This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 15th, The Garner and Easler Trades

Two trades of note, plus six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

The Trades

On this date in 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded minor leaguers George Hill and Martin Rivas to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Mike Easler. There was also cash involved in the deal, going to Boston. This trade brought back Easler before he could play a game for Boston. He was sold to the Red Sox on October 27, 1978 after spending two years in the Pirates organization. At the time, Easler had already played parts of five seasons in the majors (three with the Houston Astros, one with California Angels) totaling just 57 games. During the 1979 World Series winning season for the Pirates, Easler was the ultimate bench player, getting three starts over the entire year and 52 appearances off of the bench. He had one at-bat in the NLCS and two plate appearances in the World Series. Easler played for the Pirates until the end of the 1983 season, when he would be traded back to the Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. While with the Pirates, Easler was a .302 hitter, twice batting over .300, including his 1980 season that saw him hit .338 with 21 homers. He was an All-Star during the 1981 season.

On this date in 1977, the Pirates and Oakland A’s hooked up for a nine-player deal. The Pirates acquired Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and Chris Batton. They gave up six players, including Tony Armas, a 23-year-old rookie in 1976 that would go on to win two home run crowns and have a productive 13-year career. Also included in the deal was Doc Medich (who the Pirates just gave up three players for prior to the 1976 season), Mitchell Page, Rick Langford, Doug Bair and longtime reliever, Dave Giusti. Garner was the key return and he was a big part of their 1979 title run, batting .293 in 150 games, with 32 doubles, 17 stolen bases, 76 runs scored and 59 RBIs. He hit .417 in the NLCS and .500 in the World Series. Garner spent five years in Pittsburgh before being traded for Johnny Ray, which turned out to be a great deal.

While Garner really helped the Pirates, they did not win this deal. Helm was released in June and Batton never played in the majors, so it was basically Garner for six players. Tony Armas alone would have been enough to give up. He had 13.4 WAR in Oakland before they used him as a trade chip in a similar deal to the Pirates bringing in Ray. Garner and Helms had 13.0 WAR combined. That would have been a great deal for both sides. Oakland got seven years out of Mitchell Page, including a huge rookie season that saw him earn 6.1 WAR. He was average after that point and finished his career with a short stint with the 1984 Pirates. Langford pitched ten years in Oakland and had 11.4 WAR, though they would have been much better off keeping him nine years because his final season was -1.7 WAR. Bair put in one solid season in Oakland before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. He eventually returned to the Pirates in 1989. Medich got off to a mediocre start and then was sold mid-season to the Texas Rangers. The Pirates gave up Willie Randolph to get him, along with pitchers Ken Brett and Dock Ellis, who both pitched better than Medich in 1976, so he was part of two bad trades in a short time. Giusti pitched well through August before he was sold to the Chicago Cubs.

The Players

Sean Poppen, pitcher for the 2021 Pirates. He was a 19th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2016 at 22 years old out of Harvard. He signed right away and went to Elizabethton of the short-season Appalachian League, where he went 2-3, 2.97 with 38 strikeouts in 36.1 innings over eight starts. He also made four appearances (three starts) for Low-A Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League and had a 2.12 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 appearances. Poppen spent a little more than half of the 2017 season at Cedar Rapids, where he went 6-2, 2.90 in 87 innings over 14 starts, picking up 81 strikeouts. He also made eight starts for Fort Myers of the High-A Florida State League, going 3-2, 3.63 in 52 innings. In 2018, he had a 2.41 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 33.1 innings with Fort Myers, followed by a 5-7, 3.83 record in 14 starts and four relief appearances for Double-A Chattanooga of the Southern League. He finished the year with a total of 123 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. The Twins switched Southern League affiliates in 2019, and Poppen had a 4.40 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 28.2 innings for Pensacola. He also spent time with Triple-A Rochester of the International League, where he went 5-1, 3.84 in 61 innings over nine starts and three relief outings. He had 107 strikeouts in 89.2 innings that year. The Twins called him up twice in the middle of the season and he allowed seven runs over 8.1 innings in four appearances. During the shortened 2020 season, Poppen made six appearances for the Twins, allowing four runs in 7.2 innings while striking out ten batters. The Pirates picked him up on waivers on October 1, 2020. He pitched three games for the 2021 Pirates and allowed seven runs (four earned) in 4.2 innings. He also made two appearances with Triple-A Indianapolis before being sold to the Tampa Bay Rays. Poppen made one appearance with the Rays and retired both batters he faced. The rest of his time there was spent in Triple-A before being lost on waivers to the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 2, 2021. He pitched 20 games in Arizona, posting a 4.67 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17.1 innings. So far the 28-year-old has a 5.59 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.

Steven Jackson, pitcher for the 2009-10 Pirates. He was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks after being selected in the tenth round of the 2004 amateur draft out of Clemson. He had been selected in two previous drafts, taken in the 38th round out of high school by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000, followed by a 32nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2003 out of Clemson. He debuted in pro ball as a reliever, then moved to the starting rotation for the 2005 season in Low-A. He played for two short-season teams in 2004 after being drafted, seeing time with Missoula of the Pioneer League and Yakima of the Northwest League. Jackson had a 4.28 ERA in 33.2 innings over two starts and 14 relief appearances He had a 10-5, 5.33 record in 158.2 innings over 28 starts during his first full year in the minors, spending the year with South Bend of the Midwest League. Despite that performance, he moved up to Double-A Tennessee of the Southern League in 2006 and had a 2.65 ERA in 149.2 innings. After posting a winning record with an ERA that was twice as high, he went 8-11 during that 2006 season. He bumped up his strikeout rate that year in slightly fewer innings, going from 89 in 2005 to 125 in 2006, the only year he reached the century mark in strikeouts. Jackson went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and pitched poorly, putting up a 7.11 ERA in 19 innings over six starts.

Arizona sent Jackson to the New York Yankees, along with Ross Ohlendorf, as part of the trade for Randy Johnson prior to the 2007 season. He had a 5.40 ERA in 90 innings, splitting the 2007 season between Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League. He made 11 starts that season and 17 relief appearances. He attended the Arizona Fall League again that year and got roughed up a bit as a reliever in 16 innings of work, posting a 5.63 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP. The 2008 season saw him move back to relief full-time, and he once again split the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He didn’t pitch well in Trenton, but he put up a 3.17 ERA in 48.1 innings, with 54 strikeouts while with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He finished the year with 91 strikeouts in 79.2 innings. The Pirates picked up Jackson off of waivers from the Yankees on May 18, 2009 after he posted a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He made his big league debut two weeks later, making 40 relief appearances for the Pirates before the season was over. He had a 2-3, 3.14 record in 43 innings, with more walks (22) than strikeouts (21). In 2010 he bounced between Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League and the Pirates, getting called up four different times during the season. In 11 big league appearances, he had an 8.74 ERA in 11.1 innings pitched. He was let go by the Pirates after the 2010 season and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in March of 2011. Los Angeles released him two months later, then he signed on with the Cincinnati Reds, who traded him back to the Pirates one month later. He had a 5.86 ERA in 39 minor league games in 2011, pitching a total of 63 innings for four different teams. He saw most of his time with Indianapolis, where he had a 3.96 ERA in 36.1 innings over 24 relief appearances. That was his last season of pro ball. His final big league totals show a 2-4, 4.31 record in 54.1 innings over 51 games.

Nellie King, pitcher for the 1954-57 Pirates. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals in 1946 at 18 years old, before joining the Pirates farm system two years later. King was cut twice during his first year of pro ball and had to go through tryouts to get a third shot in 1947. That year he played for Geneva of the Class-D Alabama State League, where he went 8-11, 3.06 in 194 innings. He went 20-13, 3.14 in 284 innings during his first minor league season with the Pirates affiliates in 1948, spending that season in Class-D ball with New Iberia of the Evangeline League. He also saw brief time with Anderson of the Class-B Tri-State League that year, making six appearance and throwing 18 innings. King moved on to York of the Class-B Interstate League in 1949, where he had a 16-15, 2.25 record in 212 innings. The 1950 season saw him reach Double-A New Orleans of the Southern Association for three appearances and eight innings, after going 9-10, 3.41 in 145 innings for Charleston of the Class-A South Atlantic League. King spent all of 1951-52 serving in the military during the Korean War. When he returned to pro ball in 1953, he went to a relief role, pitching 50 games (two starts) in A-Ball for Denver of the Western League. That season he had a 15-3, 2.00 record and 87 strikeouts in 99 innings.

King started the 1954 season with the Pirates, but after pitching seven innings over four relief outings, he returned to the minors. Playing back in New Orleans, he won 16 games and had a 2.25 ERA in 184 innings. He began the 1955 season with the Pirates and pitched well, with a 2.98 ERA in 54.1 innings over 17 games (four starts), but once again he finished the season in the minors. He was sent down on June 24th and didn’t return, though he managed to pick up a big league loss four days later when a game from April 24th was resumed and he was already the pitcher of record on the losing side at the time. King would finally play an entire Major League season in 1956, throwing 38 games and 60 innings, all in relief. He went 4-1, 3.15 and picked up five saves (not an official stat at the time). King injured his arm during that 1956 season, and although he pitched all of 1957 with the Pirates as well, he was forced to retire due to the injury following that year. He was said to be suffering from a dead arm in 1955 as well, but it got worse during the following seasons. In 36 appearances in 1957, he had a 4.50 ERA in 52 innings. King retired with a 7-5, 3.58 record and six saves in 173.1 innings over 95 games (four starts). After his playing days, he became a radio announcer for the Pirates from 1967 until 1975. Before his second career, he got a job in 1958 to be the batting practice pitcher for the Pirates. Back when teams finishing in the top four spots in the division as split postseason money, the Pirates gave King a $100 share of their 1958 money, with full sums of just over $1,500 going to each player, and a half sum went to the batboy. During his playing days, he was mainly referred to as Nelson, not Nellie, though any time he signed items, he used Nellie.

Whitey Wietelmann, infielder for the 1947 Pirates. He played eight seasons with the Boston Braves prior to coming to Pittsburgh in a six-player deal on September 30, 1946. That deal also included future Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Herman, who finished his career in 1947 with the Pirates as a player/manager. Unfortunately for the Pirates, they gave up Bob Elliott, who would win the MVP during the 1947 season. Wietelmann wasn’t much of a hitter during his nine-year career in the majors. His highest batting average was .271 in 1945, and his career average prior to coming to the Pirates was .232, with just six homers in 532 games. He had a rough time breaking into the lineup, playing a total of 87 big league games during his first four season, including just 42 starts. He finally got playing time in 1943 when the war opened up roster spots for the players who weren’t drafted. He began pro ball at 18 years old in 1937, starting a 20-year career with Beaver Falls of the Class-D Pennsylvania State Association, where he hit just .233 with 20 extra-base hits in 88 games. In 1938, he played for Evansville of the Class-B Three-I League, hitting .242 in 117 games, with 61 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 59 RBIs and 43 walks. Wietelmann moved up to Hartford of the Class-A Eastern League in 1939 and had some troubles at the plate, batting .235 in 141 games, with 22 extra-base hits. Despite those results two levels lower than the majors, he debuted with the Braves in early September and finished out the year as their everyday shortstop. In 23 games, he batted .203 with a .443 OPS.

Wietelmann spent the entire 1940 season in Boston as a seldom-used backup, who didn’t get his first start until September 15th, then made seven starts over the final two weeks of the season. He hit .195 with a double and five walks in 46 plate appearances over 35 games. In 1941, he split the year between Hartford and Boston. He didn’t hit well in Hartford, batting .213 with seven doubles and four triples in 65 games, but that was better than his results with the Braves, where he hit .091 with a walk in 16 games, resulting in a .209 OPS. Wietelmann spent almost all of 1942 with Louisville of the American Association and had a break out of sorts with the bat, hitting .260 with 69 runs, 21 doubles, three triples and 55 walks in 133 games. He began the year with the Braves, but after two games without a plate appearance in May, he was sent to the minors until September. When he returned, he hit .206 with a .554 OPS in 11 games for Boston. That total performance was still enough to earn him a full-time job in 1943. Wietelmann started all 153 games at shortstop for the Braves that season, playing all but 20 innings that entire year. He hit just .215, with 33 runs, 14 doubles and 39 RBIs, but his 2.5 dWAR was the fifth highest total for all National League players that year. In 1944, he batted .240 in 125 games, setting a career high with 18 doubles. He had 46 runs, 32 RBIs, 33 walks and his first two big league homers. He wasn’t much of a runner, which showed that year when he went 0-for-7 in stolen bases.

Wietelmann’s .271 average in 1945 also came with a career best .683 OPS, as well as career highs with 53 runs scored, 116 hits and four homers. In 123 games that season, he had 22 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and 39 walks. In 1946 he hit .205 in 44 games, receiving only 92 plate appearances all season. He had 14 walks, but failed to pick up an extra-base hit. After his trade to Pittsburgh during the 1946-47 off-season, Whitey (his first name was William) played 48 games for the Pirates in 1947, seeing time at all four infield positions (shortstop was the position he played the most during his career). He batted .234 with seven RBIs in 128 at-bats that year. Just hours after the last game of the season ended, he was released to Sacramento of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. That would be his last season in the majors, but his playing days were far from done. Wietelmann played 580 big league games, hitting .232 with seven homers, 122 RBIs and 170 runs scored. He had a rough time on the bases, going 14-for-33 in steal attempts during his career. He played another nine years in the minors before finally retiring at 37 years old in 1956. His first five years were all spent in the Pacific Coast League, seeing time with three different teams during that stretch. Wietelmann was a player-manager during his last four years of pro ball. While he had moved all the way down to Class-C ball by the end, he had quite an impressive season in 1955. That year he went 21-13, 4.86 in 257.2 innings for Yuma of the Arizona-Mexico League. While he had some previous pitching experience, he didn’t begin to pitch often until 1953, when he had a 3.47 ERA in 114 innings for Wichita Falls of the Big State League. Prior to his big 1955 season on the mound, Wietelmann threw just 34 innings in 1954. He pitched four times in relief in the majors with Boston, giving up 14 runs in 7.2 innings. He played a total of 1,990 games in his pro career.

Fred Bennett, outfielder for the 1931 Pirates. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he had just seven games of Major League experience for the 1928 St Louis Browns. Bennett was a great minor league hitter, who never got a full chance in the majors. His lowest batting average over his first six seasons in the minors was .345, which he reached during each of his first two seasons. He wasn’t just a singles hitter though. He he combined to hit 153 homers during the 1925-29 seasons. Bennett debuted with Class-C Muskogee of the Western Association at 22 years old in 1924, where he played his first 2 1/2 seasons.  Along with his .345 average in 1924, he had 26 extra-base hits in 48 games. In 1925 he batted .345 in 149 games, with 45 doubles, seven triples and 32 homers. He split the 1926 season between Muskogee (87 games) and Tulsa of the Class-A Western League (69 games), combining to hit .366 with 48 doubles, 13 triples and 38 homers. Bennett had a .385 average in 153 games for Tulsa in 1927, with 234 hits, 55 doubles, 14 triples and 21 homers. It was a high offense league/team, with all but one regular hitting over .300 that year, and six players had over 50 extra-base hits. After his brief stint with the Browns in which he got no starts and eight plate appearances, he returned to Tulsa for the rest of the season and hit .371 in 136 games, with 28 doubles, five triples and 35 homers.

Bennett spent all of 1929 with Wichita Falls of the Class-A Texas League, hitting .368 in 154 games, with 203 hits, 39 doubles, 11 triples and 27 homers. The 1930 season helped earn him a job for the following year with the Pirates, though it was actually well below his norm. He was playing at the upper level of the minor league system for the first time that year, spending the first half of the season with Milwaukee of the Double-A American Association (highest level at the time). He hit .302 in 92 games, with 23 doubles, seven triples and four homers. There was some controversy over Bennett’s signing with the Pirates that ended in a court case with commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. During July of the 1930 season, Landis ruled that the Browns farmed Bennett out too many times without asking waivers on him and he became a free agent immediately, which ended his season early with Milwaukee. However, he couldn’t sign with any team until the suit was settled. He didn’t officially join the Pirates until the second week of the 1931 season, signing a deal immediately after the case was settled on April 25th. The Browns appealed the decision, but Bennett debuted with the Pirates just three days later as a pinch-hitter. For the 1931 Pirates, he sat the bench almost all of late April and May before getting more time in June, getting his first start on June 2nd. In consecutive games on June 10-11, he collected a total of seven hits against the New York Giants. He ended up playing 32 games before being released outright to Fort Worth of the Texas League on July 29th. Bennett hit .281 with seven RBIs and seven walks in 97 plate appearances, during what would be his last season in the majors. He batted .281 with Fort Worth in limited time, then finished the year with Newark of the Double-A International League, where he hit .357 in 17 games.

Bennett played minor league ball until 1939, finishing with a career .342 average over 1,369 games. He finished his pro career at 37 years old playing Class-D ball, which would be the same as playing for a short-season team now, five levels below the majors. He moved around a lot after leaving the Pirates, seeing time with 12 teams in seven years, and that doesn’t include the 1936-37 seasons when he wasn’t playing pro ball, retiring in 1937, before making a comeback in 1938 with Marshall of the East Texas League, though that lasted just six games and then he played for two other teams during the season. His listed nickname now is “Red”, but he had the nickname Powerhouse during part of his time in the minors.

Bill Hallman, outfielder for the 1906-07 Pirates. He had played two previous seasons in the majors prior to joining the Pirates, 1901 for the Milwaukee Brewers and 1903 for the Chicago White Sox. Hallman debuted in pro ball in 1894 at 18 years old, playing for two different teams in the Pennsylvania State League, though he’s credited with playing one game for each team. During the 1895 season he tried his hand at pitching, going 16-13, 2.95 in 256 innings for Portsmouth of the Class-B Virginia League. He also hit .250 with ten extra-base hits and 35 runs in 66 games that year. He was a pitcher for part of 1896 as well, throwing 72 innings that year before taking up outfield full-time. Hallman pitched just three games during his final 18 seasons of pro ball. He played 96 games in 1896, split between Portsmouth and Petersburg/Hampton of the Virginia League. His stats are incomplete, but in 96 games he’s credited with 60 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 19 steals. In 1897, he played for Reading of the Class-B Atlantic League and Bloomsburg of the Class-F Central Pennsylvania League. The following year was split between Newark of the Atlantic League and Canandaigua of the New York State League. There are almost no stats available for the 1897-98 seasons. Hallman bounced around a lot during his first five seasons of pro ball, before settling down with Utica of the New York State League in 1899, where he hit .299 with 41 extra-base hits, 36 steals and 62 runs in 116 games. He ended up with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League in 1900, the year before the league reached Major League status. He batted .219 with 13 runs scored in 29 games. Part of that 1900 season was also spent Sioux City of the Class-B Western League. Hallman remained with the Brewers in 1901 and he hit .246 with 70 runs, 27 doubles, 47 RBIs, 41 walks and a .629 OPS in 139 games during his rookie season in the majors.

The Milwaukee franchise moved to St Louis (Browns) after just one season and Hallman stayed in town, playing minor league ball for Milwaukee of the American Association, where he hit .324 with 190 hits and 40 extra-base hits in 143 games in 1902. That earned him his second look in the majors, playing for the 1903 Chicago White Sox. Hallman batted .208 in 63 games, with 29 runs, seven doubles, four triples, 18 RBIs, 11 steals and 31 walks. He was back in the American Association in 1904, where he put up a .307 average and 35 extra-base hits in 143 games for the Louisville Colonels. He stayed with Louisville for all of 1905 and most of 1906. He batted .280 in 123 games in 1905, with 11 doubles and five triples, resulting in a .325 slugging percentage. In 147 games with Louisville in 1906, he had 196 hits, 22 doubles, 11 triples, one homer and a .343 batting average. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 17th, though he didn’t join them until his minor league season was over three weeks later.  Over the last 23 games of the 1906 season with the Pirates, Hallman hit .270 with 15 walks and 12 runs scored. In 1907, he split his playing time over all three outfielder positions, getting into 94 total games. He hit .222 with 39 runs, eight extra-base hits, 15 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and 33 walks. Off-season conditioning was apparently a major issue and it was thought that the added weight kept his performance down.

Hallman was returned to the American Association in 1908, playing for the Kansas City Blues, which started a stretch of seven more years in the minors before he retired as a player. Those first five years saw him play with four American Association teams, including Toledo, Indianapolis and back to Louisville. He played for Montgomery of the Class-A Southern Association for part of 1912, and then his final two years were spent with Bridgeport of the Class-B Eastern Association. In his final season in 1914 at 38 years old, he batted .400 in 125 games. Hallman played a total of 18 years in the minors. He batted .235 in his 319 Major League games, including a .233 average in his 117 games with the Pirates. Over his four seasons, he had 150 runs scored, 43 doubles, 13 triples, three homers, 86 RBIs and 47 steals. His uncle, also named Bill Hallman, played 14 seasons in the majors and had a pro career that stretched from 1886 until 1909. They were both in the American League for a short time in 1901 and on April 29th they were on opposing sides, with the elder starting at shortstop for the Cleveland Blues, while the nephew was in left field for the Brewers.