This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 28th, Two Trades, Melancon and Yellow Horse

Two Pittsburgh Pirates trades and five former players born on this date, all of them pitchers.

The Trades

On this date in 1989, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded 25-year-old pitcher Brett Gideon to the Montreal Expos in exchange for veteran lefty starter Neal Heaton. Gideon pitched for the Pirates in the majors in 1987, throwing 29 games in relief with a 4.66 ERA. He went 4-8, 2.53 with 15 saves in 49 games in the minors in 1988, splitting the season evenly between Double-A and Triple-A. Heaton had already played seven seasons in the majors, putting up double figure win totals three times, with a high of 13 victories in 1987. In 1988 he went 3-10, 4.99 in 97.1 innings over 32 games, 11 as a starter.

Gideon spent most in 1989 in the minors, getting four appearances for the Expos in June. In 1990 he made the team out of Spring Training. In the second game of the season, a 4-2 loss to the St Louis Cardinals in which he allowed one run in one inning, he injured his elbow and would require surgery that put him out the entire season. Gideon never pitched in the majors again and lasted just 23 more minor league appearances before retiring. Heaton made this trade a one-sided win for the Pirates, sort of. They were only trading for one year of his service, but he re-signed with the Pirates after briefly testing free agent waters. In three seasons he had a 21-19, 3.46 record in 362 innings over 114 games, 43 as a starter. He won 12 games and made the all-star team in 1990, which was the first time that the Pirates made the playoffs since the 1979 season. Then he made 41 relief appearances for the 1991 Pirates, the second straight NL East winner for the city of Pittsburgh. During Spring Training of 1992, the Pirates traded Heaton to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Kirk Gibson, in a deal that didn’t work out for either team.

On this date in 1969, the Pirates traded pitcher Tommie Sisk and catcher Chris Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Ron Davis and infielder Bobby Klaus. Sisk, at age 26, had spent seven seasons with the Pirates, compiling a 37-35, 3.69 record in 264 games, 85 of them as a starter. He went 5-5, 3.28 in 96 innings during the 1968 season. Cannizzaro, age 30, played in the majors from 1960-65 before spending two full seasons in the minors. The Pirates traded for him in November of 1967, and then he played just 25 games with the team in 1968. Davis was 26 years old and had split the 1968 season between the St Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, hitting .203 with one homer and 17 RBIs in 85 games. Klaus was 31 years old and had spent the last three seasons in the minors, after spending all of 1964-65 in the majors.

The Pirates didn’t get much from this deal. Klaus played one season at Triple-A before retiring. Davis in 1969 hit .234 with four RBIs in 62 games, with just ten of those games coming as a starter. He spent the 1970-71 seasons playing for the Pirates in Triple-A before retiring. The 1969 Padres were an expansion team in their first season and they were bad. They finished with a 52-110 record and Sisk saw his performance fall off greatly with his new team. He went 2-13, 4.78 in 13 starts and 40 relief appearances. The Padres traded him to the Chicago White Sox in 1970, and by 1971 his career would be over. Cannizzaro made the All-Star team in 1969, though he didn’t exactly have a great season on offense. He was strong defensively, but he hit .220, with a .587 OPS in 134 games that season. His career lasted six seasons in the majors after the trade. In 1970, he hit .279 with 42 RBIs in 111 games, posting a career best .745 OPS. In terms of value, the Padres got 2.1 WAR in five seasons from Sisk/Cannizzaro, while Davis had -0.7 WAR in his only season with the team.

The Players

Bryan Morris, pitcher for the 2012-14 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who joined the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade during the 2008 season. The Dodgers selected selected Morris 26th overall out of Motlow State Community College in Tennessee in 2006. It’s a school that has produced just 18 draft picks since 1972 and David Weathers is the only MLB player in that group. Morris passed on a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays just one year before being taken by the Dodgers. He made 14 starts as a rookie in pro ball in 2006, going 4-5, 5.13 in 59.2 innings, with 79 strikeouts for Ogden of the short-season Pioneer League. Morris then missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. The Pirates received him in July of 2008 after he made 17 starts for Low-A Great Lakes of the Midwest League, posting a 3.20 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 81.2 innings. He had a 5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings in three starts after joining the Pirates, pitching for Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League before a strained bicep ended his season early. In 2009, he spent the entire year in High-A with Lynchburg of the Carolina League, though he missed some time due to an off-season toe surgery and then right shoulder inflammation when he came back. He had a 5.57 ERA in 72.2 innings over 15 starts upon his return. Healthy in 2010, Morris started the year in Lynchburg, before spending most of the season at Double-A with Altoona of the Eastern League. Combined he had a 3.03 ERA in 133.2 innings, with 124 strikeouts.

Morris spent the entire 2011 season in Altoona, converting to a relief role during the year. He had a 3.35 ERA, three saves and 64 strikeouts in 78 innings over 35 games (six starts). He pitched the 2012 season in Triple-A with Indianapolis of the International League, where he had a 2.67 ERA, five saves and 79 strikeouts in 81 innings over 46 appearances. Morris made it to the majors in 2012, pitching five innings in September over five appearances, with one run allowed. He was with the Pirates for most of the 2013 season (he threw 6.1 innings with Indianapolis) and made 55 appearances (all in relief), putting up a 3.46 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 65 innings. Morris had a 3.80 ERA through 21 outings and 23.2 innings in 2014, when the Pirates traded him to the Miami Marlins on June 1st in exchange for a draft pick. He had a 3.46 ERA in 93.2 innings over 81 appearances with the Pirates. He was incredible after the trade, going 4-1, 0.66 in 40.2 innings over 39 games during the last four months of the season. His best season overall was 2015 with the Marlins, when he had a 3.14 ERA in 63 innings over 67 appearances. Back surgery limited him to 44 games over his final two seasons. Morris had a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings with Miami in 2016, then spent the start of the 2017 season with the San Francisco Giants, who designated him for assignment in June after he had a 6.43 ERA in 21 innings over 20 games. His baseball career ended when he declared free agency instead of accepting his minor league assignment from the Giants. He finished his six-year big league career with a 20-12, 3.13 record in 236 innings over 231 games. He made 83 minor league starts, but all of his big league games came in relief.

Mark Melancon, pitcher for the 2013-16 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school in the 30th round in 2003 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Melancon decided to attend the University of Arizona, where he was selected in the ninth round by the New York Yankees three years later. His career got off to a slow start due to Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2007 season. Prior to the surgery, he pitched just 7.2 innings for Staten Island of the short-season New York-Penn League and he had a brief/unsuccessful stint in the Hawaii Winter League, giving up ten runs in 5.1 innings. He moved quickly to the majors upon his return from surgery, pitching at three different levels in 2008. He began at High-A Tampa of the Florida State League and moved up after 13 games. His stay at Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League lasted 19 games and 49.2 innings. He ended the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, combining for a 2.27 ERA over 95 innings at all three stops. Melancon debuted in the majors in late April of 2009. Over three stints with the Yankees that year, he had a 3.86 ERA in 16.1 innings. He struggled in a brief stint in the majors in 2010 and ended up getting traded to the Houston Astros mid-season for Lance Berkman. Melancon did much better in Houston, posting a 3.12 ERA in 20 appearances, after giving up five runs in four innings with the 2010 Yankees.

Melancon had a big season for the Astros in 2011. He went 8-4, 2.78 with 20 saves in 74.1 innings over 71 outings. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the off-season and struggled badly in his only year with the club. He joined the Pirates from the Red Sox prior to the 2013 season in the six-player Joel Hanrahan deal made on December 26, 2012. Melancon posted a 6.20 ERA in 45 innings over 41 appearances with Boston, then immediately turned things around with the Pirates. He was an All-Star in 2013, thanks to a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings over 72 appearances. He took over the closing role mid-season and saved 16 games that year, while striking out 70 batters and putting up an 0.96 WHIP. Melancon saved 33 games in 2014, while compiling a 1.90 ERA, an 0.87 WHIP and 71 strikeouts. For the second straight season, he pitched 71 innings over 72 appearances. His ERA went up to 2.23 in 2015, but it came with a second All-Star appearance and 51 saves, which led the National League and set a Pirates team record for saves in a season. He pitched 76.2 innings over 78 outings, with an 0.93 WHIP. He received Cy Young votes for the only time in his career that season, finishing eighth in the voting.

Melancon had a 1.51 ERA and 30 saves in 41.2 innings over 45 games through the trading deadline in 2016 when he was sent to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. The Pirates were only giving up two months of his service before free agency. Melancon performed great in his short time with the Nationals, posting a 1.82 ERA in 29.1 innings with 17 saves. He signed with the San Francisco Giants after the season and injuries affected him over the next two years. He was limited to a total of 73 appearances and 69 innings during the 2017-18 seasons. Melancon saw his ERA go up to 4.50 in 2017, then come back down a bit to 3.23 in 2018. He picked up just 14 saves during that time. He split the 2019 season between the Giants and Atlanta Braves, combining to go 5-2, 3.61, with 12 saves in 66 appearances and 67.1 innings. Melancon made 23 appearances during the shortened 2020 season, putting up a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings. He signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in February of 2021 and had a 4-3, 2.23 record in 64.2 innings over 64 appearances, while leading the National League with 39 saves. He also made his fourth All-Star appearance. Melancon signed a two-year deal (with a third year option) with the Arizona Diamondbacks on December 1, 2021. He has pitched 13 seasons in the majors, posting a 34-30, 2.79 record and 244 saves in 670 appearances. He has 608 strikeouts in 670.2 innings. Going into the 2022 season, he ranks 38th all-time in saves. He has pitched a total of 20 postseason games, putting up a 3.72 ERA in 19.1 innings. With the Pirates, he went 10-10, 1.80 in 260.1 innings, with 241 strikeouts, 130 saves and 267 appearances. He ranks fifth in team history in saves. While he falls well short of qualifying for the team’s all-time record, his 0.92 WHIP is ten points lower than the team record held by Hall of Famer Vic Willis.

Steve Sparks, pitcher for the 2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted in the 38th round of the 1995 draft at 20 years old, selected out of Faulkner University in Alabama by the Chicago White Sox. Three years later, the Pirates selected him in the 28th round after he transferred to the University of Southern Alabama. It didn’t take Sparks long to make the majors after signing. He spent most of his first season playing in the New York-Penn League after being drafted, putting up a 2-7, 4.43 record and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings, making ten starts and four relief appearances. He finished the year with two starts in Augusta of the Low-A South Atlantic League, giving up nine runs (six earned) in 8.2 innings.  In his first full season of pro ball, Sparks spent most of the year at Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, adding in five starts for High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League. He combined to go 6-9, 4.87, with 92 strikeouts in 114.2 innings over 17 starts and 13 relief appearances. His 2004 stats were strikingly similar to the previous season, with a 4.43 ERA (2003) and a 4.47 ERA at the lower level, followed by matching 6.23 ERAs at the higher level. He began the 2000 season in Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League, but on July 20th he was called upon to help a worn out bullpen in Pittsburgh. He made three appearances and allowed three runs over four innings on four hits, five walks and two strikeouts. Sparks was sent back to Altoona on August 5th, which ended his big league career. He went 6-7, 4.77, with 66 strikeouts in 109.1 innings for Altoona in 2000, making 17 starts and six relief appearances. He threw two shutouts that season. He had a 4.69 ERA at the time of his call-up to the Pirates.

When the Pirates demoted Sparks, they said that the next time he joined the Pirates, he would likely be a reliever, as that appeared to be his best long-term option. On December 19, 2000, he was designated for assignment when the Pirates signed infielder Enrique Wilson as a free agent. He cleared waivers and remained with the Pirates, getting an invite to Spring Training in 2001, though he was cut 15 days before Opening Day. Sparks split the 2001 season between Altoona and Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League for the Pirates, combining to go 4-9, 5.50, with 95 strikeouts in 113 innings, spread out over 16 starts and 22 relief appearances. He split the 2002 season between Triple-A for the St Louis Cardinals and Triple-A/Double-A for the San Francisco Giants, struggling in brief stints at all three spots. Combined that season, he had an 11.88 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP in 11 games, posting an ERA over 10.00 with all three teams. In 16.2 innings, he walked 19 batters. That season ended his pro career. During the 1995-2004 seasons, there was another right-handed pitcher (knuckleballer) named Steve Sparks, who spent a majority of his career in the American League.

Bill Macdonald, pitcher for the Pirates in 1950 and 1953. He originally signed as an amateur with the Detroit Tigers and pitched two years in the minors before signing with the Pirates as a free agent in early 1949. MacDonald spent his first season of pro ball (1947) with Lubbock of the Class-C West Texas-New Mexico League. He went 12-9, 4.85 in 185 innings, with 114 walks and 158 strikeouts. The ERA sounds high, but teams in the league averaged 7.5 runs per game that year. He put up much better numbers in 1948 while moving up two levels to play for Flint of the Class-A Central League. He went 15-7, 2.64 in 177 innings that year, with 126 strikeouts. The Tigers broke MLB rules about having players under contract in the minors in 1948 and Macdonald was among a group of players who became free agents according to a ruling by MLB commissioner Happy Chandler.  Just 19 years old at the time, MacDonald had 13 big league teams bidding for his services after becoming a free agent. He signed with the Pirates because they offered the most money, giving him a three-year deal worth $26,000. He went 13-11, 3.28, with 137 strikeouts in 217 innings for New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association in 1949. MacDonald made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1950, but was used just once the first month of the season and it did not go well. On May 6th, he faced one batter and served up a grand slam to Bobby Thomson in the eighth inning of a 9-8 loss to the New York Giants. On May 23rd, he made his first Major League start and threw a shutout with seven strikeouts over the Philadelphia Phillies. A week later he made his second start and couldn’t make it out of the third inning before he was chased from the game. Macdonald ended up making twenty starts and 12 relief appearances that year, finishing with a record of 8-10, 4.29 in 153 innings, with an 88:60 BB/SO ratio. He threw a second shutout on September 4th, pitching a three-hitter against the Chicago Cubs. He actually improved his record to 8-7 in his next start, before losing each of his final three starts. His .444 winning percentage that year was the best on the team during one of the worst years in franchise history.

During the 1951-52 seasons, MacDonald served in the military, though he was able to pitch part of that time for a team from Fort Ord. He was called into service on November 30, 1950, just after he got married at 21 years old. Returning to Pittsburgh in 1953, he went 0-1, 12.27 in 7.1 innings over four games for the Pirates before they shipped him to Hollywood of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he had a 3.42 ERA in 84.1 innings. He was released outright to Hollywood on May 25, 1953, the day after his final big league appearance. Just four appearances into the 1954 seasons for Hollywood, after allowing eight runs in 2.2 innings, he retired from baseball. The reason was said to be an arm issues, which was bothering him since returning from his military service. The Pirates knew about the injury when he returned and he didn’t pitch at all during the first few weeks of 1953 Spring Training, making his debut on March 24th. His final career records show an 8-11, 4.66 record, with 96 walks and 64 strikeouts in 160.1 innings.

Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse, pitcher for the 1921-22 Pirates. He was a full-blooded Pawnee Indian, one of a handful of American Indian Major Leaguers during the early years of baseball, though he is recognized as the first full-blooded American Indian player. He pitched just one full season in the minors before the Pirates signed him for the 1921 season. In 1920, pitching for Little Rock of the Southern Association, he went 21-7 in 46 games, pitching 278 innings, with 55 walks and 138 strikeouts. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 15, 1920. At the time it was said in the papers that he never saw a professional game of baseball until he joined Little Rock that spring, but he actually had some brief experience with the Des Moines Boosters of the Class-A Western League in 1918. The papers also claimed that he was 19 years old at the time, but research has uncovered that he was three years older at the time. His name back then was also spelled Yellowhorse, but it’s currently written out as two words, which is another hat tip to research. With the Pirates in 1921, he went 5-3, 2.98 in 48.1 innings. Yellow Horse made four starts and six relief appearances that year, with his time limited due to a groin strain suffered in early July, which required surgery. He pitched just one inning after July 5th, making a scoreless relief appearance on September 16th. Yellow Horse actually pitched eight days earlier in an exhibition game, then saw action in a benefit game on September 28th for the National League All-Stars against the American League All-Stars, 12 years before the first official All-Star game.

Yellow Horse had a bigger role with the 1922 Pirates after pitching well in Spring Training. He would again make four starts on the year, but he also made 24 relief appearances and ended up pitching 77.2 innings. He finished with a 3-1, 4.52 record. At the plate, he batted .316, after going 0-for-17 in 1921. On September 26th in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, Yellow Horse hit Ty Cobb with a pitch that knocked him out of the game, forcing him to be carried from the field. Two days later, Yellow Horse pitched in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians. He hadn’t pitched a regular season game since one inning of work on September 9th, and he ended up pitching just one inning more before the season ended, but he was used during exhibition games to save the arms of pitchers seeing regular action.  He was traded to Sacramento of the Double-A Pacific Coast League on December 13, 1923 for pitcher Earl Kunz, who lasted just 45.2 innings in the majors. The Pirates gave up four players and $7,500 in the deal. Yellow Horse went 22-13, 3.68 in 311 innings pitched during the 1923 season for Sacramento. An elbow injury that bothered him for most of 1923 and took away some velocity on his fastball, effectively ended his career. He would pitch for Sacramento in  1924, posting a 6.07 ERA in 46 innings, followed by brief stints in 1925 and 1926 in the minors before retiring. His time with Sacramento ended during Spring Training in 1925 when he broke team rules. He was soon sold to Mobile of the Class-A Southern Association, where he lasted four games. He finished his career with Omaha of the Western League in 1926, where he was credited with three appearances.

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