This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 9th, Blyleven/Sanguillen Trade and Joe Kelley

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Famer, plus one trade of note that included another Hall of Famer.

The Trade

On this date in 1980 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Gary Alexander and pitchers Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez. By the time the 1982 season started, Blyleven was the only player still with his new team. Sanguillen was released before the 1981 season started, while the Pirates got very little from any of the players they received in return. Blyleven requested a trade during the 1980 season and was disgruntled with his handling in Pittsburgh, so the trade was thought to be more of an addition by subtraction. He pitched just as well in Cleveland as he did in Pittsburgh, going 48-37, 3.23 in five seasons, though elbow surgery limited him to four starts in 1982. The Pirates received 44 games total from their four new players, which includes 22 games and 34 innings from Cruz, 21 games from Alexander and one relief appearance from Owchinko, though that came in 1983 after he returned as a free agent. In 1981 he was traded for pitcher Ernie Camacho, who lasted 21.2 innings for the Pirates before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in a deal that did not go well. Vasquez never made the majors. Cruz was traded for Nelson Norman in 1982. Norman, who played just four games with the Pirates, was part of the trade that brought Blyleven to Pittsburgh in 1977.

The Players

Geoff Hartlieb, pitcher for the 2019-21 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 37th round in 2015 out of Lindenwood University. He decided to return to school and moved up to the 29th round in 2016, getting selected by the Pirates that year. Hartlieb went to Bristol of the short-season Appalachian League during the 2016 season and had a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings over 16 relief appearances, with 28 strikeouts. He moved up to West Virginia of the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2017 and had an 0.83 ERA in 32.2 innings before moving up to Bradenton of the High-A Florida State League to finish the season. He had a 3.48 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 31 innings with Bradenton. In 2018, Hartlieb moved up to Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League, where he went 8-2, 3.24 in 58.1 innings over 47 games, with ten saves and 56 strikeouts. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and struggled, allowing 12 runs in 13.2 innings, while posting a 2.27 WHIP. Hartlieb went to Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League in 2019 and had a 2.50 ERA in 39.2 innings. He spent the rest of the season with the Pirates, where he posted a 9.00 ERA in 35 innings, with 38 strikeouts. He struggled during the shortened 2020 season, despite a solid ERA. In 22.1 innings over 21 games, he had a 3.63 ERA, with 19 walks and 19 strikeouts. Hartlieb pitched well in Indianapolis in 2021, but struggled in his brief time with the Pirates before he was put on waivers in July, where he was picked up by the Mets. After three big league appearances over two months, the Mets placed him on waivers and he finished the season in the minors with the Boston Red Sox. He allowed 11 runs and 11 walks in nine innings total in 2021. With the Pirates, Hartlieb went 1-1, 6.97 in 62 innings over 54 games.

Todd Van Poppel, pitcher for the 1998 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick out of high school in 1990, taken 14th overall by the Oakland A’s, and he was in the majors by the next season for one September start. He debuted in the short-season Northwest League and had a 1.13 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 24 innings. He made three starts in Low-A to finish the season. He was rated as the top prospect in all of baseball after the season. In 1991, Van Poppel spent the entire season with Double-A Huntstville of the Southern League, where he went 6-13, 3.47 in 132.1 innings over 24 starts, with 115 strikeouts and 90 walks. In September, he made one start with the A’s and allowed five runs in 4.2 innings. He rated as the second best prospect going into the 1992 season, which he spent at Triple-A Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, though he was limited to nine starts due to a shoulder injury that left him weak arm strength. He returned healthy in 1993 and made 16 starts for the A’s, posting a 5.04 ERA in 84 innings. He had a 5.83 ERA in 16 starts with Tacoma that season as well. The A’s gave him 23 starts during the strike-shortened 1994 season, despite a 6.09 ERA in 116.2 innings. In 1995, Van Poppel switched between starting and relief, going 4-8, 4.88 in 138.1 innings over 14 starts and 18 relief appearances. He set a career high with 122 strikeouts that season.

Van Poppel started the 1996 season with the A’s, but he was lost on waivers to the Detroit Tigers in August. He had a very rough season, yet still got a lot of work, pitching 99.1 innings, while giving up 100 earned runs. He had a 3-9, 9.06 record in 15 starts and 22 relief appearances. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Anaheim Angels, who released him in late March. Van Poppel then signed with the Kansas City Royals, who released him in June. He finished the season with the Texas Rangers, but the entire season was spent in the minors. He came to the Pirates in July of 1998 from the Rangers, along with Warren Morris, in exchange for Esteban Loaiza. Prior to the trade, Van Poppel had an 8.84 ERA in four starts with the Rangers. He went 1-2, 5.36 in seven starts and 11 relief appearances for the Pirates that season. He re-signed with the Pirates as a free agent for 1999, but spent the entire season as a starter in Triple-A for Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, and then left via free agency in October. His best seasons in the majors came right after he left the Pirates. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and pitched mainly in relief in the majors for two seasons after spending just over a month in Triple-A to begin the 2000 season. He had a 3.18 ERA in 161.1 innings over 110 appearances with Chicago.

Van Poppel returned to Texas for the 2002 season and had 50 relief appearances, going 3-2, 5.45 in 72.2 innings. The 2003 season saw him playing in Triple-A and the majors for both the Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds. His big league time that year amounted to a 5.59 ERA in 48.1 innings. His final season of pro ball was 2004 and he spent the entire year with the Reds. Van Poppel went 4-6, 6.09 in 115.1 innings over 11 starts and 37 relief appearances. He signed with the New York Mets in February of 2005, but he decided to retire during Spring Training. He finished his 11-year big league career with a 40-52, 5.58 record in 907 innings over 98 starts and 261 relief appearances.

Doc Medich, pitcher for the 1976 Pirates. Medich was drafted in the 30th round by the New York Yankees in 1970 out of the University of Pittsburgh. The Yankees got really aggressive with him in his first season. He did great in four starts with short-season Oneonta of the New York-Penn League, going 3-1, 1.45 with 32 strikeouts in 31 innings. However, he was pushed three levels higher to Manchester of the Double-A Eastern League, where he went 0-5, 4.93 in eight starts, with 18 strikeouts in 42 innings. In 1971, Medich dropped down a level and had a 7-4, 2.43 record in 74 innings, with 72 strikeouts, for Kinston of the Carolina League. In 1972, he was back in the Eastern League, making 17 starts for West Haven, where he went 11-3, 1.44 in 119 innings over 17 starts. He debuted in the majors for one late-season game in 1972, then became a regular in the rotation the next season. His one start went poorly, with all four batters he faced reaching base, before he was removed. For the 1973 Yankees, Medich had a 14-9, 2.95 record in 235 innings, with 32 starts, 11 complete games and three shutouts. In 1974, he went 19-15, 3.60 in 279.2 innings, with a career high 154 strikeouts. He made 38 starts, had 17 complete games, and four shutouts. During the 1975, he posted a 16-16, 3.50 record in 272.1 innings, with 37 starts, 15 complete games and two shutouts.

The Pirates were looking to add a big name to the top of their rotation after the 1975 season and the Yankees had a high price for Medich. The Pirates traded three players to land him on December 11, 1975. He won a total of 49 games during the 1973-75 seasons, and he was 27 years old at the time, so he seemed like a good target. At the time of the deal, Pirates GM Joe Brown noted that he paid a high price and that turned out to be true. The Pirates gave up veteran pitchers Ken Brett and Dock Ellis who both had better 1976 seasons than Medich. To make matters worse, young second baseman Willie Randolph was added to the deal, despite the Pirates getting calls from a lot of teams trying to pursue him. Randolph compiled 65.9 WAR in his career, making the trade a disastrous one-sided loss for the Pirates. While I believe the Kiki Cuyler trade is the worst in Pirates history when all things are considered, you can make a great case for this trade being the worst. The Yankees not only got the three best players, but they signed free agent pitcher Ed Figueroa, who won 19 games for them in 1976, so they had their replacement for Medich before the deal.

In his one season in Pittsburgh, Medich went 8-11, 3.52 in 26 starts and three relief appearances. He pitched nearly 100 fewer innings than he did the prior season (179.1 in 1976), and he finished 3-0 in his last eight games to get his record to that 8-11 mark. From June 17 to August 14 he went 0-6 in eight starts. Just prior to the 1977 season, the Pirates traded him away in a nine-player deal to the Oakland A’s, with six players going the other way, including Tony Armas and Dave Giusti, while the Pirates got Phil Garner in return. Medich didn’t finish 1977 with the A’s. He also spent time with the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners that year. He combined to go 12-7, 4.53 in 177 innings, so the best thing you can say about his time in Pittsburgh is that they moved on from him at the right time. That down season was followed by five years with the Texas Rangers, signing as a free agent on November 11, 1977.

In 1978, Medich went 9-8, 3.74 in 171 innings. He followed that up with a 10-7, 4.17 record in 1979, with 19 starts and ten relief appearances, throwing a total of 149 innings. In 1980, he compiled a 14-11, 3.92 record in 204.1 innings. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Medich was having his best season in quite some time. He finished 10-6, 3.08 in 143.1 innings over 20 starts. He threw four complete games that year and they were all shutouts, which led the league in the latter category. The results went downhill quickly from there. He went 7-11, 5.06 in 21 starts for the Rangers in 1982. He finished the final two months of the 1982 season with the Milwaukee Brewers and had a 5.00 ERA in ten starts. He retired after the season and continued his medical career, which he started while in the majors. He acquired the nickname “Doc” while still in medical school. His actual first name was George. In 11 big league seasons, he went 124-105, 3.78 in 1,996.2 innings. He made 287 starts, threw 71 complete games, and he tossed 16 shutouts.

Henry Camelli, catcher for the Pirates from 1943 until 1946. He had a minor league career that stretched from 1935 until 1951. In between he spent parts of five years in the majors, four with the Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 20 years old with Abbeville of the Class-D Evangeline, where he hit .288 in 106 games, with 23 doubles. He moved up to the Class-C East Texas League in 1936 and played 106 games again, this time hitting .281 with 29 extra-base hits. The 1937 season was split between two Class-B teams. He had a .337 average in 34 games for Portsmouth of the Piedmont League, and a .242 average in 62 games for Selma of the Southeastern League. He combined for 23 extra-base hits. In 1938, Camelli spent most of the year with Williamsport of the Class-A Eastern League. He also played ten games for Minneapolis of the American Association (Double-A). He combined to hit .282 with 27 extra-base hits in 103 games. In 1939, he spent the season with Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association, where he hit .272 with 22 extra-base hits in 73 games. Camelli took a step back for most of the 1940 season, playing for Saginaw of the Class-C Michigan State League. As you would expect, he had success with the major drop in competition, hitting .345 with 14 doubles and 13 homers in 63 games. He also saw time back with Williamsport, where he batted .203 in 26 games.

Camelli joined Albany of the Class-A Eastern League in 1941. They were an affiliate of the Pirates at the time, though his contract belonged to Albany at the time, after they purchased him from Williamsport. He hit .227 with 17 extra-base hits in 113 games in 1941. In 1942, he batted .253 in 96 games, looking like the ultimate singles hitter with six doubles and no triples/homers all season. During the 1943 season, he hit .282 with 14 doubles, eight triples and 47 RBIs in 96 games for Albany, his third straight year playing for the team and his ninth year of minor league ball. He was purchased from Albany on August 31st and joined the Pirates on September 17th, but didn’t get into a game until 16 days later. Camelli’s debut in the majors was as the starting catcher, batting eighth, in the final game of the 1943 season. He spent all of 1944 in the majors, hitting .296 in 63 games (39 starts), with .761 OPS. After having a solid 1944 season as a platoon player with the Pirates, Camelli spent most of 1945 in the Army. He had a factory job early in the year and joined the Pirates late in spring, but by early May he was in the service until October. He played just one big league game. He split the 1946 season between the Pirates and Toronto of the International League, spending all of July and August in the minors. He hit .208 in 42 games with the Pirates that year.

With Pittsburgh, he played a total of 107 games (66 starts), hitting .252 with 23 runs scored and 15 RBIs in 226 at-bats. At the end of the 1946 season, Camelli was part of a six-player deal that brought HOF second baseman Billy Herman to the Pirates from the Boston Braves, though the Pirates also gave up Bob Elliott in the deal and he went on to win the MVP award. Camelli played 52 games for the 1947 Braves and hit .193 with a .560 OPS, then spent the rest of his pro career in the minors. He spent the 1948 season with San Diego of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he had a .728 OPS in 79 games. He was supposed to catch for San Antonio of the Texas League in 1949, but he was a holdout for most of the spring, then ended up retiring for a brief time to run a sporting goods store. During the 1950-51 seasons in the minors, he served as a player-manager.

Adam Comorosky, outfielder from 1926 until 1933. During the 1930 season with the Pirates, he had 47 doubles, 23 triples and 12 homers, all while recording 33 sacrifice bunts, which led the league. He is the only player in MLB history to reach those double/triple/homer totals in the same season. Comorosky got his start in baseball by playing on Sundays, while working in the coal mines. He impressed enough to get a minor league deal with Waynesboro of the Class-D Blue Ridge League in 1925. He did well there, hitting .297 with 32 extra-base hits in 91 games, and then finished the season with Williamsport of the New York-Penn League, which was a Class-B level at the time. He hit .197 in a brief time with Williamsport in 1925, then he batted .307 with 54 extra-base hits in 132 games there in 1926. On August 18, 1926, the Pirates purchased his contract, along with teammate Wally Tauscher. Comorosky was allowed to finish the season in Williamsport before joining the Pirates for his MLB debut on September 13th. He went 4-for-15 in eight games during his first trial, but he didn’t stick with the Pirates until he returned from the minors in August of 1928.

In 1927, Comorosky batted .398 in 133 games for Wichita of the Class-A Western League, with 33 doubles, 15 triples and 11 homers. He rejoined the Pirates in September and hit .230 with a double and four RBIs in 18 games. He began and ended the 1928 season with the Pirates. In between he played 89 games for Indianapolis of the Double-A American Association, where he hit .357 with 34 extra-base hits. Comorosky batted .295 with a .752 OPS in 51 games in 1928 for the Pirates, then played full-time in 1929 as the starting left fielder. That year he batted .321 with 43 extra-base hits, 97 RBIs, 19 steals and 86 runs scored in 127 games. During his record setting 1930 season, he hit .313 with 82 extra-base hits, 112 runs scored and 119 RBIs. He led the league with his 23 triples. That extra-base hit total is tied for third most in a season for the Pirates. Comorosky saw a big drop in production in 1931. He hit .243 in 99 games and his OPS dropped 299 points (.900 to .601). As his stats dropped during the season, so did his playing time. The Pirates were confident that he would bounce back in 1932 and denied trade rumors. He had a better season, but not up to previous standards. Comorosky had a .286 average and a .726 OPS in 108 games that year. One month after the season ended, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds with Tony Piet, for pitcher Red Lucas and outfielder Wally Roettger. In his eight seasons in Pittsburgh he hit .293 over 627 games with 363 RBIs.

Comorosky played just 186 big league games after the deal. He got into 127 games in 1934 for the Reds, hitting .258 with 46 runs scored, 18 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs. The next year he saw limited bench work, batting .248, with a .618 OPS in 59 games. After his two seasons in Cincinnati, Comorosky spent another four seasons in the minors, retiring after the 1940 season. He split the 1936 season between Toronto of the International League and Minneapolis of the American Association, which were both Double-A teams. In 1937, he spent the entire year with Toronto and hit .250 with no homers in 108 games. He dropped down a level to Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League in 1938, then retired in 1939, only to come back with Clinton of the Three-I League for a short time in 1940. In his big league career, he was a .285 hitter over 813 games in ten seasons, with 404 runs scored, 213 extra-base hits and 417 RBIs.

Mike Mitchell, outfielder for the 1913-14 Pirates. Mitchell was a star outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but by the time he got to the Pirates, he was on his downside. He began his pro career at 22 years old in 1902 and spent his first five seasons in the minors playing for seven different teams. Most of his first season was spent with Schenectady of the Class-B New York State League, where he hit .274 in 108 games. He stayed in the same league with Syracuse in 1903 and hit .298 in 116 games. Most of 1904 was spent with Syracuse, where he hit .297 in 108 games, but he also saw time that year with two Class-A teams in the Eastern League. In 1905, he moved to Portland of the Class-A Pacific Coast League and hit .243 with 29 extra-base hits in 147 games. He was much better with Portland in 1906, hitting .339 with 53 extra-base hits in 164 games. That performance led to him getting his first shot in the majors.

Mitchell debuted in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in the middle of the deadball era at 27 years old and hit .292 with 64 runs scored and 32 extra-base hits in 148 games during his first season. That average had him ranked seventh in the National League. After a sophomore slump in 1908 that saw him hit just .222 with a .585 OPS in 119 games, Mitchell finished second in the NL in 1909 with a .310 average and an .808 OPS, trailing only Honus Wagner in both categories. He led the league with 17 triples that year, while adding 83 runs scored, 86 RBIs and 37 steals in 145 games. Mitchell led league with 18 triples and 156 games played in 1910. He hit .286 with 79 runs scored, 88 RBIs and 35 steals that season. He set a career high with 22 triples in 1911, but he finished second in the league to Larry Doyle of the New York Giants, who had 25 triples. Mitchell batted .291 in 142 games that year, with 74 runs scored, 22 doubles, 84 RBIs and 35 steals. He finished 12th in the MVP voting that year. In 1912, he hit .283 in 147 games, with 60 runs scored, 31 extra-base hits, 78 RBIs and 23 steals. In December of 1912, he was sent to the Chicago Cubs in an eight-player deal that also included Hall of Famer Joe Tinker.

Mitchell didn’t last long with Chicago. The Pirates selected him off waivers in July of 1913 from the Cubs and made him their everyday center fielder. He was hitting .262 in 82 games, with 21 extra-base hits and 15 steals prior to coming to Pittsburgh. He played 54 games, hitting .271 with 16 RBIs for the 1913 Pirates. Mitchell moved to right field in 1914 and saw his average drop, which led to the Pirates putting him on waivers after 76 games. He hit .234 with a .613 OPS for the Pirates in 1914, then finished the season with a .719 OPS over 55 games for the Washington Senators. He was sold to the New York Yankees prior to the 1915 season, but he decided to retire instead. He returned for a very brief stint in the minors in 1916, but never played again after that point. In his eight-year career, he was a .278 hitter with 202 stolen bases. Mitchell finished with both 514 runs scored and 514 RBIs in 1,124 big league games.  He led all National League right fielders in putouts three times and he led all NL outfielders with 39 assists during the 1907 season.

Joe Kelley, outfielder for the 1892 Pirates. He played 56 games for the Pirates as a 20-year-old in 1892, before he was traded for star outfielder George Van Haltren. It turned out to be one of the more unfortunate trades in team history. Kelley had a Hall of Fame career that included a .317 career average and five straight 100 RBI seasons in the 1890s, which could have really helped out the Pirates during that era. He debuted with Lowell of the New England League in 1891, and even did some pitching that season, but by July he was in the majors. Kelley debuted in the majors with the 1891 Boston Beaneaters, though he lasted just 12 games.  He started the 1892 season with Omaha of the Western League before the Pirates purchased his release (reportedly for $500) and signed him to a contract on July 13th. Kelley played all 56 of his games with the Pirates in center field, despite talk of trying him out at shortstop early in his tenure. He hit .239 with 28 RBIs and 26 runs scored during his time in Pittsburgh. He was traded to Boston in September for the aforementioned George Van Haltren. The Pirates also included cash in the deal.

Kelley was an immediate success after leaving the Pirates, at least once the 1893 season started. He batted just .212 to finish out the 1892 season. After that, he reeled off 11 straight seasons hitting over .300, topping out at a .393 average in 1894. In 1893, Kelley hit .305 in 125 games, with 120 runs scored, 27 doubles, 16 triples, nine homers, 76 RBIs, 33 steals and 77 walks. The 1894 season saw an increase in offense all around baseball due to new pitching rules that favored the hitters. He saw an increase in well, though he was among the best hitters in the league. Kelley batted .393 in 129 games. He had 107 walks, 111 RBIs, 48 doubles, 20 triples, 46 steals and 165 runs scored during that 1894 season. That run scored total ranks seventh all-time for a single season, though he didn’t lead the league that year. Billy Hamilton set the MLB record with 198 runs that year. In 1895, Kelley hit .365 in 131 games, with 148 runs scored, 29 doubles, 19 triples, ten homers, a career high 134 RBIs, 54 steals and 77 walks. In 1896, he batted .364 in 131 games. He had 58 extra-base hits, 100 RBIs, scored 148 runs, had a league leading 87 stolen bases and posted a 91:19 BB/SO ratio. That run saw him post an OPS over 1.000 for three straight seasons. For reference, no one in Pirates history has ever had three straight seasons with a 1.000+ OPS.

In 1897, Kelley played 131 games for the third straight season. He hit .362 with 113 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits, 118 RBIs, 44 steals and 70 walks. In 1898, he hit .321 in 124 games, with 71 runs, 110 RBIs and 24 steals. Kelley moved from Baltimore to the Brooklyn Superbas prior to the 1899 season. He hit .325 in 143 games with his new team. He had 108 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits, 93 RBIs, 31 steals and 70 walks. In 1900, he hit .319 in 121 games, with 90 runs scored, 46 extra-base hits, 91 RBIs and 26 steals. Kelley batted .307 in 121 games in 1901, with 77 runs scored and 65 RBIs. He jumped contract to the Baltimore Orioles of the American League in 1902, but that was short-lived. He was released in July and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. He batted .315 in 100 games that season, with 74 runs scored.

Kelley was a player/manager for the Reds during the 1902-05 seasons. He penciled his name into six different positions in 1903, and hit .316 in 105 games, with 85 runs scored and 45 RBIs. That was his last season over .300, but he still had a solid 1904 season, hitting .281 in 123 games, with 75 runs scored, 34 extra-base hits and 63 RBIs. He played 90 games in 1905 and hit .277, with 37 RBIs and 43 runs scored. After hitting just .228 for the Reds in 1906 (he wasn’t the manager that season), he became the player/manager for Toronto of the International League in 1907, where he hit .322 in 91 games. That led to a job back in the majors with the Boston Doves (Braves) where he hit .259 in 73 games and served as their manager. Kelley returned to Toronto as a player for two seasons (1909-10), then became their manager from 1912-14. In the majors, he played 1,853 games, with 1,421 runs scored, 2.220 hits, 194 triples, 1,194 runs scored, 443 stolen bases and 911 walks. His .402 career on base percentage ranks 52nd all-time, and his batting average is 61st best. He’s ninth all-time in triples. Kelley was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Veteran’s Committee.