen bases. It was the only full season of his career that he batted over .300. Unfortunately for Stennett, he suffered a major leg/ankle injury on a slide in late August and it affected him for the rest of his career. In each of his four big league seasons following the injury, he failed to reach a .250 batting average.

In 1978, he batted .243 in 106 games and his .584 OPS was the lowest of his career up to that point. He failed to reach a .600 OPS in any of his final four seasons. The Pirates won the World Series in 1979 and Stennett saw semi-regular action, playing 108 games, which included 84 starts at second base. He batted .238/.289/.292 in 348 plate appearances. He played just two postseason games and singled in his only at-bat. Following the 1979 World Series, Stennett became a free agent and signed with the San Francisco Giants, where he finished his big league career two seasons later. He saw regular starts at second base in 1980, posting a .588 OPS, but he played just 38 games during the strike-shortened 1981 season. While with the Pirates, he .278 with 458 runs scored and 1,122 hits in 1,079 games. In 1974 and 1976, he led all NL second baseman in putouts. He received MVP votes during the 1974 and 1977 seasons. Stennett played over 100 games in eight straight seasons with the Pirates. He remained in pro ball through the end of 1983, spending the 1982 season in Mexico, before finishing up in Triple-A for the Montreal Expos the next year.

Wid Conroy, shortstop for the 1902 Pirates. He played five seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut with the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers (current day Orioles). He hit .264 with 64 RBIs, 74 runs scored and 21 stolen bases in 131 games. Conroy jumped his contract at the end of the season to sign with the Pirates for 1902. Playing shortstop before it became Honus Wagner full-time position, Conroy hit .244 with 47 RBIs and 55 runs scored in 99 games, helping the Pirates to their best winning percentage ever (.741). He played strong defense, finishing third in fielding percentage among National League shortstops. His 1.6 defensive WAR ranks as the fourth best mark in the National League (for all positions) that season. During a game on June 23rd, Conroy got into a fight with Hall of Famer Joe Tinker from the Chicago Cubs, which resulted in a 20-game suspension for the Pirates shortstop. It reportedly started because Conroy held Tinker’s jersey while he was at second base, which didn’t allow him to advance on the bases. When they later met at second base again in that game, they started throwing punches. As soon as the season ended, he jumped from the Pirates back to the American League to join the New York Highlanders. There were reports in season that he took advanced money to sign a 1903 contract while still playing for the Pirates, then tried to get out of it in October. Catcher Harry Smith and 3B/CF Tommy Leach was also involved in the same package deal, but only Conroy ended up going to the AL in 1903. Conroy actually took advanced money from the Pirates as well and was forced to return it before he could suit up for the Highlanders. He batted .272 that first season with New York, setting/tying career highs with 23 doubles, 12 triples and 74 runs scored. He played another eight seasons in the majors, finishing with a .248 average, 605 runs scored and 262 stolen bases in 1,374 games. He saw starts at every position except catcher and pitcher during his career, with a majority of his work coming at third base. He was a fairly consistent hitter over his career, never hitting below .232 or above .273 in his 11 seasons, with most of his years hovering around that .248 career average. After his big league career ended, he played another six seasons in the minors, retiring at age 40 after the 1917 season. His last five years were spent as a player/manager, including four seasons with Elmira of the New York State League. His pro stats are missing a few of the earlier stats, but Conroy played over 2,300 games in pro ball and had over 2,100 hits. His actual first name was William. The “Wid” nickname was apparently short for Widow, which he earned at a young age before his pro days. According to his SABR bio, he had what was described as a motherly interest in the younger kids in his neighborhood.

Chuck Lauer, outfielder/catcher for the Alleghenys in 1884 and 1889. A local kid from Pittsburgh, he opened up his pro career in 1883 playing for a minor league team called the Pittsburgh Liberty Stars, from the Western Interstate League. Lauer started playing for the Alleghenys during July of 1884 as an outfielder at 19 years old. He was released on August 7th, but ended up returning to the team at the end of the season. With his team near the bottom of the American Association standings, Lauer took the mound three times in early October and allowed 25 runs in 19 innings, picking up two losses and a tie. He hit just .114 in 13 games, going 5-for-44 with five singles that season. Five years later he reappeared in the majors with the Alleghenys and lasted just four games this time. He hit .188 with five strikeouts and five errors in his three games behind the plate. On May 7th, the Alleghenys’ owner/president William Nimick denied rumors that Lauer would be released soon, saying that he had potential as a catcher and his low salary (along with the low salaries of Jocko Fields and William Garfield) made it possible to carry extra players. At the time, “extra” meant that they had 16 active players. Lauer’s salary for 1889 was said to be $1,700 and it included a large amount of advanced salary when he signed with the team on October 31, 1888. The Alleghenys signed him based on strong reports from the Tri-State League, which included his ability to throw out runners. However, Pittsburgh only signed him after they couldn’t secure a deal with veteran catcher Charles Ganzel. Despite playing only four games, he remained with the team until being unconditionally released on August 17th. His only other experience in the majors was with the 1890 Chicago Colts (Cubs) and even then he lasted only two games. Cap Anson came to Pittsburgh to sign Lauer on December 3, 1889, going down to his job at the stockyards in East Liberty to find him. Lauer played pro ball until 1892, playing for ten different teams (minors and majors) over his nine seasons. He played two years for the Zanesville Kickapoos (1887-88) and two years for the Evansville Hoosiers (1890-91), but neither team was in the same league both years. He went out west to finish his career, playing for teams in Montana and Washington during his final season.

Editor’s Note: Bill Gray, a third baseman from the 1898 team, had an April 5th birthday until recent research corrected that to April 15th. He will be covered that day.