This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 28th, John Milner, Zane Smith and the Kluszewski Trade

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

The Trade

On this date in 1957 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Dee Fondy to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Fondy was veteran who the Pirates acquired from the Chicago Cubs during the 1957 season. At age 32 that year, he hit .313 in 95 games for Pittsburgh, in what ended up being his only season with the team. He wasn’t the typical corner infielder. He had more speed and less power than you would normally see at that position, and by 1956 he was on the downside of his career. Kluszweski was a big time slugger at one point in his career, hitting 171 homers from the left side over a four-year stretch from 1953-56. Unfortunately for him, he hurt his back in 1957 and his power disappeared for the season. He hit just six homers in 69 games for the Reds that year, but the Pirates were hoping he could regain his form.

Fondy lasted just one season in Cincinnati and he was mainly used off the bench, starting just 20 games all year. It would be his last seasons in the majors. Kluszewski failed to regain his power. His .292 average in 100 games was strong, but his four homers all year was not, especially not from a first baseman. The Pirates brought him back for the 1959 season, although he was traded away before the season ended. In 60 games with the Pirates that year he managed to hit two homers, giving him a total of six in his 160 games in Pittsburgh, which was a far cry from the slugger their pitchers faced since 1947 in Cincinnati.

The Players

Dario Agrazal, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates.  The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2013 out of Panama, where he grew up pitcher under the tutelage of his father, who was a famous pitcher and pitching coach in Panama. Agrazal came up through the minors as a finesse pitcher with an easy delivery and excellent command of his pitches. He went 6-0, 2.40 in 60 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 at 18 years old. He moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 2014 and had a 3-4, 4.20 record in 55.2 innings over 12 starts. From there he moved up to Morgantown of the New York-Penn League in 2015, posting a 6-5, 2.72 record in 76 innings over 14 starts. Agrazal hit full-season ball in 2016, playing for West Virginia of the South Atlantic League. He went 8-12, 4.20 in 150 innings over 27 outings. He walked just 18 batters all season. He began to add velocity in Low-A in 2016, and then added even more in High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League in 2017, while also racking up strikeouts, which earned him a mid-season promotion to Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League. He went 5-3, 2.91 in 80.1 innings for Bradenton that year. Just when he prospect star seemed to be getting its brightest, Agrazal suffered a pectoral injury in his first start with Altoona that cost his the rest of the season. A forearm strain cost him time during the 2018 season, then a back injury knocked him out of the Arizona Fall League after one game. All three injuries caused him to miss extended time, including missed off-season training time. He had a 3.65 ERA in 93.2 innings in 2018, which included rehab time back in Bradenton.

When Agrazal returned in 2019, he was back to being the finesse/command pitcher, losing all of his added velocity. However, he was able to make it to the majors due to the Pirates using 14 starting pitchers during the season. Agrazal had his share of issues in Triple-A, posting a 4.78 ERA in 12 starts. He was only slightly better in the majors, though his ERA was second best among the seven starters with 11+ starts for the Pirates. Agrazal went 4-5, 4.91 in 73.1 innings for the Pirates. After the season, the Pirates sold him to the Detroit Tigers. He missed the 2020 season due to forearm tendinitis and the Tigers designated him for assignment after the season. He cleared waivers and became a free agent. He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 2021, but ended up pitching just one game in August and gave up three runs in his only inning of work, then went on the injured list for the remainder of the season.

Zane Smith, pitcher for the Pirates from 1990 to 1994 then again in 1996. Smith began his career in the Atlanta Braves system as a third round draft pick in 1982 out of Indiana State. He made his MLB debut two years later and stayed in Atlanta until he was traded to the Montreal Expos on July 2, 1989. Smith debuted during his draft year with Anderson of the Class-A South Atlantic League. He went 5-3, 6.86 in 63 innings, with more walks (34) than strikeouts (32). The next year was spent with Durham of the Class-A Carolina League, where he posted a 9-15, 4.90 record in 170.2 innings over 27 starts. He threw seven complete games. In 1984, he had a 1.65 ERA in nine starts with Greenville of the Double-A Southern League. That was followed by a 4.15 ERA in 19 starts with Richmond of the Triple-A International League. Smith debuted in the majors on September 10th, and he posted a 2.25 ERA in three starts. He remained in the majors for the rest of his career, except for a handful of rehab starts over the years.

In 1985, Smith had a 9-10, 3.80 record in 147 innings, with 18 starts and 24 relief appearances. He followed that up by going 8-16, 4.05 in 204.2 innings, with 32 starts and six relief appearances. His 139 strikeouts that year was a career high. His best season in Atlanta was 1987 when he went 15-10, 4.09 and led the National League with 36 games started. His ERA that season was slightly higher than his overall mark with the Braves, yet he was just 29-48 in his other five seasons combined. He tossed a career high 242 innings that season, while setting a career bests with nine complete games and three shutouts (which he would tie twice). Smith had a down year in 1988 and missed some time, going 5-10, 4.30 in 140.1 innings. His season ended in late August when he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He had a mix of poor support and poor results in 1989, going 1-12, 4.55 in 17 starts with the Braves before being traded to Montreal for three players in July.

With the Expos, Smith moved to the bullpen in 1989 and had a 1.50 ERA over 48 innings and 31 appearances. A year after the Braves/Expos deal, the Pirates acquired him in a trade for pitcher Scott Ruskin, infielder Willie Greene and a player to be named later, which unfortunately for the Pirates, turned out to be Moises Alou. Prior to the trade, Smith had a 6-7, 3.23 record in 139.1 innings for the 1990 Expos. He went 6-2, 1.30 in 76 innings the rest of the way, helping the Pirates to the playoffs. His regular season success failed to carry over as he went 0-2, 6.00 in nine innings against the Reds in the NLCS. He set a career high in wins in 1991, going 16-10, 3.20 in 228 innings over 35 starts, helping the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. This time he pitched great in the playoffs against the Braves. In two starts he posted an 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, allowing just one run.

In 1992, Smith injured his throwing shoulder and made just two starts after July 11th, which cost him a spot on the playoff roster. He was having a fine season up until the injury, posting a 3.06 ERA over 141 innings. He had a rough season in 1993, starting the year on the disabled list, then missing the last month of the season. When he did pitch the results weren’t there, as he went 3-7, 4.55 in 83 innings. He pitched well in 1994, going 10-8, 3.27 in 157 innings before the strike ended the season early. He was allowed to leave via free agency when the season ended. Smith signed with the Boston Red Sox for 1995 and struggled badly in the American League, posting a 5.61 ERA in 110.2 innings over 21 starts and three relief appearances. The Pirates re-signed him early in Spring Training in 1996. He pitched poorly during his second stint with the Pirates, going 4-6, 5.08 in 83.1 innings over 16 starts, and was released by early July. He had a 47-41, 3.35 record in 768.1 innings over six seasons in Pittsburgh. Overall in 13 seasons, he went 100-115, 3.74 in 1,919.1 innings, with 291 starts, 69 relief appearances, 35 complete games and 16 shutouts.

John Milner, 1B/LF for the Pirates from 1978 until 1982. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 14th round in 1968 out of high school. He played with Marion of the short-season Appalachian League in 1968, hitting .321 with 51 runs scored, 18 doubles and 28 RBIs in 67 games. Most of the 1969 season was spent with Visalia of the Class-A California League, where he hit .326 in 111 games, with 90 runs scored, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 63 RBIs and 78 walks. He also saw brief time with Pompano Beach of the Florida State League, hitting .354 with 18 RBIs in 17 games. In 1970, Milner moved up to Memphis of the Texas League, where he had a .297 average in 136 games, with 98 runs scored, 19 doubles, eight triples, 20 homers, 27 steals, and 100 walks. He moved up to Tidewater of the Triple-A International League in 1971. There he batted .290 in 133 games, with 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 19 homers and 87 RBIs. Milner made it to the majors at age 21 in 1971 as a September call-up, and he was a regular in the lineup by the next season. He hit .167 in nine games during his first taste of the majors.

In 1972, Milner saw plenty of time in left field for the Mets. In 117 games, he hit .238 with 12 doubles, 17 homers, 52 runs scored and 51 walks. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. He mostly played first base in 1973, helping the Mets get to the World Series, where he hit .296 with five walks in the seven-game series loss to the Oakland A’s. In 129 games during the regular season, Milner batted .239 with 69 runs scored, 23 homers, 72 RBIs and 62 walks. During the 1974 season, he hit .252 in 137 games, with 70 runs scored, 19 doubles, 20 homers, 63 RBIs and 66 walks. The next season saw him hit .191 with seven homers in 91 games, as he moved to more of a bench role. Milner bounced back in 1976 to hit .271 with 25 doubles, 15 homers, 78 RBIs and 65 walks in 127 games. In his last season in New York, he batted .255 in 131 games, with 20 doubles, 12 homers, 57 RBIs and 61 walks. He spent seven seasons in the majors with the Mets, hitting .245 with 94 homers and 338 RBIs in 741 games.

The Pirates acquired Milner as part of a four-team, 11-player trade in December of 1977 that also included Bert Blyleven coming to the Pirates, while Al Oliver was sent to the Texas Rangers. Milner was used mostly in left field during his first season in Pittsburgh, starting 82 of his 108 games, while hitting .271 with eight homers and 34 RBIs. He had his best season in Pittsburgh in 1979, playing 128 games and hitting .276 with 52 runs scored, 16 homers, 60 RBIs and 53 walks. That batting average was his single season best during his 12-year career. Milner went hitless in the NLCS in 1979, but hit .333 with two walks in the World Series, which was won by the Pirates in seven games. He batted a total of 22 times in the postseason that year. In 1980, Milner took on more of a bench role with the team, getting just 292 plate appearances in 114 games. His batting average dipped to .244, but his walk rate went up, helping him set a season high with a .378 OBP. He hit eight homers, drove in 34 runs and walked 52 times. He had a similar role in the strike-shortened 1981 season until the Pirates traded him to the Montreal Expos on August 20th for veteran first baseman Willie Montanez. Milner was batting .237 with two homers in 34 games at the time of the trade. After playing just 57 games over two seasons with the Expos, Milner was released on July 6, 1982. He re-signed with the Pirates to finish out the 1982 season, then was released just prior to Opening Day in 1983, which ended his pro career. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, he batted .263 with 133 runs scored, 34 homers and 149 RBIs in 417 games. He was a career .249 hitter with 131 homers and 498 RBIs in 1,215 games. He walked more times (504) than he struck out (473) during his career.

Harry Sweeney, first baseman for the 1944 Pirates. Sweeney played one game in the majors, going 0-for-2 and handling all ten plays he had at first base. His one game was the last game of the 1944 season, a doubleheader played on October 1st against the Philadelphia Phillies. Babe Dahlgren started the game at first base, then after one at-bat, Sweeney came in to take his place. The 28-year-old Sweeney was coming off the best season of his nine-year minor league career when he joined the Pirates. Playing for York of the Class-B Interstate League that year, he hit .334 with 14 homers and 39 doubles in 129 games. Despite that strong season and his first trip to the big leagues, Sweeney played just 93 more games in his pro career before retiring. The Pirates purchased his contract from York on August 30, 1944, though he was allowed to remain with his team for two more weeks while they finished out their season. The press release from the day said that he was two years younger than his actual age, and he was third in the Interstate League in batting average at the time. York ended up making the playoffs, which delayed his arrival with the Pirates by two weeks. It likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as manager Frankie Frisch said that he wanted to make sure that the Pirates secured a second place finish (which had bonus money involved for everyone on the team) before he used any of the new players. That didn’t happen until the Pirates won the first game of their doubleheader on the final day of the season (the Cincinnati Reds also lost that day which may have been the clincher depending on completion time). In Spring Training of 1945, Sweeney was supposed to compete for the first base job. He was a no show in camp, and on March 25th he was sent to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League to complete an earlier trade for pitcher Bill Salkeld.

Sweeney debuted in pro ball in 1937 at 21 years old, playing for Paducah of the Class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League. He remained in Class-D ball, playing for McKeesport of the Pennsylvania State League in 1938, where he hit .315 with 31 extra-base hits in 98 games. In 1939, Sweeney saw brief time in McKeesport, while spending the rest of the year with Hutchinson of the Western Association (Class-C). He hit .272 that year, with 12 extra-base hits in 85 games. In 1940, he returned to McKeesport, which also played in Oil City that year. He batted .269 with 35 extra-base hits in 92 games. The entire 1941 season was spent in Oil City, where he hit .303 with 25 doubles, six triples and seven homers in 104 games. Sweeney missed the 1942 season serving in the Army during WWII. He returned to pro ball in 1943 with Albany of the Class-A Eastern League, where he struggled in 35 games, before ending up with York, where he stayed until his purchase by the Pirates. Sweeney hit .235 in 88 games in 1943, with a .638 OPS. After being sold to San Diego following his brief stay in Pittsburgh, he hit .209 in 26 games in 1945. San Diego sold him to Montgomery of the Southeastern League in July of 1946, but a month later (after hitting .161 in 18 games), he was back in York to finish his career, putting up a .326 average in 49 games. He often went by Hank or Henry in print.