This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 11th, Jay Bell and Three Bad Trades

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates were born on December 11th, plus they have made three major trades that did not work out well.

The Trades

On this date in 1975 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitchers Ken Brett, Dock Ellis and rookie second baseman Willie Randolph to the New York Yankees for pitcher Doc Medich. Both Brett and Ellis had better 1976 seasons than Medich, though none of the three were still with their new team in 1977. That would have been enough to make the trade a win for the Yankees, but Randolph made this extremely one-sided. He posted a 66.2 WAR in 17 seasons after the trade. The Pirates were trying to add an ace to their pitching staff and Medich had 49 wins during the 1973-75 seasons, but his ERA during his last two seasons was just slightly under league average, so his record benefited from pitching for a good team. With the Pirates he was 8-11, 3.51 in 179.1 innings, which was well below the 262 innings per season average he had during his last three years. After the season, Medich was sent to the Oakland A’s in a trade to get Phil Garner. While Garner was a key member of the 1979 Pirates, the trade worked out much better for the A’s as far as return value.

On this date in 1928 the Pirates traded star shortstop Glenn Wright to Brooklyn for veteran pitcher Jesse Petty and infielder Harry Riconda. The Pirates received solid results from Petty in 1929, watching him go 11-10, 3.71 in 184.1 innings, but by 1930 his career really fell off. He had an 8.27 ERA in 41.1 innings during the 1930 season before being lost on waivers in late August. Riconda played just eight games with the Pirates before he was sold to a minor league team in June of 1929. That was an awful return for a star player, but it ended up not hurting the Pirates as much as it could have because Wright had injuries in 1929 and 1931 that really slowed down his effectiveness. He had a big 1930 season just like almost every other batter because it was a huge year for offense in baseball, but he only played 434 games total for Brooklyn over five season and compiled 8.5 WAR. In five seasons in Pittsburgh, he had 17.2 WAR. He had three seasons batting over .300 and three seasons with 100+ RBIs with the Pirates. His 4.0 dWAR in 1924 ranks as the second best defensive season in franchise history. He was just 27 years old at the time of the deal, so without those two major injuries occurring, this trade could have been one of the worst in franchise history.

On this date in 1906, the Pirates traded center fielder Ginger Beaumont, pitcher Patsy Flaherty and second baseman Claude Ritchey to the Boston Beaneaters for second baseman Ed Abbaticchio. This trade was three players for one and all three did better than the return, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. Abbatacchio was a veteran who sat out the entire 1906 season and wasn’t a star player before the deal. In fact, he was probably the worst player in the deal at the time. Owner Barney Dreyfuss seemed to make two major trades due to man-crushes that went south and this was the first one, followed by a horrendous 1913 trade to acquire first baseman Ed Konetchy. One of the reasons mentioned by Dreyfuss for acquiring Abbaticchio was that he was Italian (the only one in baseball at the time) and that would help draw attendance from that segment of the local population. Abbaticchio was a starter for two years and a bench player for two more, compiling a total of 6.1 WAR with the Pirates. One of the ironic parts about the two trades Dreyfuss made for players that he coveted more than their value suggested was that Abbaticchio lost his starting job to Dots Miller, who was then the best player they gave up on the deal to get Ed Konetchy. Boston got 14.1 WAR out of their players, then they were able to get a player and cash (2x) in deals getting rid of them, while also getting Abbaticcio back in a cash deal during the 1910 season.

The Players

Jay Bell, shortstop for the 1989-96 Pirates. For three seasons Bell was a light-hitting shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, so when the Pirates got him as a player to be named later in a 1988 trade for Felix Fermin and Denny Gonzalez, it didn’t seem like a big deal. He ended up playing 1,106 games over eight seasons at shortstop in Pittsburgh, where he was part of three National League East pennant winning teams during his time. Bell was the eighth overall pick in the 1984 draft by the Minnesota Twins out of high school in Florida. At 18 years old, he went to the short-season Appalachian League, where he hit .220 in 66 games, with 43 runs scored, 19 extra-base hits and 42 walks. He went to Visalia of the Class-A California League in 1985 and hit .282 in 106 games, with 56 runs scored, 31 extra-base hits and 59 RBIs. A year after he signed, he was part of a trade with the Indians to acquire Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. Bell finished the 1985 season with Double-A Waterbury of the Eastern League, where he hit .298 with 14 extra-base hits in 29 games. He spent the 1986 season back with Waterbury, hitting .277 in 138 games, with 86 runs scored, 39 extra-base hits, 74 RBIs and 87 walks. He needed just two full seasons to make the majors, debuting in September of 1986. Bell hit .357 with a homer in five games.

In 1987, Bell batted .260 in 110 games with Buffalo of the Triple-A American Association. He had 71 runs scored, 17 homers, 60 RBIs and 70 walks. He played 38 games with the Indians and hit .216 with two homers. In 1988, Bell spent two months in Triple-A and he played 73 games for Cleveland. He hit .218 with two homers, 21 RBIs and a .569 OPS for the Indians, before the aforementioned trade that sent him to Pittsburgh. The deal started on November 28, 1988, but the Pirates didn’t get Bell until March 25, 1989. He hit .223/.288/.323 in 116 games with the Indians before joining the Pirates. He saw some minor league time during that first season in Pittsburgh, playing back in Buffalo after the Pirates switched affiliates. In the majors that year, he hit .258 with two homers, 33 runs scored and 27 RBIs in 78 games. Those were modest stats, but he was a big part of their three-year run of postseason appearances. Bell averaged 158 games played and 92 runs scored during the 1990-92 playoff run. He started with a .254 average in 159 games in 1990, with 93 runs scored, 42 extra-base hits, 52 RBIs and 65 walks. He led the NL with 39 sacrifice hits. He batted .250 with a homer and four walks in the playoffs. Bell batted .270 in 157 games in 1991, with 96 runs scored, 32 doubles, 16 homers, 67 RBIs and 55 walks. He led the league with 30 sacrifice hits. He hit .414 (12-for-29) with a homer during the 1991 NLCS. He received mild MVP support that year, finishing 12th in the voting.

In 1992, Bell hit .264 in 159 games, with 87 runs scored, 36 doubles, 55 RBIs and 55 walks. He batted .172 in the playoffs, though he contributed a homer for the third straight year, and he drove in four runs. Those were all strong seasons, but the best was yet to come. During the 1993 season, he won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger award and was named to the NL All-Star team. He batted .310 that season, the only year in which he surpassed the .300 mark in a season. Bell scored 102 runs, had 50 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs, 77 walks and stole a career high 16 bases. He played 110 (out of 114) games during the strike-shortened 1994 season, batting .276 with 68 runs scored, 35 doubles, nine homers, 45 RBIs and 49 walks. In 1995, he hit .262 in 138 (out of 144) games, with 79 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits and 55 RBIs. During his final season in Pittsburgh, Bell batted .250 in 151 games, with 65 runs scored, 29 doubles, 13 homers and 71 RBIs, which was his high up to that point, but he would surpass it in two of the next three seasons.

The Pirates traded Bell to the Kansas City Royals along with Jeff King on December 13, 1996 in return for four players, the best among them being Joe Randa. Bell batted .269 with 78 homers, 423 RBIs and 623 runs scored for the Pirates. He had an .829 OPS, with 21 homers and 92 RBIs in his only season with the Royals, then moved onto the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent in 1998 and put together five solid seasons. Bell hit .251 with 29 doubles, 20 homers, 67 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 81 walks in 155 games in 1998. He was an All-Star in 1999 when he hit .289 with 32 doubles, 38 homers, 112 RBIs, 132 runs scored and 82 walks. Those were career high marks in homers, RBIs, runs and walks. In 2000, Bell hit .267 in 149 games, with 87 runs scored, 30 doubles, 18 homers, 68 RBIs and 70 walks. During the World Series winning 2001 season, he batted .246 with 13 homers, 46 RBIs and 65 walks in 129 games. He played sparingly throughout the playoffs, going 2-for-15 with three runs scored and an RBI. A torn muscle in his right calf late in Spring Training in 2002 limited him to 32 games that season and a .163 average.

In 2003, Bell signed with the New York Mets for his final season in the majors. He was a bench player, who had 142 plate appearances over 72 games. He hit just .181 and drove in three runs all year, batting .158 with runners in scoring position, while failing to hit a homer that season. His last RBI came on May 1st. He finished his career with a .265 average, 1,123 runs scored, 394 doubles, 195 homers, 860 RBIs and 853 walks in 2,063 games. He had 159 sacrifice hits, twice leading the league in that category while with the Pirates. His 39 sacrifice hits in 1990 ranks as the second highest total in team history behind Pie Traynor’s record of 42 in 1928. Bell led all NL shortstops in assists five times, games played five times, put outs three times and fielding percentage twice. He had 23.9 WAR while with the Pirates, which ranks him 26th in team history for position players, putting him between Gene Alley and Bob Elliott.

Joe Blanton, pitcher for the 2015 Pirates. He was a first round pick (24th overall) by the Oakland A’s out of college (Kentucky) in 2002. He was up in the majors just two years later, debuting in September of 2004. Blanton had a 4.43 ERA in 20.1 innings over two levels during the 2002 season. In his first full season in the minors, he split his time between Kane County of the Low-A Midwest League (21 starts) and Midland of the Double-A Texas League (five starts/two relief outings). He combined to go 11-8, 2.29 in 168.1 innings, with 174 strikeouts. He moved up to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 2004 and had an 11-8, 4.19 record in 176.1 innings, with 143 strikeouts. He gave up five runs over eight innings during his first cup of coffee in the majors that year. He would go on to be a regular in the A’s rotation until a trade in 2008 sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2005, Blanton went 12-12, 3.53 in 201.1 innings over 33 starts. He finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 2006, he set a career high with 16 wins (against 12 losses), despite a 4.82 ERA in 194.1 innings. The next year saw him go 14-10, 3.95 in a career high 230 innings. He led the American League with 34 starts and 240 hits allowed. In 2008, he went 5-12, 4.96 in 20 starts before being traded to the Phillies for three players. During his time in Oakland, Blanton went 47-46, 4.25 in 118 starts and four relief outings.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and Blanton went 4-0, 4.20 in 13 starts after the trade. He made one start in each of the three postseason rounds and won two games (no decision in the other). In 2009, he went 12-8, 4.05 in 195.1 innings, with 163 strikeouts. He had a 9-6, 4.82 record in 175.2 innings over 28 starts in 2010. An elbow injury limited him to eight starts and three relief appearances in 2011. In 2012, he went 8-9, 4.59 in 133.1 innings. From mid-2012 until the time he reached the Pirates, Blanton moved around a lot. He went from the Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August of 2012. He spent 4 1/2 seasons in Philadelphia, posting a 34-25, 4.47 record in 100 starts and five relief outings.

Blanton had a 4.99 ERA in ten starts after the trade to the Dodgers. Despite 4.71 season ERA, he set a career high with 166 strikeouts. He moved across town to the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent, where he remained until Spring Training of 2014, when he got released. He went 2-14, 6.04 in 132.2 innings over 20 starts and eight relief appearances in 2013. The A’s signed him and released him within a short time in 2014, and his only pitching that season was two starts in Triple-A. He then signed with the Kansas City Royals for 2015, where he went 2-2, 3.89 in 41.2 innings before being acquired by the Pirates for cash on July 29, 2015. In a partial season with the Pirates, he went 5-0, 1.57 in 34.1 innings over 21 relief appearances. He left the Pirates via free agency after the season and spent 2016 with the Dodgers, where he went 7-2, 2.48 in 80 innings over 75 appearances. He spent 2017 with the Washington Nationals, going 2-4, 5.68 in 44.1 innings over 51 appearances. In a 13-year career that ended in 2017, Blanton made 252 starts and 175 relief appearances, posting a 101-97, 4.38 record in 1,767.2 innings. He pitched in the postseason six different years, though he didn’t get to pitch during the Pirates wild card game in 2015.

Johnny O’Brien, infielder/pitcher for the 1953 and 1955-58 Pirates. He was a .260 hitter over five seasons in Pittsburgh, while also posting a 5.03 ERA in 59 innings. His twin brother Eddie also played for the Pirates during the 1953 and 1955-58 seasons (see bio below). The twins, who starred at both baseball and basketball in school, signed for a bonus said to be $80,000 total, reportedly getting $40,000 each. Due to the Bonus Baby rules of the time, which said that higher bonus signings had to spend two years in the majors before they could be sent down to the minors, both players made the Opening Day roster for the 1953 Pirates just a month after they signed. The Bonus Baby rule was in place to keep the wealthier teams from stockpiling prospects, while a last place team like the Pirates could afford to stick with players who probably needed minor league time because they had no chance to compete. The 1953 Pirates definitely qualified as a team that was eliminated from contending before the season started. As a rookie, O’Brien played 89 games (same as his brother) and hit .247 with two homers and 22 RBIs. He mostly played second base, but did see some time at shortstop. On September 11, 1953, he was inducted into the Army alongside his twin brother Eddie. They both returned in 1955 and Johnny hit .299 in 84 games, getting 75 starts at second base.

O’Brien’s numbers fell off tremendously in 1956, hitting .173 with no homers and three RBIs in 73 games, mostly off of the bench. He started to pitch this year and did well at first, posting a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings over nine relief appearances. In 1957, he saw more mound time, though he struggled, with a 6.08 ERA in 40 innings over 16 games (one start). He actually hit .314 that season in limited at-bats over a total of 34 games. In the middle of the 1958 season, O’Brien was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in the deal that brought Dick Schofield to the Pirates. O’Brien at the time had just one at-bat in three games and he didn’t do any pitching to that point. After the deal, he spent part of the season in Triple-A. In the majors, he had just three plate appearances in 12 games. He pitched once and allowed five runs in two innings. He played for the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 after they acquired him in a trade on March 31, 1959 from the Philadelphia Phillies, who took him in the Rule 5 draft over the 1958-59 off-season. In his last big league season, which was partially spent in Triple-A, O’Brien hit .198 with one homer and eight RBIs in 44 games. He spent the 1960 season in the minors with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League before retiring. He batted .309 during that final season. He turns 91 years old today. His grandson Riley O’Brien debuted in September of 2021 in the majors for the Cincinnati Reds.

Eddie O’Brien, infielder/outfielder/pitcher for the 1953 and 1955-58 Pirates. He was a .236 hitter over five seasons with the Pirates, while also posting a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 innings. He was the twin brother of Johnny O’Brien. Both players signed as amateur free agents in March of 1953 and went right to the majors with the Pirates, then they both missed the 1954 season due to military service. O’Brien played 89 games as a rookie (same as his brother) and he was the starting shortstop in 75 of those games, often forming the double play combo with his brother at second base. As a rookie, he batted .238 with no homers and 14 RBIs. After returning from the service, he was tried as a center fielder, while also seeing time at shortstop, third base and left field. It didn’t go well, as he was below average defensively and on offense. He played 75 games and hit .233 with a .544 OPS. O’Brien was a bench player by 1956, getting just 58 plate appearances over 63 games, while spending the whole season on the active roster. His Bonus Baby requirements were up by this time, but the Pirates stuck with him in the limited role. He hit .264 that season and played six different positions, including two innings on the mound. Most of his at-bats came during a nine-game stretch over eight days in late July when he was the starting shortstop in every game.

O’Brien spent most of 1957 in the minors, where he pitched 36 innings when he wasn’t at shortstop. He split that season between Columbus of the International League and Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, combining to hit .253 with a .626 OPS in 109 games. He played three games as a pitcher after he came up to the Pirates in September and allowed three runs in 12.1 innings. On September 14, 1957, he started the first game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and threw a complete game, giving up just one run. In game two that day, his brother took the loss when he allowed three runs during his only inning of relief work. In 1958, he was a full-time pitcher in the minors and made his final big league appearance with the Pirates on April 19th, which was his only game of the season. As a pitcher, he went 9-11, 4.35 in 137 innings for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. On October 14, 1958, he was traded to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, ending his time with the Pirates. He never played for Seattle, as he decided to retire a month earlier and take a job working at Seattle University. His grand-nephew is Riley O’Brien, pitcher for the 2021 Cincinnati Reds.

Art Wilson, catcher for the 1916 Pirates. He played 14 seasons in the majors and was mostly used as a backup, though he got some good time in during his two years in the Federal League, a Major League that existed during the 1914-15 seasons. His pro career began in 1906 at 20 years old, playing his first of three seasons for the Class-B Bloomington Bloomers of the Three-I League. His stats are very limited for those three seasons, but they show that he wasn’t hitting for average any year in the lower minors, so the playing time indicates that the defense was strong. He batted .167 in 83 games in 1906, followed by a .200 average in 94 games in 1907, and a .220 average in 1908. He had a Moonlight Graham start to his big league career, playing one game without an at-bat for the 1908 New York Giants. Unlike Graham, Wilson stuck with the Giants after that brief look. In 1909, Wilson was a third-string catcher for the Giants, hitting.238 in 19 games spread throughout the season. He had the same role in 1910, batting .269 in 26 games. He got a bigger role in 1911, playing 66 games, and responded by hitting .303, with an .842 OPS in 134 plate appearances. He saw similar playing time in 1912, hitting .289 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 141 plate appearances over 65 games. In his final season with the Giants, Wilson saw his average drop to .190 in 54 games.

Wilson jumped to the Federal League in 1914, which many players did during that time. They didn’t all get a chance to return to the majors once the FL folded. Wilson was a lucky one, seeing time with the Pirates, Cubs, Boston Braves and Cleveland Indians over the next six seasons. With the Chicago Chi-Feds in 1914, he batted .291 and set career highs in every major category outside of that batting average and OPS. He played a career best 137 games, and set highs with 78 runs scored, 31 doubles, eight triples, ten homers, 64 RBIs, 13 steals and 70 walks. He finished with an .860 OPS. He led the FL in 1914 by throwing out 56.7% of attempted base stealers. He had a 46.4% success rate throughout his career. For Chicago in 1915, he hit .305 in 96 games, with 44 runs scored, 20 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and 65 walks.

The Pirates purchased Wilson’s contract from Chicago in February of 1916 and in 53 games that season with Pittsburgh, he hit .258 with 12 RBIs. In late-July, Wilson was traded to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Frank Schulte and catcher William Fischer. Schulte was the MVP in 1911 and the first man to reach 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season, something that has been done four times ever. Wilson finished out 1916 with the Cubs by hitting .193 in 36 games. In 1917, he hit .213 with 13 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in 81 games. In January of 1918, he was traded to the Boston Braves. He remained there for three years. In 1918, Wilson hit .246 in 89 games, though low walk/power numbers led to a .600 OPS. In 1919, he had a .257 average in 71 games, putting up a .655 OPS. His playing time was limited in 1920 to 21 plate appearances over 16 games, and he had one hit. His played his final two big league games in 1921 with the Cleveland Indians, then spent two seasons as a player-manager in the minors before retiring. In 812 Major League games, Wilson batted .261 with 237 runs scored, 37 homers and 226 RBIs.

Derek Bell, outfielder for the 2001 Pirates. Bell is well known for his departure from baseball, leaving the Pirates because he felt like he didn’t need to compete for a job during Spring Training in 2002. He went into what was called “Operation Shutdown”, walked out on his contract and never played ball again. Bell played one season for the Pirates and it was a disaster between missed time and poor performance. He hit .173 in 46 games, while playing below average defense.

He was a second round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school in 1987 and it took him four years to make the majors. He debuted in pro ball with St Catharines of the New York-Penn League, where he hit .264 with ten homers and 12 steals in 74 games. In 1988, he spent most of the year with Myrtle Beach of the Class-A South Atlantic League, hitting .344 with 29 doubles, 12 homers, 60 RBIs in 91 games. He also played 14 games in Double-A with Knoxville of the Southern League. In 1989, Bell spent the entire season with Knoxville, hitting .242 with 22 doubles, 16 homers, 75 RBIs, 72 runs scored and 15 steals. He moved up to Syracuse of the International League in 1990 and hit .261 with 25 extra-base hits and 21 steals in 109 games. He repeated the level in 1991 and batted .346 with 22 doubles, 12 triples, 13 homers, 93 RBIs and 89 runs scored in 119 games. That led to an 18-game trial with the Blue Jays in which he hit .143 with one RBI. Bell was injured for part of 1992, but he spent the rest of the year (except a brief rehab stint) in the majors, where he hit .242 in 61 games, with a .678 OPS.

After 79 games over two seasons, Bell was traded to the San Diego Padres, where he had two solid seasons before moving on to the Houston Astros in 1995, which is where he excelled. In 1993, he batted .262 with 73 runs, 19 doubles, 21 homers, 72 RBIs and 26 steals (in 31 attempts). That was followed up during the strike-shortened 1994 season with a .311 average in 108 games, with 20 doubles, 14 homers, 54 RBIs and 24 steals. In December of 1994, he was part of a 12-player trade to the Astros. During the strike-shortened 1995 season (144 games played that year), he hit .334 and drove in 86 runs in 112 games. That was the only season that he received MVP support, finishing 14th in the voting. In 1996, Bell batted .263 in 158 games, with 84 runs scored, 40 doubles, 17 homers, 113 RBIs and 29 steals in 32 attempts. He played 129 games in 1997, hitting .276 with 29 doubles, 15 homers, 15 steals, 67 runs scored and 71 RBIs.

Bell put everything together in 1998 when he hit .314 with career highs of 111 runs scored, 198 hits, 41 doubles and 22 homers, to go along with 108 RBIs. Bell saw a sharp decline in his stats in 1999, batting just .236 in 128 games, with 61 runs, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 66 RBIs and 18 steals. He then moved on to one season with the New York Mets after a five-player trade in December of 1999. He hit .266 in 144 games that year, with 87 runs, 31 doubles, 18 homers, 69 RBIs and a career high 65 walks. That was right before signing his free agent deal with the Pirates that couldn’t have gone any worse. He was an excellent base stealing threat throughout his career, swiping 170 bases in his career in 221 attempts. Bell hit .276 in 1,210 big league games, with 642 runs scored, 232 doubles, 134 homers and 668 RBIs. Despite the power and speed, he had just 15 career triples.

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