This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 17th, Pirates and Braves Swap .300 Hitters

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two transactions of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1884, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys sold pitcher Bob Barr to the Washington Nationals, reportedly for $100. It’s listed as the first transaction with another Major League team in Pittsburgh Pirates franchise history. The 27-year-old Barr was 6-18, 4.38 in 203.1 innings as a rookie with the 1883 Alleghenys (a very bad team). He would go 9-23 in 32 starts (32 complete games) for Washington in 1884, putting up a solid 3.45 ERA in 281.1 innings. He had a career 49-98 record in the majors, and even in his best season when he won 28 games in 1890, he still led the league (American Association) with 24 losses. The date of this transaction is sometimes listed as occurring on February 14th, but I was able to track down the official announcement, along with some interesting information on the deal. Barr had an interest in playing for his hometown team (Washington) and also had a business in town that he could watch over while playing baseball. The Alleghenys manager Denny McKnight said at the time of the deal that he always held Barr in high esteem, as both a player and a person, plus the Washington team badly needed his services. That last part was true, as Washington went 12-51 before folding and being replaced by Richmond. However, it was also true that the Alleghenys could have used him because the 1884 season is one of the worst in franchise history, with a 30-78 record. McKnight lasted just 12 games before he was replaced as manager.

On this date in 1912 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded 24-year-old outfielder Vin Campbell to the Boston Braves for 33-year-old outfielder Mike Donlin. Both players were great hitters, but they weren’t loyal to baseball. Campbell was a businessman and Donlin a vaudeville actor. Both would leave baseball for periods of time, or hold out for more money, because they knew they could make better money elsewhere. Donlin would’ve likely been a Hall of Fame player had he not sat out three full seasons in his prime. He was a .333 career hitter in 1,049 games. He batted .316 in 68 games in 1911 after sitting out the previous two seasons. Campbell was a .323 hitter over 139 games for the 1910-11 Pirates. Both players would end up playing just one season for their new teams, then they both sat out the 1913 season. Donlin hit .316 in 77 games for the 1912 Pirates, while Campbell hit .296 for Boston and led the league in at-bats.

The Players

Dave Wissman, outfielder for the 1964 Pirates. He was signed by Pittsburgh as an amateur free agent at 20 years old. When Wissman signed with the Pirates in June of 1961, scout Chick Whalen said that he had an arm that would stand up well to anyone in baseball, including (Roberto) Clemente. He also noted that Wissman could make it as a pitcher if he was put there. Wissman batted .333 with ten homers and 20 doubles in 70 games during his first season while playing for Kingsport of the Class-D Appalachian League. He also made a brief stop that year with Batavia of the Class-D New York-Penn League. He moved up a level for 1962 and slumped, hitting .244 with 85 runs scored, 19 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBIs and 12 steals in 119 games for the Grand Forks Chiefs of the Northern League. Wissman moved up to Double-A Asheville of the South Atlantic League in 1963 and hit .272 with 80 runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 11 homers and 67 walks in 134 games. Prior to the 1964 season, Wissman got some great praise, coming from Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler, who was a hitting coach for the Pirates at the time. He called Wissman a future Major League player, who had the power and smarts to make it in the game. It took him just five months to reach that goal.

Wissman followed that up that compliment with a .255 average, 21 doubles ten homers and 50 walks in 139 games in 1964 for Triple-A Columbus of the International League, earning a September call-up to the Pirates. He joined the Pirates after the Triple-A season on September 11th, and he made his debut four days later. He played 16 games for the Pirates, and although didn’t get a start until the 159th game of the season, the Pirates started him in left field twice and center field twice during the last four games of the year. While in the minors he spent most of his playing time at third base (491 of 813 games). He went 4-for-27 with a walk and two runs scored during his brief big league career. On December 9, 1964, he was sold to the Pirates Triple-A team in Columbus, so the Pirates could make room on their roster for newly-acquired infielder Andre Rodgers. Wissman played two more years in Triple-A with Columbus, then one season in the Detroit Tigers system, before retiring. He hit at least ten homers in all six minor league seasons for the Pirates, but never more than 14 in a year. He stole a total of 25 bases over his first two years, then just 13 more the rest of the way. His average dropped to .233 during the 1965 season, though with 58 walks, he had a decent .333 OBP. He also hit 14 homers that year, giving him a respectable .703 OPS. In 1974, the average was nearly identical (.232), but the walk rate dropped and the slugging stayed the same, giving him a .669 OPS that was 25 points below league average. That OPS dropped another seven points in his final season. Despite the initial scouting report saying he could make it as a pitcher, he never pitched a single inning in the minors.

Whammy Douglas, pitcher for the 1957 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1953 at 18 years old. He debuted with Lexington of the Class-D Tar Heel League, where he went 9-7, 3.56 in 134 innings, with 117 strikeouts. The next season he put up a 27-6, 2.06 record with 273 strikeouts in 271 innings, while pitching for the Brunswick Pirates, a D-Level affiliate of Pittsburgh in the Georgia-Florida League. That performance, despite being five levels below the majors, earned him a look with the Pirates during Spring Training in 1955. He remained with the club through early April before reporting to the minors, but did not see any big league games. Douglas made five starts for Brunswick in 1955, but the majority of his season was spent with Williamsport of the Class-A Eastern League, where he went 1-6, 5.11 in 74 innings. He also made it all the way up to Double-A in 1955 for a short time with New Orleans of the Southern League, then remained at that level for the entire 1956 season while mainly playing for a team in Mexico. In August of 1956, he pitched back-to-back one-hit shutouts. He also saw brief time with New Orleans again that year.

With Triple-A Columbus of the International League in 1957, Douglas went 10-10, 2.71 in 133 innings over 20 starts and six relief appearances, earning a promotion to the majors in late July. The day before he joined the Pirates, he got knocked out of his minor league start in the first inning, so it seemed like a bit of odd timing, but the Pirates had a need for pitchers at the time. For the 1957 Pirates, he went 3-3, 3.26 in 11 games, eight as a starter. He walked 30 batters in 46 innings, which included seven walks during his big league debut. Douglas competed for a job during Spring Training in 1958, but he was one of the last cuts, getting optioned to Columbus of the International League on April 12th, three days before the season opener. He went 16-10, 3.35 in 212 innings, with 160 strikeouts, while with Columbus in 1958. The Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on January 30, 1959 in a seven-player deal that saw them acquire Harvey Haddix, Smoky Burgess and Don Hoak. After the deal, Douglas pitched for three seasons in the minors before retiring, briefly making a comeback in 1965 before ending his playing days for good. A sore arm led to limited work, and he was released during the 1960 season after just three games. He ended up signing late in the 1961 season and tossed another 22.2 innings. His real first name was Charles. His nickname was from his childhood according to Douglas and it came from how hard he used to hit the ball playing games as a kid. He lost his right eye as a young kid and had an artificial one, which he claimed didn’t hinder him while playing baseball. He was a fastball/curveball pitcher.

Ed Brandt, pitcher for the 1937-38 Pirates. Brandt debuted in pro ball in 1924 at 19 years old. He played four years for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, seeing just limited time in each of his first three seasons. He is credited with throwing 19 innings over four games in 1924, followed by an 11.14 ERA in 21 innings over five appearances in 1925. He was still limited in 1926, but he did much better, posting a 3.43 ERA in 21 innings that year. He finally got a regular spot in 1927 and that led to an 11-year career in the majors. Brandt went 19-11, 3.97 in 261 innings in 1927, after pitching a total of 61 innings over his first three season. Despite the strong season in 1927 and the long career that followed, he had a rough start to his big league career with the Boston Braves in 1928. Brandt led the National League in losses as a rookie, going 9-21, 5.07 in 225.1 innings, with 109 strikeouts and 84 walks. Things didn’t get much better in 1929, as offense started to reach a peak in baseball. He went 8-13, 5.53 in 167.2 innings during his sophomore season, this time with 83 walks and 50 strikeouts. His 1930 performance could actually be considered a big improvement, as that year is one of the best in baseball history for hitters (1894 gives it a good run for the money). Brandt went 4-11 in 147.1 innings, but he actually lowered his ERA to 5.01, while ERAs were going up all around baseball. He was basically league average that year, as the NL had a combined 4.97 ERA.

Brandt would turn things around in 1931 and run off a string of four consecutive seasons winning at least 16 games. Offense saw a significant drop in 1931 around baseball, but nothing like he accomplished. He went 18-11, 2.92 in 250 innings for a team that finished with a 64-90 record. He also improved to a 77:112 BB/SO ratio that year, and even earned significant MVP support, finishing tenth in the voting. His strikeout total would end up as his career high, though he topped the 100 mark three more times. The Braves were a .500 team in 1932 and so was Brandt. He went 16-16, 3.97 in 254 innings. He improved to 18-14 in 1933, posting a career low 2.60 ERA and a career high 287.2 innings. He threw 23 complete games that season, tying his career high set two years earlier. He went 16-14, 3.53 in 255 innings in 1934, as the Braves finished five games over the .500 mark. Brandt saw his ERA shoot up to 5.00 during the 1935 season, while his record was an abysmal 5-19 for a team that finished 38-115 under Hall of Fame manager Bill McKechnie. Brandt failed to reach 200 innings for the first time in five years, finishing the year with 174.1 innings over 25 starts and four relief appearances.

After that rough 1935 season, the Braves traded Brandt to the Brooklyn Dodgers on December 12, 1935. Almost exactly one year later, the Dodgers shipped him to the Pirates. He bounced back a bit during his one year in Brooklyn, going 11-13, 3.50 in 234 innings over 29 starts and nine relief appearances. That led to the Pirates giving up young infielder Cookie Lavagetto in the trade for Brandt, which did not work out well, as Lavagetto went on to become a four-time All-Star. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, Brandt went 16-14, 3.23 in 57 games, 38 as a starter. His 11 wins for the 1937 Pirates ranked third on the team. He also finished second with his 3.11 ERA and third with 176.1 innings pitched. A slow start limited his work in 1938, but from mid-June through early September, Brandt posted a 1.88 ERA over 67 innings, which included eight starts and five relief appearances. He finished the season 5-4, 3.46 in 96.1 innings. The Pirates released him in 1939 during Spring Training. He played a part of that 1939 season in the minors with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League before retiring as a player. He finished his 11-year big league career with a 121-146, 3.86 record in 2,268.1 innings, with 278 starts, 100 relief appearances, 150 complete games, 18 shutouts and 17 saves. Brandt passed away tragically at the age of 39  in 1944 after he was hit by a car.

Eddie Phillips, catcher for the 1931 Pirates. He had a 20-year pro career beginning in 1924 when the Boston Braves signed him out of Boston College. Phillips played three games that year for the Braves, then it took him five more years to get back to the majors as a member of the Detroit Tigers. It’s a bit surprising that it took him that long, because he did well in the minors from the start. He spent part of 1924 and all of 1925 with Worcester of the Class-A Eastern League, where he hit .300 in 58 games in 1924 and .323 with 39 extra-base hits in 126 games in 1925. The next season saw him switch to Albany of the Eastern League, where he batted .306 with 29 extra-base hits in 99 games. Phillips batted .370 with 34 extra-base hits in 71 games in 1927, spending most of the year with Nashville of the Class-A Southern Association. He moved up to Toronto of the Double-A International League in 1928 and he hit .317 with 14 doubles and six homers in 85 games. After one season in Detroit, in which he hit .235 with 13 doubles, two homers and 21 RBIs in 63 games, he was back in Toronto in 1930. He hit .262 in 118 games, with 34 extra-base hits in 1930.

Phillips was picked by the Philadelphia Athletics in the September 1930 Rule 5 draft. Four months after being selected by the Athletics, the Pirates purchased his contract to give them a suitable catching duo, going along with Rollie Hemsley, who had been around since 1928. That 1931 season would end up being the best year of Phillips’ career. While he was acquired because the Pirates liked his defense, he set personal highs in games played (106), hits (82), home runs (seven) and RBIs (44). He took over the starting duties from Hemsley, which did not work out well for the Pirates in the long run. Just over a year after acquiring him, the Pirates traded Phillips and pitcher Bob Osborn to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in exchange for pitcher Bill Swift. The trade was a huge success for the Pirates, as Swift spent nine seasons pitching for Pittsburgh, picking up 91 wins along the way. Dropping Hemsley in favor of one year of Phillips didn’t work out for the Pirates behind the plate. Hemsley would go on to become a five-time All-Star and played another 16 years in the majors.

Phillips spent parts of three more seasons in the majors after his trade to Kansas City. He was a member of the 1932 World Series winning New York Yankees, as well as seeing time with the 1934 Washington Senators and 1935 Cleveland Indians. He played just nine games with the Yankees, who had Hall of Famer Bill Dickey make 107 starts that year behind the plate. In 1934, Phillips led the American League by throwing out 56.3% of attempted base stealers, though he played just 56 games that season. He batted .195 with nine extra-base hits, 16 RBIs and 26 walks. Despite reaching base 60 times via hit/walk/HP, he scored just six runs that year, and two of those came on home runs. For the 1935 Indians, he batted .273 with 16 doubles and 41 RBIs in 70 games. Phillips retired with a .237 average in his six seasons, with 82 runs, 54 doubles, 14 homers and 126 RBIs in 312 games.  He spent his final eight seasons of pro ball in the minors, the last five (1939-43) as a player-manager, playing his final game at 41 years old. His final four years were spent in Class-B ball, all he managed for four different teams during those five seasons.

Rivington Bisland, shortstop who pinch-hit for the Pirates on September 13, 1912. He began his minor league career in 1909, and his one game for the Pirates three years later was his Major League debut. Bisland was actually property of the Pirates for quite some time before his one game. He signed with them originally in July of 1909 and even got to play against them in a September 20th exhibition game while playing for Wheeling of the Central League. While no stats are available from that 1909 season, Bisland also spent time that year with Pottsville of the Atlantic League. He was sent back to Wheeling for the 1910 season, where he hit .254 in 61 games, with five doubles and five triples. The Pirates acquired him again from Wheeling, this time via the minor league draft on August 20, 1910, though he didn’t report to the Pirates until the following spring. Bisland had a chance to compete for a job with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1911, but while getting into shape for the season, he re-injured his foot, which was badly injured due to a spiking during the 1910 season and not properly tended to at the time. There was word that doctors wanted to amputate his foot at one point and his father wouldn’t allow it. Bisland played with bandages around the bad foot for years after the injury occurred. Bisland signed his 1911 contract with the Pirates just days before the second injury occurred. He competed that spring with Max Carey for an outfield spot and lost out late as he was hampered somewhat by the injury, which led to the Pirates releasing him on option to Indianapolis of the Class-A American Association on April 3rd. No stats are available from 1911, but when the Pirates picked up his option on August 16, 1911, he was with Youngstown of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League.

Bisland spent the 1912 season playing for Springfield of the Central League (Class-B), where he hit .287 in 114 games, with 34 doubles, four triples and no homers. He was called one of the best fielding third basemen in the league, though the Pirates had plans to use him at second base that September, competing with Alex McCarthy for playing time. Bisland got his one pinch-hit at-bat during a 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, making an out while batting for pitcher Marty O’Toole in the top of the tenth inning. Max Carey followed him with a homer that proved to be the game winner. On September 28th, Bisland was among a small group of players who was allowed to go home early while the rest of the team went on a road trip to finish the season. He competed for a utility spot on the 1913 Pirates, going 11-for-47 in 12 Spring Training games, but was a late cut, though he remained with the team working out for two weeks. On April 28th, the Pirates sold him to the Atlanta Crackers on the Class-A Southern Association, where he played in each of the next three years (1913-15). Those first two years after leaving the Pirates, he got brief trials with the 1913 St Louis Browns and 1914 Cleveland Naps (Indians). He did well for Atlanta in 1913, hitting .301 in 127 games, with 19 homers, ten triples and 16 steals. He batted .136 with three runs and three RBIs in 12 September/October games at shortstop for the Browns. For the Naps, he batted .105 in 18 May/June games, with nine runs, two RBIs and six walks, while playing shortstop. During his final season in the minors, he hit .229 with 21 extra-base hits in 129 games with Atlanta. He was on the reserve list of Chattanooga of the Southern Association in 1916, but he retired to go into business in New York City. In 102 career Major League at-bats, he hit .118 with one extra-base hit (a double). While Bisland was born in New York, he is one of two former MLB players who passed away in Austria.