This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 26th, Two Kings and a Famous Line

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1953 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded infielder Danny O’Connell to the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for six players and $100,000 cash. O’Connell had a strong season for the Pirates in 1953, hitting .294 with 57 walks and 88 runs scored. He was 26 years old at the time of the trade and had played just one prior season in the majors (1950), missing two years due to serving in the military. This deal, along with another trade a month later, gave the team financial flexibility that they wouldn’t have had due to very poor attendance in the early-to-mid 50’s. That other deal included $70,000 cash and the departure of Murry Dickson, who was one of the higher paid players on the team. The O’Connell trade was done just as much for the cash aspect as it was done for the players in return, despite the fact they received six players back. As it turned out, O’Connell had his best seasons with the Pirates. In four years in Milwaukee, he was a .248 hitter with 127 RBIs in 457 games, so the deal turned out to be a good one for the Pirates even if the players they received weren’t that good.

The best player they got back was Sid Gordon, a veteran OF/3B, who had a better year in 1954 with the Pirates than O’Connell had in any year. Gordon hit .306 with 12 homers and 67 walks in 131 games during his one season in Pittsburgh. He was sold the following season to the New York Giants. Max Surkont was the second most valuable player in the deal and the Pirates got two years of starting pitching out of him. He was just 16-32, but the team was barely any better when he didn’t pitch. Curt Raydon was a 20-year-old minor league pitcher at the time of the trade. It took him until 1958 to reach Pittsburgh and he played just one year in the majors due to arm injuries derailing his career. Another pitcher named Fred Waters pitched well for the Pirates in 25 games between 1955-56, but he was on the older side at the time and he finished his career six years later in the minors. The two other returns were veteran Sam Jethroe, who played just two games for the Pirates in 1954, and Larry LaSalle, a minor league pitcher who retired after the 1954 season.

Based on WAR values, O’Connell had 13.2 WAR in eight seasons after leaving Pittsburgh. That’s a decent total, but far from a star player. Gordon had 1.7 WAR with the Pirates before they sold him to New York. Surkont had 1.5 WAR in Pittsburgh. Waters added 1.4 WAR and Raydon had 0.9 in his one season, for a combined total of 5.5 for the group of six players. The cash was the real star of the trade.

The Players

Jeff King, third baseman for the Pirates from 1989 to 1996. King was the first overall pick in the 1986 amateur draft by the Pirates out of the University of Arkansas. The Chicago Cubs drafted him in the 23rd round three years earlier, but he decided to attend college instead. King signed with the Pirates five weeks after the draft and he went right to Low-A ball, where he had a .752 OPS in 37 games. He had a .268 average, 80 runs scored, 28 homers, 86 RBIs and 65 walks in 116 games during his first full season in pro ball, which was spent most with Salem of the Class-A Carolina League, though he made it to Double-A (Harrisburg of the Eastern League) for a month. The Pirates had him spend the entire 1988 season in Harrisburg and he did so with mediocre results, posting a .732 OPS in 117 games. He batted .255 with 21 doubles, 14 homers and 66 RBIs. He didn’t do any better in Triple-A in 1989, batting .254 with six homers in 51 games, but the Pirates jumped him to the majors in June and he looked over-matched, hitting .195 with five homers in 75 games.

Despite a slow debut, the Pirates stuck with King in 1990 for the entire season and he had a low average/OBP, with a little bit of power mixed in. He batted .245 in 127 games, with 46 runs scored, 17 doubles, 14 homers and 53 RBIs, finishing with a .692 OPS. The Pirates won the pennant that year and he went 1-for-10 in the playoffs, with a single, walk and five strikeouts. In 1991, King was limited to 33 big league games and nine games in Triple-A due to a back injury. He hit .239 with four homers and 18 RBIs that year for the Pirates. He served in a utility role in 1992, playing five different positions, while batting .231 with 56 runs scored, 21 doubles, 14 homers and 65 RBIs in 130 games. During the postseason, he hit .241 in seven games, with four doubles and two RBIs.

King struggled during his first four seasons in the majors (1.4 WAR total), then hit .295 with 35 doubles, nine homers, 98 RBIs and 82 runs scored in 1993, while playing a career high 158 games. He went from his utility role in 1992, to the starting third base in 1993, making 155 starts. The following season he regressed due to the back problems that he suffered from most of his career. Those problems seemed to take a toll on him during the middle of that strike-shortened 1994 season when he hit just .263 with 23 doubles, five homers and 42 RBIs in 94 games. He batted .265 with 27 doubles, 18 homers and 87 RBIs in 122 games for the Pirates in 1995. He then set career highs with 30 homers, 111 RBIs, 91 runs scored and 36 doubles in 1996 for a team that finished 73-89. He batted .271 that year and walked 70 times.

King was traded to the Kansas City Royals along with Jay Bell in December 1996 for four players, including Joe Randa and three young pitchers. He moved to first base full-time and had a big first season with Kansas City, despite a low batting average. He hit .238 in 155 games, with 84 run scored, 30 doubles, 28 homers, a new career high of 112 RBIs, as well as a career best 89 walks. His 16 stolen bases were also a career high. In 1998, King played 131 games, hitting .263 with 83 runs scored, 17 doubles, 24 homers and 93 RBIs. He retired in early 1999 due to injuries and his losing passion for playing the game. In three seasons with the Royals, he hit .249 with 181 runs scored, 49 doubles, 55 homers and 216 RBIs in 307 games.  His .781 OPS in Kansas City was 44 points higher than during his time in Pittsburgh. His final stats with the Pirates over eight seasons showed a .258 average, 419 runs scored, 173 doubles, 99 homers and 493 RBIs in 894 games. Third base was his primary position in Pittsburgh, but he also saw plenty of time at first base and second base. In his career (1,201 games total), he started 526 games at third base and 455 at first base.

Mario Mendoza, shortstop for the Pirates from 1974 to 1978. Mendoza was signed as an amateur free agent in 1970 out of Mexico and he slowly worked his way through the minors, earning promotions based more on his defense than his hitting. He is still often referenced to this day due to his poor hitting skills, when someone who has a batting average hovering near .200 is said to be near the Mendoza line. He hit below .200 in three of his five seasons in Pittsburgh, and five times overall in his nine-year career. Mendoza debuted in the Gulf Coast League at 19 years old and hit .263 with a .629 OPS in 47 games. The next year he moved up to Monroe of the Class-A Western Carolinas League, where he batted .234 with seven homers in 106 games, while seeing his OPS drop to a .593 mark, due mostly to a 45 point drop in his OBP. In 1972, he played for Salem of the Class-A Carolina League, where he hit .221 in 136 games. His OBP went up due to a much better walk rate, but his OPS dropped to .554 due to poor power numbers and 125 strikeouts. Mendoza still got moved up to Sherbrooke of the Double-A Eastern League in 1973, where he batted .268 in 132 games, with 54 runs scored, 32 extra-base hits and 30 steals, though he was unsuccessful at pilfering 23 times. He played just two games in Triple-A in 1974, spending the rest of the season with the Pirates.

Mendoza’s best season with the Pirates was actually his rookie year when he hit .221 in 91 games. In was the only time in his five seasons in Pittsburgh he batted over 100 times. He played 324 total games with the Pirates, coming to the plate just 478 times, which resulted in a .204 average. He mostly remained at the big league level during the 1975-78 seasons, playing a total of 38 games at Triple-A over that stretch. Mendoza batted .180 in 50 at-bats over 56 games in 1975, making 17 starts at shortstop. In 1976, he started 24 of his 50 games and put together a .185 average. He batted 86 times in 71 games in 1977, hitting .198, with a .461 OPS. In his last season in Pittsburgh, Mendoza hit .218 in 55 at-bats over 57 games, while connecting on his first home run. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners in December of 1978 in a six-player deal that brought Enrique Romo to the Pirates. Mendoza played regularly in Seattle over two seasons, seeing nearly half of his career at-bats in the majors. In 1979, he played in a career high 148 games. He hit .198 with career bests of ten doubles and 29 RBIs, but he finished with a .466 OPS. During the 1980 season, he hit a career high .245 and belted half of his career homers (he hit two this year). After the season, he was involved in a huge trade with the Texas Rangers that included a total of 11 players. It turned out to be an unfortunate trade for Mendoza. He went from playing regularly, to playing 100 games over two seasons in Texas.

In the strike-shortened 1981 season, he was actually a regular, getting into 88 games. He hit .231 with 18 runs scored and 22 RBIs. He played just 12 games over the first two months of the 1982 season before being released in early June. That would be his final season in the majors. He went to Mexico afterwards and played until he was 39 years old in 1990. His only time in affiliated ball came in 1983 with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, which was the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates at the time. Since retiring as a player, he has managed for 20 seasons between the minors and Mexico, last taking the helm in 2016. In his MLB career, he hit .215 in 686 games, with 106 runs scored and 101 RBIs. While he put up positive defensive numbers (dWAR) in six of his nine seasons, and had a 0.0 mark in another season, his career WAR was -2.6 due to the poor offense.

Lee King, outfielder for the 1916-18 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1914 at 21 years old, hitting .254 in 35 games for Adrian of the Southern Michigan League. Even though he didn’t playing pro ball in 1915, the Pirates first noticed King in late 1915 when he had three hits against them in an exhibition game in Morgantown, while showing off impressive speed and an even better arm. King joined the Pirates in late 1916 after hitting .315 over 125 games for Wheeling of the Central League. He was selected by Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft on September 15th. He reported to the Pirates three days later and played his first game on September 20th. He went 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts in eight games during that first trial, then gained a regular spot on the 1917 club during the following spring. King hit .249 with 35 RBIs and 32 runs scored in 111 games that season. He spent most of his time in right field, as the Pirates finished with a 51-103 record. In 1918, King batted .232 with 11 RBIs before deciding to leave the team on June 20th to enlist in the military to aid the fight in WWI. The war was over shortly thereafter and in January of 1919, he was sold to the New York Giants.

King ended up playing in the majors until 1922 and then retired from minor league ball four years later. He played for New York each year from 1919 through 1922, but he spent parts of 1921 and 1922 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played just 21 games in 1919 and batted 21 times, finishing with a .100 average and one walk. In 1920, he played 93 times, seeing most of his time in center field. He batted .276 with 22 extra-base hits, including seven homers, which was nearly half of his big league career total (15). King scored 32 runs and had a career high of 42 RBIs. He batted .223 in 39 games with the Giants in 1921 before he was part of a five-player deal with the Phillies that also included Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel, who was an outfielder at the time. King hit .269 with 32 RBIs in 64 games for the 1921 Phillies. He batted .226 in 19 games in 1922 before the Phillies sent him to Toledo of the American Association in May. The Giants purchased him back in early August and he hit .176 in 20 games. The Giants won the World Series in 1921, so his trade was unfortunate at the time, but they also won the title again in 1922, so he got to be part of that team. He batted just once, but it was a big at-bat. In game five, winning the Giants winning 4-3 over the New York Yankees in the eighth inning, his two-out RBI single gave them an insurance run. The Giants won the series four batters later. That was his last big league action. He was sent to the minors in 1923 and remained active through the end of the 1928 season. In his big league career, he hit .247 in 411 games, with 134 runs scored, 93 extra-base hits and 144 RBIs. He was a .241 hitter over 155 games with the Pirates.

There were two players named Lee King who debuted in the majors in 1916 and both of them had the actual first name of Edward, with the same full name, Edward Lee King. The other one was a utility man for the Philadelphia A’s in 1916, then played very briefly for the 1919 Boston Braves. When he joined the Pirates, King told the local reporters the story of how he was lucky to be alive. He was supposed to be working in the Monongah mine shafts on December 6, 1907 at 14 years old, but on the way to work he saw a frozen pond and decided to ice skate. An explosion occurred at the mine that killed 362+ people, with just five survivors. King actually worked in the mines after the explosion and prior to signing to play pro ball.

Bonnie Hollingsworth, pitcher for the 1922 Pirates. The Pirates signed him with very little pro experience. He played one season for LaGrange in the Georgia-Alabama League in 1916 prior to serving during WWI, then spent the 1919-20 seasons playing for independent teams in Tennessee. The Pirates signed him on February 16, 1921 and brought him to Spring Training a month later. He was with the Pirates for the first eight games of the 1921 season without an appearance, before being shipped to Wichita Falls of the Class-A Texas League on April 22nd.  After going 21-11, 2.56 in 288 innings over 41 games for Wichita Falls, Hollingsworth went to Spring Training with the 1922 Pirates looking to earn a spot. His 224 strikeouts that season with Wichita Falls was said to be a league strikeout record. He made the Opening Day roster, but didn’t make his first appearance until the end of May. He ended up being used only in a mop-up role through mid-July, posting a 7.90 ERA in 13.2 innings. The Pirates lost all nine games in which they used him. On July 18th, he was traded (along with cash) to Minneapolis of the American Association for outfielder Reb Russell.

Hollingsworth ended up playing for the Washington Senators for the first three months of the 1923 season. He went 3-7, 4.09 in 72.2 innings over eight starts and nine relief appearances. He finished the season with Memphis of the Class-A Southern Association, where he had an 8-8, 3.41 record in 131 innings. He began the 1924 season in the same league with New Orleans, where he went 22-11, 2.75 in 255 innings. That led to his third big league trial, as he appeared briefly with the Brooklyn Robins in September, allowing six runs in 8.2 innings. After spending three years in the minors at three different Double-A levels, he resurfaced one last time to pitch for the 1928 Boston Braves, where he went 0-2, 5.24 in 22.1 innings. He finished his big league career with a 4-9, 4.91 record in 117.1 innings over 36 games (11 as a starter). He played for Baltimore of the International League during the 1928-30 seasons, then finished his career back in the Southern Association with Chattanooga. His real name was John, which he went by with the Pirates, but he was often referred to as “Bonnie” in the minors. He pitched a total of ten seasons in the minors and won 114 games before retiring following the 1930 season.

Al Jackson, pitcher for the Pirates in 1959 and 1961. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1955 at 19 years old, and he got to pitch in his hometown of Waco, Texas for the Waco Pirates of the Class-B Big State League during that first season. He had an 8-5, 2.79 record in 116 innings.  He was loaned to the Mexican League in 1956 and posted a 2.87 ERA in 207 innings. He remained there for part of 1957, while also pitching eight minors league game spread between two affiliates. Jackson pitched for Lincoln of the Class-A Western League in 1958, where went 18-9, 2.07 in 230 innings, with 162 strikeouts. He followed that up the next season in Triple-A Columbus of the International League with a 15-4, 2.33 record in 162 innings, with 19 starts and seven relief appearances. That same season he earned a Major League call-up in early May for one game and allowed four runs on seven hits in three innings in his MLB debut. That was followed by a month-long recall on May 31st, then one more appearance at the end of September during his third stint with the Pirates. He pitched eight big league games that 1959 season and had a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings. Jackson spent the entire 1960 season in the minors with Columbus, despite a strong 3.06 ERA in 197 innings. He pitched well in 1961 back in Triple-A, posting a 2.89 ERA in 196 innings, which earned him a September call-up and three appearances for the Pirates, two as a starter. He won his final game in a Pirates uniform by throwing a complete game in an 11-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds. He had a 3.42 ERA in 23.2 innings.

On October 10, 1961, Jackson was selected by the New York Mets in the expansion draft. After pitching just 41.2 innings in the majors for the Pirates over a three-year span, he saw regular time with the Mets. In his first season, he went 8-20, 4.40 in 231.1 innings for a team that lost 120 games. Jackson had a 13-17, 3.96 record in 227 innings in 1963 when he made 34 starts. His 142 strikeouts that season was his career high. He followed that up with an 11-16, 4.26 record in 213.1 innings over 31 starts and nine relief appearances. He was putting up those records over the 1963-64 seasons for a team that lost 100+ games each year, but that caught up to him again in 1965 when he finished with an 8-20 record again. That year he had a 4.34 ERA in 205.1 innings.

Jackson was traded to the St Louis Cardinals before the 1966 season and pitched in some real bad luck, going 13-15, with a 2.51 ERA in 232.2 innings for a team that had a winning record. He moved to relief for most of the 1967 season, going 9-4, 3.95 in 107 innings over 11 starts and 28 relief appearances. After seeing his innings cut in half in 1967, he went back to the Mets in a trade and stayed there until early 1969. He remained in that swingman role, going 3-7, 3.69 in 92.2 innings over nine starts and 16 relief outings. He started off very slow in 1969, giving up 13 runs over 11 innings through early June. Jackson finished his career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1969, joining them after being purchased from New York on June 13th. He had a 5.27 ERA in 27.1 innings over 33 games with the Reds. He had a 67-99, 3.98 career record in 302 games, 184 as a starter, with 1,389.1 innings pitched.