This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 5th, Jose Pagan and a Trade with the Cardinals

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Players

Tommy Helms, infielder for the 1976-77 Pirates. He already had 12 seasons in at the Major League level before joining the Pirates for the 1976 season. Helms was the 1966 NL Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner during his career, but he was near the end when joining the Pirates. He was originally signed at 18 years old in 1959 by the Cincinnati Reds. He played his first two years with Palatka of the Florida State League, a Class-D level at the time. He did much better the second year, hitting .292 in 137 games, with a .715 OPS. He moved up two levels to Topeka of the Three-I League in 1961, where he hit .277 with 86 runs scored and 57 RBIs in 121 games. Helms moved up to Macon of the South Atlantic League in 1962, hitting .340 with 38 doubles and seven triples in 139 games that season. He was up in Triple-A in 1963, but really struggled with the jump, batting just .225 for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League. He repeated the level in 1964 and turned things around, hitting .309 with 41 extra-base hits in 142 games. That was followed by a cup of coffee in the majors, getting one at-bat in two games. He had a brief early season stint with the Reds in 1965, then returned in late August after putting up a .319 average in San Diego. Helms hit .381 in 21 games with the Reds, which earned him a spot for 1966 and beyond. As mentioned, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1966. He did it by hitting .284 with 72 runs scored in 138 games, while playing slightly above average defense at third base.

Helms was an All-Star in 1967 when he hit .274 with  27 doubles in 138 games, while splitting his time between shortstop and second base. He made the All-Star team again in 1968 as the regular second baseman for the Reds. He hit .288 in 127 games. Helms was great at putting the ball in play, which led to low walk and strikeout totals every season in his career. He didn’t hit the ball hard though, so his average/OBP suffered over the next few years. He hit .269 in 1969, with 20 extra-base hits and 18 walks. He batted just .237 in 150 games in 1970, with 22 extra-base hits and 21 walks. However, his defense was strong that season, with a league best .983 fielding percentage, leading to a Gold Glove at second base. It was even better in 1971 when he put up 2.4 dWAR, which was the third best mark for all fielders in the NL. He was his second straight Gold Glove award and posted a league best .990 fielding percentage. After the season, Helms was part of a seven-player trade with the Houston Astros that included Hall of Famer Joe Morgan coming to the Reds. In his first season with Houston, Helms hit .259 with 30 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs, which was a career high that lasted one season. In 1973, he hit .287 and drove in 61 runs, while also setting a high with 28 doubles. His last big season in the majors was 1974 when he batted .279 with five homers and 50 RBIs in 137 games. Helms saw his average drop to .207 in 64 games, along with two doubles and ten walks, leading to a .488 OPS.

Pittsburgh acquired him from the Houston Astros for a player to be named later in December of 1975. That player turned out to be Art Howe. In 1976, Helms was used as a pinch-hitter and the backup at both second base and third base. He hit .276 with 13 RBIs in 102 plate appearances. The Pirates sold him to the Oakland A’s on November 5, 1976, only to reacquire him on March 15, 1977 before he played with his new team. He was with the Pirates through the middle of June in 1977 and was used strictly as a pinch-hitter, getting 14 plate appearances, going 0-for-12 with two sacrifice hits. He was released by Pittsburgh on June 14th and signed quickly with the Boston Red Sox, where he hit .271 in 21 games. Helms went to Spring Training with Boston in 1978, but was released in late March, ending his career. He played 1,435 big league games over 14 seasons, hitting .269 with 34 homers, 477 RBIs and 414 runs scored. He became a coach after his playing career was over and even had two managerial stints with the Cincinnati Reds during the 1988-89 seasons. He also managed two years (2000-01) of independent ball. His nephew Wes Helms played 13 seasons in the National League between 1998 and 2011.

Jose Pagan, third baseman for the Pirates from 1965 until 1972. He signed with the New York Giants as 20 years old in 1955 out of Puerto Rico. Pagan debuted in the Cotton States League that year, a Class-C level league, where he hit .273 in 97 games. He moved up to Class-B Danville of the Carolina League in 1956. He hit .283 with 44 extra-base hits and 92 runs scored in 147 games that season. Pagan spent the next two seasons playing for Springfield of the Eastern League. After batting .264 his first season, he improved to a .298 average and a .738 OPS in 1958. He scored 68 runs and had 77 RBIs. He moved up to Triple-A Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League in 1959, where he hit .312 with 29 doubles and 19 homers in 105 games, which earned him an August call-up to the majors. He struggled with the Giants over the final two months, batting .174 in 31 games, with just one extra-base hit (a double) and two walks, leading to a .404 OPS. He spent most of 1960 back in Triple-A, but did much better during his shot in the majors. In 18 games with the Giants, he hit .286 with two doubles and two triples. Pagan spent the entire 1961 season in the majors and batted .253 in 134 games, putting up a .638 OPS. The Giants went to the World Series in 1962 and he batted .259 in 164 games. That game total is the second highest all-time (tied with five players), but it didn’t even lead the league because that’s the year Maury Wills set the record with 165 games played. Teams used to replay ties and both games counted in the stats, so it was possible to play more than 162 games. In the World Series that year, Pagan hit .368 in seven games, with a homer, two runs scored and two RBIs. He led all National League shortstops with a .973 fielding percentage and had a 1.6 WAR on defense in 1962. That was easily a career best, and the rest of his career shows a combined -0.7 dWAR.

In 1963, Pagan batted .234 in 148 games, with 19 extra-base hits and a .577 OPS. It was a drop in performance, but things got worse in 1964. That year he hit .223 with 12 extra-base hits in 134 games, leading to a .553 OPS. Pagan got off to a slow start in 1965, hitting .205 in 26 games with the Giants. On May 22nd, the Pirates acquired him in a one-for-one deal with the Giants in exchange for veteran infielder Dick Schofield. With the Giants, Pagan was a .242 hitter in 655 games, spending most of his playing time at shortstop. He didn’t see much playing time his first year in Pittsburgh, getting only 41 plate appearances in 42 games to finish out the 1965 season. His playing time increased greatly his first full year with the team, playing 109 games, with most of his time spent at third base. He hit .264 with 54 RBIs and 44 runs scored that season. His runs, RBIs and games played were all season highs during his eight years with the Pirates.

In 1967, Pagan started 15+ games at third base, shortstop and left field. Before 1967, he had made just five starts in the outfield during his career. He ended up hitting a career high .289 that season, albeit in just 211 at-bats. After hitting .221 and seeing limited time in 1968, Pagan bounced back with a strong season in the utility role the next year. He hit .285 with 42 RBIs and a career high nine homers. He hit .265 in 95 games, mostly at third base in 1970, helping the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1960. The Pirates would win it all in 1971, and while Pagan saw limited time during the regular season (158 at-bats), and then just one at-bat during the NLCS, he got four starts during the World Series, playing in all of the odd numbered games. That included a game seven start in which he drove in what ended up being the game/series winning run. Pagan played one more season in Pittsburgh, hitting .252 with three homers in 53 games, before being released in October of 1972. He played one final season for the Philadelphia Phillies before his playing career ended. The Pirates appeared to cut ties with him at the right time, as he had a .482 OPS in 46 games during that final season. While with the Pirates, he hit .263 in 625 games with 189 RBIs and 168 runs scored. In his 15-year career, Pagan played a total of 1,326 games, hitting .250 with 52 homers, 372 RBIs and 387 runs scored.

Gene Curtis, left fielder for the 1903 Pirates. The 1903 Pirates clinched their third straight National League pennant on September 19th, which was then followed by an off-day. With just six games left before the first World Series was to take place, the Pirates rested some regulars. One of those regulars rested was left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, who injured his leg late in the year. Gene Curtis was a 20-year-old recruit up from the minors, playing his first season of pro ball. He went into left field for Clarke and played the last five games of the season. He batted .421 in 19 at-bats, with two runs scored and three RBIs. When the season ended, so did his Major League career. Curtis played six more years in the minors, then managed for two seasons without ever getting another big league call. His last two seasons were spent in the Class-C Ohio-Pennsylvania League, where he batted .303 in 120 games in 1909, then hit .313 in 118 games in 1910.

The local paper was impressed with his play on the first day with the Pirates, although they said he has “some superfluous flesh” which was a nice way of saying he needed to lose some weight. That first game he went 2-for-2 with a walk, batting sixth in a lineup that was also missing Honus Wagner, who was out with a badly hurt thumb. The Pittsburgh Press had a quote that said he was the Hans (Honus) Wagner of the Central League in 1903.  Curtis hit .315 in 98 games for Wheeling that season, one of three teams he played with during the year (the other two were in the Western League). The local Wheeling papers noted on September 16th that the team had at least four offers for Curtis. Two days later, the Pittsburgh Press said that Curtis had been drafted by Boston (NL) and he would be playing for them. Two days later, Curtis was with Wheeling still when they played a Sunday exhibition game against the Pirates, one in which he collected three hits off of veteran pitcher Brickyard Kennedy, though the papers said that Barney Dreyfuss completed his signing before the game, so his performance didn’t help his cause. The headlines the next day said that “Clarke Signs Curtis”, noting that Pittsburgh paid a heavy fee to sign him. He left with the Pirates, as they returned home for the final six games of the season.

After the season, the papers said that it was unlikely that Curtis would return to Pittsburgh in 1904, with one paper saying that his poor defense in the outfield was the reason he won’t stick. In mid-February it was announced that he signed back with Wheeling for 1904, although he was coaching with Bethany College in the spring first before joining his new team. They also mentioned that he lost nearly 30 pounds, so his conditioning was much better. The Pirates apparently tried to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies, who declined, then tried to sell him to Indianapolis of the American Association, only to have Wheeling block the move.

The Trade

On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded pitcher Max Surkont to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luis Arroyo. The Pirates had acquired Surkont two years earlier in a six-for-one deal with the Milwaukee Braves in which they gave up young second baseman Danny O’Connell. He went 16-32, 4.92 in 69 games, 51 as a starter while with the Pirates, playing for some really bad teams. Arroyo was 11-8, 4.19 in 159 innings in 1955 for the Cardinals as a 28-year-old rookie. He also made the All-Star team that season.

After the trade, the Pirates got two mediocre seasons out of Arroyo, using him mostly in relief. He pitched a total of 159.1 innings between 1956-57, going 6-14, 4.69, with 11 of those losses coming in 1957 when he had an 0-6 record as a starter. Arroyo spent all of 1958 in the minors before the Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds that December. He ended up pitching against the Pirates, while with the New York Yankees, during the 1960 World Series.

Surkont didn’t last long in St Louis. He pitched poorly in five relief outings before being sold to the Boston Red Sox less than a month after the Pirates trade. Before the end of the year, he would be sold again, this time to the New York Giants. He pitched briefly for NY in 1957 and made a total of just 18 Major League appearances after leaving Pittsburgh.