This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 15th, Pirates Trade for Jim Bunning and Vic Willis

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note, both involving Hall of Fame pitchers.

The Trades

On this date in 1967 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Woody Fryman, minor league third baseman Don Money and minor league pitchers Bill Laxton and Harold Clem to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning. This trade didn’t work out well for the Pirates, despite Bunning coming off of a second place finish in the Cy Young voting that season. He went 14-23, 3.84 over 316 innings in two seasons for the Pirates, before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a package much smaller than what they gave up to acquire him. The ERA doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the 1968 season was a low point for offense, so his 3.88 ERA was much worse than league average (2.99). His 1969 ERA was 22 points higher than league average. The Phillies didn’t get anything from the two minor league pitchers (Laxton pitched two games for them), but easily got the best of the deal with the other two players. Fryman pitched 18 years in the majors, while Money was a four-time All-Star third baseman, though his best years were after the Phillies traded him in October of 1972. In terms of WAR, the Pirates got -0.9 from Bunning, while Money had 36.5 career WAR and Fryman put up 18.9 WAR after the trade. The other bad part of the deal is that Bunning was one of the highest paid players in the league in 1969.

On this date in 1905, the Pirates traded infielder Dave Brain, first baseman Del Howard and pitcher Vive Lindaman to the Boston Beaneaters in exchange for Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis. Boston got decent production from their three players, but Willis made this trade a major win for the Pirates, despite playing just four seasons in Pittsburgh. He won over 20 games each season while averaging 302 innings pitched per year, and he had a 2.08 ERA in his 160 games. He completed 108 of his 146 starts in Pittsburgh. He helped the Pirates to their first World Series title in 1909 by going 22-11. He compiled 22.1 career WAR during his short time with the Pirates, including an 8.3 mark in 1906, which was the best for all Major League pitchers that season. Getting traded to the Pirates actually got Willis into the Hall of Fame because he previously played with some very poor teams in his career. He had an 89-46 record in Pittsburgh and 160-159 with his two other teams. Brain won a home run crown in Boston in 1907, but he was out of baseball by the next year after putting up a .125 average. Howard played 1 1/2 years in Boston (with 2.3 WAR) before he was traded for two players. Lindaman pitched four years in Boston and had a 2.92 ERA in 904 innings, which turned out to be his only big league experience.

The Players

Art Howe, infielder for the 1974-75 Pirates. He began his career in 1971 when he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates. He was born in Pittsburgh and attended Shaler High School in town, but he went undrafted out of the University of Wyoming. He spent that 1971 season at 24 years old with Salem of the Class-A Carolina League, where he hit .348 with 27 doubles, seven triples, 12 homers, 11 steals and 82 walks in 114 games. He finished with a 1.017 OPS. In 1972, Howe jumped up to Triple-A Charleston of the International League. He batted .271 that season in 109 games, with 21 doubles, 14 homers and 63 walks, helping him to an .845 OPS. He repeated the level for all of 1973 and struggled, hitting .228 in 119 games, with 20 doubles, eight homers and 54 walks. He was called up to the majors in early July of 1974 after he was hitting .338 in 60 games at Charleston. Howe played 29 games his rookie season, mostly as a third baseman, and he hit .243 with ten runs scored and five RBIs. He was with the Pirates for most of the 1975 season, getting 162 plate appearances in 63 games, but he hit just .171 with ten RBIs. Following the season the Pirates traded him to the Houston Astros for veteran second baseman Tommy Helms. Howe spent more than half of his first season with Houston in Triple-A, where he hit .355 in 74 games and put up a 1.032 OPS. He played just 21 games in 1976 for the Astros, hitting .138 in his limited at-bats.

Howe became an everyday player in 1977 and had seasons with the Astros in which he was primarily the first baseman (1980), the second baseman (1977-79) and the third baseman (1981-82). In 1977, he hit .264 in 125 games, with 44 runs scored, 38 extra-base hits, a career high 58 RBIs and 41 walks. He followed that up in 1978 by hitting .293 with career highs of 46 runs scored and 33 doubles, to go along with seven homers, 55 RBIs and a .779 OPS. He slumped a bit in 1979, seeing a 111 point drop in his OPS. Howe batted .248 in 118 games, with 32 runs scored, 23 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs. In 1980, he bounced back to have his highest OPS. He hit .283 in 110 games, with 34 runs scored, a career high ten homers, 46 RBIs, and more walks (34) than strikeouts (29). He finished with a .795 OPS. Howe received MVP votes during the strike-shortened 1981 season for hitting .296 with 43 runs scored, three homers, 36 RBIs and 41 walks in 103 games. His .770 OPS that year was the third highest of his career.

Howe’s best seasons at the plate were followed by his worst. He hit .238 in 1982, with 15 doubles, five homers and 38 RBIs in 110 games. Things got worse when he missed all of 1983 due to having both ankle and elbow surgery. He signed with the St Louis Cardinals in 1984 and hit .216 over 89 games, with much of his time coming off of the bench. He was released after just four games in 1985, ending his playing career. He hit .269, with 43 homers and 266 RBIs over 706 games in seven seasons in Houston, and in his big league career he hit .260 in 891 games over 11 seasons, with 268 runs scored, 43 homers and 293 RBIs. While he had a solid career, he had a better post-career. Howe recorded 1,129 wins as a Major League manager over 14 seasons. He was at the helm of the Astros from 1989 until 1993, then took over the Oakland A’s from 1996 until 2002. His last two seasons (2003-04) were disasters with the New York Mets, putting up two 90+ loss seasons. Howe had back-to-back 100+ win seasons in Oakland during his final two seasons with the team, though his 2001 squad finished in second place. He had three straight playoff appearances (2000-02), but never got out of the first round, losing in five games each time.

Joe Nealon, first baseman for the 1906-07 Pirates. He played three seasons in his home start of California prior to the Pirates signing him just before his 21st birthday. He has no stats available from the 1903-04 seasons when he played for three different teams in the California State League. In 1905, he played for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .286 with 48 doubles, 11 triples and five homers in 207 (yes, 207) games. The Pirates were able to sign Nealon as a free agent because he had a non-reserve contract with San Francisco, which was very rare for the day. Scout George Van Haltren tipped the Pirates off that Nealon wanted to sign with an eastern team, while also letting them know that he was being scouted by two other teams, Boston Americans (Red Sox) and the New York Highlanders (Yankees). Manager Fred Clarke went to the west coast in early November to talk to Nealon about signing. Clarke was given instructions from owner Barney Dreyfuss that if they needed to up their offer for Nealon, Clarke had to see him play 1-2 games first. By the time that Clarke arrived, the Cincinnati Reds were also interested and put in an offer. Nealon decided on November 7th to sign with the Pirates. The signing of Nealon allowed the Pirates to include first baseman Del Howard in the trade for Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis.

As a rookie in 1906 he was the only player on the team to play in all 154 games and he would lead the National League with 83 RBIs, to go along with 82 runs scored, 21 doubles, 12 triples, 15 steals, 53 walks and a .255 batting average. He hit .257 with ten doubles, eight triples and 47 RBIs in 105 games for the 1907 Pirates, then announced his retirement and returned to his home to go into business with his father. Nealon missed extended time in 1907 with an ankle injury in April, a bad spike wound in August and an illness for much of September. Over the last 30 games of the season he had one at-bat, as a pinch-hitter. Despite his retirement announcement, he ended up playing the next two seasons in the minors in California before contracting typhoid fever and passing away at the age of 25 in April of 1910. He spent those two seasons playing in the independent California League, which made it possible for him to play without actually being released from the reserve list by the Pirates. It was said that the Pirates gave him permission to play in California for the 1908 season, but he jumped his contract that called for $500 per month to sign with an outlaw team for $550 per month.

JJ Clarke, catcher for the 1920 Pirates. He played just three games for the Pirates, but Clarke had a long career with three very interesting footnotes. Clarke came to the Pirates as a waiver claim on November 29, 1919 from the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .242 in 26 games for the Phillies in 1919, then for the Pirates he went 0-for-7 with two walks in two starts behind the plate and one pinch-hit appearance. That was the end of his big league career, but he continued on in the minors another five seasons. Clarke was not a power hitter, belting six homers in his nine-year big league career. In his last eight seasons of minor league ball, he hit a total of eight homers. So this may come as a huge surprise to most, but he holds the single game record for homers.

On June 15, 1902 while playing for Corsicana in the Class-D Texas League, Clarke came to the plate eight time and hit eight homers. The story goes, that his team wanted to play on Sunday, so to avoid Blue Laws, they moved their game to a High School field out of town. Everyone on his team hit well that day on the smaller field, but no one else came close to what Clarke did. Clarke’s second claim to fame was the fact that he caught a perfect game in 1908 thrown by Hall of Famer Addie Joss. The third footnote for him wasn’t as enviable as the first two feats. He was in the majors from 1905 until 1911, then went eight years before he played big league ball again, though I guess it shows that he was willing to stick it out all of those year to get another shot. In 506 career games, he hit .254 with 127 RBIs.

Clarke was born in Canada and he debuted in pro ball in 1902 at 19 years old, though there is some mystery behind his age. During the 1919 season with the Phillies, his mom gave an interview and confirmed with certainty that he was 34 years old, so he may have been 17 when he started in the pros. Most of that 1902 season was spent with the aforementioned Corsicana, where he hit .316 in 105 games, with 24 doubles, nine triples and 11 homers (yes, he hit three total besides his record-setting game). He appeared briefly with Little Rock of the Class-A Southern Association in 1902, then spent the season there in 1903, hitting .254 in 41 games. He remained in the same league in 1904, playing for Atlanta, where he hit .264 in 135 games.

Clarke debuted in the majors in 1905 with the Cleveland Naps (Indians). He was seeing very limited playing time that year, then got loaned to the Detroit Tigers for about a week. He returned to Cleveland on August 11th and remained there until December of 1910. He batted .248 with a homer and ten RBIs in 45 games in 1905. In 1906, Clarke hit .358 in 57 games, with 17 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs. He didn’t qualify for league leaders, but his average tied the league leader and his .890 OPS would have placed him second in the league. In 1907, he got a full-time role for the first time and played 120 games. He hit .269 with 44 runs scored, 18 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs. In 1908, Clarke hit .241 in 97 games, with 34 runs scored, 15 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs. He threw out 56% of runners attempting to steal that season, and his 1.3 WAR on defense is his best career ranking. During the 1909 season, he saw his playing time diminish to 55 games. He batted .274 with a .639 OPS. He developed typhoid fever during the 1910 season and hit just .155 in 21 games. He was out from late May on, returning to play one game in October. Clarke was traded in December of 1910 to the St Louis Browns, where he hit .215 in 82 games, with ten doubles and 18 RBIs.

After one year with the St Louis Browns, Clarke jumped all around the minors up until 1917 when he enlisted in the Mariners during WWI. He played for Indianapolis of the American Association during the 1912-13 seasons. He was with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League for all of 1914 and parts of 1913 and 1915. He also saw time with Memphis of the Southern Association and Houston of the Texas League in 1915. He then played for Mobile of the Southern Association in 1916. When he returned to pro ball in 1919 with the Philadelphia Phillies, he was there as a coach, but worked his way into the lineup for 26 games. His three games with the Pirates were in April of 1920 and he was given his unconditional release on May 13th, 19 days after his final game. Clarke spent the 1922-23 seasons with Reading of the International League, then played his final pro game for the Salisbury Indians of the Eastern Shore League in 1925. In his nine seasons in the majors, he hit .254 in 506 games, with 157 runs scored, 90 extra-base hits and 127 RBIs.