This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 8th, DiMaggio-for-Rizzo Deal

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one major trade from 1940.

The Trade

On this date in 1940, the Pirates traded left fielder Johnny Rizzo to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for outfielder Vince DiMaggio. The headlines of the Pittsburgh Press that day declared “Straight swap of players brings strikeout king of majors here.” DiMaggio was the brother of Joe and Dom, who were star players of their time, but Vince was a fine ballplayer as well. He was a defensive wizard with a strong arm, which is why the Pirates acquired him. He played two years with the Boston Braves, leading the league in strikeouts each season, before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1939. They sent him to the minors until a trade in August brought the 26-year-old back to the National League with the Cincinnati Reds. He hit just .111 in ten games with Cincinnati, split between the end of 1939 and the beginning of the 1940 season. Rizzo, as a 25-year-old rookie in 1938 hit .301 with 111 RBIs, while setting the Pirates single season home run mark with 23 round trippers. His numbers took a huge dip in 1939, and he started off the 1940 season slow, hitting .179 in nine games.

After the trade, Rizzo lasted just over a month with the Reds before they dealt him to the Philadelphia Phillies. In Philadelphia he hit twenty homers in 103 games, but that was followed by two down years, three years serving in the military during WWII, and then four seasons in the minors when he returned. DiMaggio became an All-Star player for the Pirates, spending five seasons in Pittsburgh and making two All-Star teams. The strikeouts were still there (three times he led the National League), but he played strong defense in center field and he hit 79 homers in 670 games. He also drove in 100 runs during the 1941 season. Right before the 1945 season started, he was traded to the Phillies for pitcher Al Gerheauser. DiMaggio put up 11.2 WAR in his five seasons in Pittsburgh.

The Players

Jason Davis, pitcher for the 2008 Pirates. He was a 21st round pick of the Cleveland Indians out of Cleveland State CC (which is in Tennessee) in the 1999 draft. That’s a school that has produced four Major League players through the draft, but also three (out of three) first round picks who didn’t make the majors. Davis was a draft-and-follow player back when teams had longer to sign draft picks. He didn’t sign with the Indians until May 18, 2000. He did not get off to a great start in pro ball, putting up a 4.40 ERA over 45 innings in the low-level Appalachian League. That quickly changed the next year in Low-A, where he had a 14-6, 2.70 record in 160 innings over 27 starts. Davis had an odd 2002 season, where his results got better as he moved up. He had a 4.15 ERA in 17 starts at High-A, a 3.51 ERA in ten starts at Double-A, then a 1.84 ERA as a September call-up to Cleveland. Davis spent all or part of six seasons in the big leagues with the Indians before they traded him in May of 2007 to the Seattle Mariners. His only full season in the majors was 2003, when he went 8-11, 4.68 in 165.1 innings over 27 starts. He made nine starts in Triple-A in 2004, and he went 2-7, 5.51 in 114.1 innings over 19 starts and seven relief appearances with the Indians.

Davis spent more than half of the 2005 season in Triple-A, where he made 16 starts. With Cleveland, he went 4-2, 4.69 in 40.1 innings, making four starts and seven relief appearances. The next year he switched to full-time relief and dominated in Triple-A, allowing one earned run in 16.2 innings. In the majors over 39 appearances and 55.1 innings, Davis posted a 3.74 ERA. He allowed six runs over 11.1 innings in 2007 before his trade to the Mariners. After the deal, he had 6.31 ERA in 16 relief appearances and he also made five starts in Triple-A. Davis became a free agent following the 2007 season and he signed with the Texas Rangers, who ended up releasing him at the end of Spring Training. He signed with the Pirates the next day and began the year in the minors. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he had a big league record of 20-22 with a 4.78 ERA in 130 games, 52 were as a starter. Davis joined the Pirates in late July as a reliever. He eventually got four starts among his 14 total appearances. He went 2-4, 5.29 in 34 innings. The Pirates re-signed him to a minor league contract and he pitched in Triple-A during the 2009 season, where he went 0-8, 6.06 in a swingman role, making seven starts and 28 relief appearances. He was released following the season, ending his playing career at 29 years old.

Orestes Destrade, first baseman for the 1988 Pirates. He originally signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1981. It took until 1987 before he made his MLB debut and he was blocked at first base during that time by All-Star Don Mattingly. Destrade had a good walk rate and showed power in the minors, hitting 122 homers before reaching the big leagues. Born in Cuba, he was actually a 23rd round pick of the California Angels in 1980, but did not sign. He inked a free agent deal with the Yankees 11 months later and started his career in the Appalachian League, where he hit .274 with 14 homers and 48 walks in 63 games. He struggled the next year while splitting his season between Low-A and the New York-Penn League, combining to hit .212 with five homers in 107 games. Destrade moved up to High-A in 1983 and batted .292 with 18 homers and 82 walks. He split the 1984 season between High-A (95 games) and Double-A (35 games), hitting a combined .226 with 79 walks and 18 homers. Destrade spent 1985 in Double-A, where he had 24 doubles, 23 homers and 86 walks, to go along with a .253 average. The 1986 season was spent in Triple-A, where he .276 in 98 games, with 44 extra-base hits and 40 walks.

In 1987, Destrade had 54 extra-base hits, 79 walks and a .256 average in Triple-A, then he hit .263 in nine September games for the Yankees. The Pirates were able to acquire him at the end of Spring Training in 1988 in exchange for pitcher Hipolito Pena. He began the season in Triple-A, hitting .271 with 12 homers through 77 games when the Pirates called him up to the majors. He was used mostly in a pinch-hitting role, batting .149 in 36 games. After getting off to a poor start in Triple-A in 1989, the Pirates sold him to Japan. He had instant success in Japan, showing more power, to go along with the high walk totals. Destrade had a 1.006 OPS in 83 games in 1989, then racked up 42 homers and 106 RBIs the next season. Over the next two seasons combined, he hit 80 homers and walked 195 times over 258 games. After four seasons overseas, he returned as the starting first baseman for the 1993 Florida Marlins in their first year of existence. He hit .255 with twenty homers and 87 RBIs in 153 games that year. It ended up being his only big league success. Destrade played for the Marlins in 1994 and hit just .208 in 39 games, then finished his career in Japan in 1995, where he hit .245 with six homers. In his 15-year pro career, he hit a total of 321 homers and drove in 996 runs.

Bill Powell, pitcher for the 1909-10 Pirates. After going 20-8 in 1908 for the Springfield Ponies of the Connecticut State League, Powell joined the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1909 season. He was taken in the Rule 5 draft and the Pirates hoped to get him in September of 1908, but Springfield wouldn’t let him go early because they were fighting for the pennant at the time. For a time it was suggested that he may end up playing first base for the 1909 Pirates because he had success with the position in the minors, especially on the defensive side. At 6’2″, he was a big target at first base for the day. Powell had the nickname “Big Bill”, which is a bit ironic because the man who played first base full-time for the 1909 Pirates was Bill Abstein, who also had the nickname “Big Bill”. Powell was with the Pirates during the 1909 World Series but never got into a game. In fact, he pitched just three games all year and one was as the starter in game three of the regular season. Powell was very wild during that first game, taking the loss to the Cincinnati Reds by giving up three hits in five innings, with five walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch. In an outing nearly a month later it was said that he had nothing on the mound. He walked a batter in relief, forcing home a run before serving up a pitch that was hit hard, but right at a fielder. Powell must’ve shown great improvements during the next season because he made nine starts and three relief appearances before he was sold to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association on July 26th. It was said at the time that he was very inconsistent on the mound, and wasn’t noted for the effort he put forth, but more for his carelessness in the way he played. The paper also noted “his disposition was always against him.” Powell ended up pitching two more games in the majors, one for the 1912 Chicago Cubs and one for the 1913 Reds. He had success with Kansas City in the minors, going 19-12 in 249 innings in 1911, followed by 27-12 record in 340.1 innings in 1912. His pro career began in 1905 with Homestead of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. He spent 1906 in East Liverpool, Ohio, which is where he ended up living after his playing days. Powell played for two different teams in the Western Pennsylvania League in 1907 before his breakout season in 1908 with Springfield. Powell was said to be a star basketball player during his time with the Pirates. Prior to the 1909 off-season, basketball teams in the Central League were bidding for his services, and he was called the best player in the league.

Eddie Boyle, catcher for the 1896 Pirates. He last caught for the Pirates on September 16, 1896 during the first game of a doubleheader. Connie Mack was the manager and he replaced starting catcher Bill Merritt with Boyle late in a blowout loss. The amazing part about that game was the fact that Mack pinch-hit for Boyle in the ninth inning of an 11-0 loss. It was not only his last game for the Pirates, it was his last Major League game. It was noted years later that he couldn’t play anymore in 1896 due to an ankle injury. He played in the minors during 1897 with Minneapolis of the Western League, but there is no record of him playing after that season. He was taken by the Pirates after the 1897 season in the Rule 5 draft, but refused to sign for 1898, forcing him to sit out the entire year. He decided to return with the Pirates in 1899 and actually made the Opening Day roster, but never got into a game. He was released on May 12th, after sitting for 21 games. Platoon catchers Frank Bowerman and Pop Shriver were both doing so well that the Pirates decided that they didn’t need a third catcher, so they released Boyle.

Boyle, who was 22 years old when he first joined the Pirates, had two years of minor league experience before making his big league debut. He played for two teams during the 1894 season, seeing most of his time with Atlanta of the Southern Association, where he batted .249 in 57 games. He also hit .304 in 15 games with Sioux City of the Western League. He spent the 1895 season back in the Western League, this time with St Paul, where he hit .283 with 20 extra-base hits and 60 runs scored in 84 games. Boyle began the 1896 season with the Louisville Colonels, getting into three games before he was traded to the Pirates on May 1st, along with Joe Wright (the guy who pinch-hit for him in his final game) in exchange for infielder Billy Clingman. Boyle went to the Eastern League for the majority of the year, returning to the Pirates in September. In his first game, he batted ninth and failed to get a hit, but he did throw out the legendary Cap Anson, who tested his arm early. In Boyle’s five game Major League career, he went 0-for-14 at the plate, reaching base twice via walks. His brother Jack Boyle was a catcher in the majors for thirteen seasons. Eddie Boyle was very big for the era, standing in at 6’3″, 200 pounds. His brother was actually an inch taller, making him one of the tallest players/catchers of the 19th century.