Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one major trade of note.
On this date in 1959, the Pirates traded pitcher Whammy Douglas, outfielders Jim Pendleton and John Powers, and third baseman Frank Thomas to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for catcher Smoky Burgess, third baseman Don Hoak and pitcher Harvey Haddix.
Burgess was just about to turn 32 years old at the time of the trade. He was a left-handed hitting catcher who got plenty of pinch-hitting appearances. In 1958, he hit .283 with six homers in a part-time role, but he had hit as many as 21 homers in a season and batted over .300 twice in his career. Haddix was a 33-year-old lefty, who went 8-7, 3.52 in 184 innings in 1958. He won a combined 38 games for the 1953-54 Cardinals. Hoak was just shy of his 31st birthday and had hit .261 with 50 RBIs in 1958, a down year compared to his 1957 season when he led the National League with 39 doubles and hit .291 with 19 homers and 89 RBIs.
The Reds were getting a 29-year-old slugger in Thomas, who had at least 23 homers with the Pirates in each of the last six seasons. Douglas was just 23 year old and went 16-10, 3.35 in Triple-A in 1958. He pitched briefly for the Pirates in 1957, his only Major League experience. Pendleton spent nearly all of 1958 in the minors. He was a 35-year-old outfielder with only 262 games of MLB experience. Powers was 29 years old and had just 90 games in the majors, all with the Pirates, spread out over four seasons. He was a .190 hitter. He would go on to play 43 games for the Reds, almost all off the bench (47 plate appearances total) before they sold him after the 1959 season. Douglas never made the majors again, and Pendleton played just 65 games in Cincinnati before he was sold to the expansion Houston Colt 45’s. Thomas was supposed to be the big piece in the trade for the Reds, but he hit .225 with a career low 12 homers. They shipped him off for three marginal players after the season.
As for the Pirates return, they got more value out of each players than the Reds got out of all four combined. Burgess ended up playing six seasons in Pittsburgh, making three All-Star games, hitting .296 with 265 RBIs and more walks than strikeouts. He was also valuable as a pinch-hitter, where he hit .285 with 147 RBIs in 501 at-bats during his career. He compiled 14.5 WAR while with the Pirates. Haddix pitched five seasons for the Pirates, going 45-38, 3.73 in 166 games, 100 as a starter. He also gave the team one of their greatest games when he started a 1959 contest with 12 perfect innings. He had 9.1 WAR for the Pirates. Hoak put in just four years with the Pirates, but finished second in the MVP voting to his teammate Dick Groat during the 1960 season when the Pirates won the World Series. It goes without saying that this deal helped them greatly to get to that title. He compiled 13.7 WAR in his time in Pittsburgh. The Reds got a total of -1.6 WAR from their four players, and 7.5 WAR over seven seasons from the three players they got in the Thomas trade.
Hipolito Pena, pitcher for the 1986-87 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers at 17 years old in 1981 as an international free agent out of the Dominican, but they released him by mid-season 1983. He played that first season with Butte of the short-season Pioneer League, where he had a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings, despite 33 walks. In 1982, Pena remained in short-season ball, playing for Pikeville of the Appalachian League. That year he had a 4.64 ERA in 21.1 innings, with 16 walks and 23 strikeouts. He pitched just one game for the Brewers in A-Ball in 1984, then finished out the year playing in Mexico. Nearly a year after being released by Milwaukee, Pena signed with the Pirates. He pitched ten games in the Gulf Coast League in 1984, posting a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings, with nine walks and 15 strikeouts. He then split the 1985 season between two Class-A teams, seeing time with Prince William of the Carolina League and Miami of the Florida State League, which was an unaffiliated club. Pena had a 4.06 ERA in 115.1 innings over 45 games (seven starts) that season, showing promise with 136 strikeouts.
Pena went 7-4, 3.55 in 99 innings over 12 starts and 19 relief appearances for Double-A Nashua of the Eastern League in 1986, earning a September call-up to the majors. In ten games for the Pirates, he went 0-3, 8.64 in 8.1 innings. Pena had a 0.00 ERA in his first five outings (one unearned run) and a 21.60 mark in his final five games, allowing runs in each appearance. He began 1987 in Triple-A with Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League, though he would be in the majors by late April. He stayed with the Pirates for just over a month, posting a 3.78 ERA in 16.2 innings over 12 appearances. While the ERA was acceptable, he also walked 16 batters during that short time. After going back to Vancouver, Pena returned to Pittsburgh at the end of July for four games, including his only start of the season. On August 2nd, he allowed five runs over five innings in a 9-1 loss to the St Louis Cardinals. He finished up with an 0-3, 4.56 record in 25.2 innings over 16 games. Right before the start of the 1988 season, he was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for first baseman Orestes Destrade. Pena pitched 16 games in relief for the Yankees in 1988, then finished off his career in the minors, last playing in Independent ball in 1996. He remained with the Yankees through the end of 1991, then had brief stints in Triple-A with the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets in 1992. He was out of pro ball in 1993-94, though he played winter ball during that stretch in the Dominican. He returned to the U.S. for two seasons (1995-96) in the independent Northeast League, throwing exactly 100 innings. During his stint with the 1988 Yankees, he had a 1-1, 3.14 record in 14.1 innings, leaving his with a 1-7, 4.84 record in 48.1 innings over 42 appearances (two starts) in the majors.
Matt Alexander, pinch-runner/outfielder for the 1978-81 Pirates. He spent nine seasons in the majors, played in 374 games, but came to the plate only 195 times in his career. He was a decent minor league hitter over the years, batting .288 total, but in the majors he hit .214 with no homers and four total RBIs over those 195 plate appearances. It is a little odd the Pirates never gave him a chance to bat more because he hit .444 (12-27) for them over those four seasons he was in Pittsburgh. His specialty was speed and he actually stole more bases (30) than he had at-bats (27) with the Pirates. He has the odd career stat line of 36 hits with 111 runs scored and 103 stolen bases. In his nine-year career he played a total of 17 complete games and his name was only in the starting lineup 37 times, though even that comes with the asterisk that he started 12 road games at shortstop in 1977 in which he batted lead-off in the game then left for a defensive replacement at shortstop without playing in the field.
Alexander was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1968, selected in the second round at 21 years old out of Grambling State University. He played during the 1968-69 seasons, then missed all of 1970-71 while serving in the military. The 1968 season was spent with Caldwell of the short-season Pioneer League, where he hit .261 with 16 walks, 29 runs and two steals in 35 games. In 1969, Alexander played 71 games for Quincy of the Class-A Midwest League and 30 games for San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League. He combined to hit .283 with 82 runs scored, 32 extra-base hits, 27 steals and 49 walks. After serving in the military, it didn’t take long after he returned to make his big league debut. He went back to the Texas League, playing for Midland, where he hit .270 in 124 games, with 78 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 38 steals (in 41 attempts) and 58 walks. He made up some missed time by playing winter ball in Mexico during the 1972-73 off-season. Alexander was up with the Cubs by August of 1973, after batting .309 with 61 walks, 22 doubles and 20 steals in 106 games for Triple-A Wichita of the American Association. He batted just six times in 12 games with the Cubs, finishing with four runs, two steals and one hit.
After playing winter ball in Mexico again, Alexander spent the first four month of the 1974 season with the Cubs, though he didn’t get a lot of playing time, and then finished the year back in Wichita. He batted .204 in 54 at-bats with Chicago, adding 12 walks and eight steals. Of note, he had two doubles and one triple, which ended up being exactly half of his career extra-base hits (four doubles and two triples). He didn’t really stick in the majors until he was traded to the Oakland A’s on April 28, 1975. After hitting .203 in 57 games during his time in Chicago, the A’s put him into a role that mainly involved pinch-running and not much else. Alexander was in Triple-A at the time of the deal, but he went right to the majors in Oakland, where he played 63 games that year and batted just 11 times. He had 16 runs scored and the A’s let him run often despite mediocre success, as he went 17-for-27 in steals. In 1976, he managed to compile 16 runs and 20 steals (in 27 attempts) in 61 games, though his hitting in limited usage was awful. He went 1-for-30 at the plate that year, with one single and no walks, resulting in an .067 OPS. Oakland used him in 90 games in 1977 and he stole a career high 26 bases, although his 14 caught stealing negated some of his value on the bases. He did better at the plate, hitting .238 in 42 at-bats, with 24 runs scored. He collected two RBIs that season, which is only significant in that it represented half of his career total.
Alexander was released by the A’s right before the start of the 1978 season and he didn’t join the Pirates until September when the rosters expanded. It was announced just one day earlier (August 31st) that he was signed as a free agent and would serve mainly as a pinch-runner. As it turns out, that’s all he did that season. They used him seven times as a pinch-runner and he had four steals and two runs scored. Alexander was with the Pirates for almost the entire year during the World Series winning 1979 season. He played 44 games, went 7-for-13 at the plate, 13-for-14 in steals and he scored 16 runs. He pinch-ran twice in the postseason and scored one run. In 1980, the Pirates let him bat just three times in 37 games, though he saw time in the field at three different positions. He went 10-for-13 in steals and scored 13 runs. In 1981, he went 4-for-11 at the plate in 15 games and he stole three bases. Prior to the 1982 season, he was sold to a team in Mexico, where he played the last three years of his career. Alexander has plenty of prior winter ball experience in Mexico, playing eight off-seasons before leaving the Pirates. He played two complete games during his four seasons in Pittsburgh, starting in center field on June 17, 1979 and August 26, 1979. He went 3-for-5 in the first game and finished 2-for-5 at the plate in the second game. He had just 12 hits with the Pirates, so nearly half came during his only two complete games with the team.
Vin Campbell, outfielder for the 1910-11 Pirates. He had played just one MLB game (1908 World Series winning Chicago Cubs) prior to being purchased by the Pirates in late July 1909 out of the minors. He attended Vanderbilt before going pro in 1908, and he was also a catcher at the time. The Cubs thought he needed more work behind the plate, and they had a strong catcher at the time in Johnny Kling, so Campbell was sent to the minors after one game. He would stay in the minors until joining the Pirates a year later. He played for Decatur of the Class-B Three-I League in 1908 and hit .279 with 50 runs and 17 steals in 84 games. He became a free agent when it was announced that the Cubs handed him over to Decatur with no money exchanging hands, which led to him appealing to become a free agent and winning his case. Campbell signed with Aberdeen of the Class-B Northwestern League for 1909. It was announced on July 21, 1909 in the local Pittsburgh papers that the Pirates secured his release from Aberdeen, though he remained with his minor league team until the end of the season, hitting .290 in 158 games, with 72 stolen bases and 18 extra-base hits among his 178 hits that year. He was also a full-time outfielder by this time, making the switch during his time in Decatur.
Campbell didn’t play a game for the World Championship team in 1909, but he received plenty of playing time in 1910. He would hit .326 in 97 games that year, with 42 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He was poor defensively, especially early in his career due to changing positions often, so he had trouble finding decent playing time on a strong Pirates team. In 1911, he hit .312 in 42 games, with half of those games coming as a pinch-hitter. Campbell’s main problem during his playing career was that he was a business man as well as a baseball player, and it was something that would severely shorten his career. After the 1911 season he was traded to the Boston Braves in exchange for Mike Donlin, a 34-year-old outfielder, who was a .333 career hitter, but just like Campbell he was also known to just leave baseball on a whim for long periods at a time for better money. Campbell would play three more seasons in the majors with three different teams. He spent the 1912 season in Boston, where he hit .297 in 145 games, with 102 runs scored, 32 doubles, nine triples, 52 RBIs and 19 steals. In 1913, he retired from baseball and worked in Pittsburgh, but returned in 1914 when he was offered a strong salary to play in the Federal League. During the 1914 season with Indianapolis, Campbell hit .318 in 134 games, with 92 runs, 23 doubles, 11 triples, seven homers and 26 steals. He spent the 1915 season in the Federal League with Newark, where he batted .311 in 127 games, with 78 runs scored, 29 extra-base hits and 24 steals. He was just 27 years old at the time, but never played pro ball again. When the Federal League folded, he received many offers to play, but none were close to the pay he received during the 1914-15 seasons, so he retired for good. Campbell hit .310 in 546 big league games, with 326 runs scored, 136 extra-base hits, 171 RBIs and 92 stolen bases.
Charlie Heard, pitcher/outfielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was just 18 years old at the time Pittsburgh debuted him in the majors on July 14, 1890. The team was on a ten-game losing streak that put their record at 16-51, but things would get worse and Heard had a hand. The Alleghenys acquired him on June 24th for pitcher Bill Sowders in a deal with a minor league team, the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western Association. Heard was considered to be one of the top minor league pitchers at the time. He didn’t report to the Alleghenys until three weeks later due to being home with an illness. He would end up making six starts between July 14th and August 30th and he lost all six games. On July 21st he gave up all 20 runs in a 20-7 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. His first four starts all took place in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pa., and he never actually pitched in Pittsburgh. He also played another six games in the outfield when the team was short-handed due to injuries and he hit .186 with no RBIs in 43 at-bats. Heard had a sore arm after his third start and stayed home to rest for over a month. When the Alleghenys returned to Philadelphia, he rejoined the team and pitched the first game of the series. There were rumors that he was released, but he was just given time to recover according to the Pittsburgh owner, J. Palmer O’Neil. Just over a week after his return, he played his last game, a 7-3 loss to the New York Giants. The team finished with a 23-113 record and Heard never played in the majors again. In 1891 he was found pitching well for a semi-pro team in Ohio named the Massillon Russells, where he also played before 1890, but he has no know pro experience after (or before) his 1890 season. He was credited with organizing one of the first professional football teams (in Massillon) and his obituary also credits him with umpiring in baseball. Of slight note, his obits also have the middle initial “H”, while current online sources have no middle name info.
Heard actually pitched for Pittsburgh four days after his last game, in what is now called an exhibition game, though my own personal research says that it was a real game played in Altoona with the Cleveland Spiders. The league had a rule back then that two teams couldn’t play in-season exhibition games until their head-to-head schedule was over. Cleveland and Pittsburgh had more games left after the September 3rd game, which the local papers referred to as a championship game (another way of saying a regular season game back then, meaning a game played towards the league championship race). Heard should have one more loss credited to him and his opponent that day was a rookie pitcher named Cy Young, who should have an extra win to his credit. Without that game, his record currently stands at 0-6, 8.39 in 44 innings, with 32 walks and 13 strikeouts.