This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 5th, The Bill Robinson Trade, and Rennie Stennett

One Pittsburgh Pirates trade of note and five former players born on this date.

The Trade

On this date in 1975, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Wayne Simpson to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for outfielder Bill Robinson. Simpson, a 26-year-old starting pitcher, played four seasons in the majors (1970-73) prior to the trade, going a combined 29-19, 4.08 in 88 games, 79 as a starter. He was an All-Star as a 21-year-old rookie in 1970, going 14-3, 3.02 in 26 starts, After coming over from the Kansas City Royals in a March 1974 trade, he spent the entire 1974 season at Triple-A for the Pirates, where he went 9-10, 3.32 in 160 innings. Robinson was 31 years old, coming off a 1974 season in which he hit .236 with five homers in 100 games. Just one season earlier, he had hit .288 with 25 homers for the Phillies.

Following the trade, Robinson played eight seasons for the Pirates. He saw plenty of time at each of the four corner positions over the years. In 805 games with Pittsburgh, he hit .276 with 328 runs, 109 homers and 412 RBIs. In 1977, he hit .304 with 26 homers and 104 RBIs, with all three being career high numbers during his 16 seasons in the majors. Simpson pitched just seven games for the Phillies in 1975, then was sold to the California Angels prior to the 1976 season. After a full season in the minors, Simpson pitched 122 innings for the 1977 Angels, posting a 6-12, 5.83 record. That was his last season in the majors. Robinson was worth 7.5 WAR during his time in Pittsburgh, losing something off of his value due to below average defense (-3.6 dWAR in Pittsburgh).

The Players

Jung-Ho Kang, third baseman for the 2015-19 Pirates. Kang was a major international signing for the Pirates during the 2014-15 off-season. He was already an established star in Korea before joining Pittsburgh at 28 years old. Kang debuted in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2006 at 19 years old. He saw limited action during his first two seasons, batting .143 in 30 games total. He went from the Hyundai Unicorns to the Woori Heroes in 2008 and batted .271 with eight homers and 47 RBIs in 116 games. The next season he hit .286 with 23 homers, 81 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 133 games. Woori changed to the Nexen Heroes in 2010 and Kang batted .301 with 12 homers and 30 doubles in 133 games. He put up a .754 OPS during the 2011 season, showing a drop in his power and walk rate. He batted .282 that season, with 33 extra-base hits and 43 walks in 123 games. His OPS dropped 94 points over the previous season, but he would turn things around in a big way in 2012, finally establishing himself as a star in his seventh season of pro ball. That year he batted .314 with 77 runs scored, 32 doubles, 25 homers, 82 RBIs, 71 walks and 21 stolen bases in 124 games. His .973 OPS that year was easily the best in his career, topping the .858 mark he put up three years earlier. However, that personal record would fall two years later. Kang hit .291 in 126 games in 2013, with 67 runs, 21 doubles, 22 homers, 96 RBIs, 15 steals and 68 walks. His .876 OPS that years pales in comparison to his 2014 numbers, which earned him his chance with the Pirates. That year he hit .356 with 103 runs, 36 doubles, 40 homers, 117 RBIs and 68 walks, while finishing up with a 1.198 OPS.

In December of 2014, Kang was posted by his team from Korea. All 30 MLB teams had a chance to submit bids to negotiate a contract with him, and the Pirates won with a $5,002,015 bid. He signed a four-year deal with the Pirates for $11M, which also came with an option for a fifth season. As a rookie in 2015, he hit .287 with 60 runs, 24 doubles, 15 homers and 58 RBIs in 126 games. A late season knee injury cost him the end of the 2015 season and the start of the next year. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. He was a full-time shortstop in Korea, but the Pirates had him split the 2015 season evenly between shortstop and third base. After hitting just .146 in 16 rehab games for Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League to start the 2016 season, he joined the Pirates on May 6th and hit two homers in his first game of the season. In 103 games for the Pirates that year, he hit .255 with 45 runs, 19 doubles, 21 homers and 62 RBIs. All of his time in the field was at third base. Kang would miss the entire 2017 season due to suspension for a drunken driving accident in Korea. He played winter ball in the Dominican during the 2017-18 off-season, which did not go well. In 24 games, he batted .143 with one homer. He returned to the majors in 2018 at the end of the season for three games. He was scheduled to come back earlier, but a wrist injury and subsequent surgery limited him to just 16 minor league games as he prepared to return to the majors. Kang was with the Pirates for part of 2019 and hit ten homers in 65 games, but he had a .169 batting average and was released in early August. He was handed a one-year suspension by the KBO in 2020 for his prior DUI’s (he had three), but he is eligible to return to the league in 2021. In his four seasons with the Pirates, he batted .254 with 120 runs, 50 doubles, 46 homers and 144 RBIs in 297 games.

Lastings Milledge, outfielder for the 2009-10 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the New York Mets in 2003, taken 12th overall out of Lakewood Ranch HS at 18 years old. He played just seven games during his draft year because he signed late, finishing the season with Kingsport of the short-season Appalachian League. Milledge split his 2004 season between Low-A Capital City of the South Atlantic League and High-A St Lucie of the Florida State League, hitting .315 in 87 games, with 72 runs, 28 doubles, 15 homers, 66 RBIs and 28 steals. His OPS was 231 points higher in Low-A. Going into the 2005 season, Baseball America rated him as the 11th best prospect in baseball. He split the 2005 season between St Lucie and Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League, doing well at both levels. Milledge combined to hit .318 in 110 games, with 81 runs, 32 doubles, eight homers, 46 RBIs and 29 steals (he was caught 18 times). He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and hit .330 with 23 RBIs in 24 games. Going into 2006, he was rated as the ninth best prospect in baseball. He split the 2006 season between Triple-A Norfolk of the International League and the majors, seeing three different stints with the Mets. He didn’t dominate Triple-A like he did the lower levels, but he still put up an .828 OPS in 84 games, finishing with a .277 average, 52 runs and 32 extra-base hits. With the Mets that season, Milledge batted .241 with four homers, one steal and a .689 OPS in 56 games.

Milledge was injured for half of the 2007 season, which limited him to 59 games with the Mets and 11 rehab games in the minors. He hit .272 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in his limited big league time. His .787 OPS was the highest of his big league career. After the 2007 season ended, New York traded him to the Washington Nationals for two players. One of those players was Ryan Church, who would end up on the Pirates with Milledge in 2010. In 2008, Milledge played his first full season in the majors, hitting .268 with 65 runs, 24 doubles, 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 138 games. He was sent to the minors early in the 2009 season after a poor start, and then the Pirates acquired him, along with Joel Hanrahan, in exchange for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett on June 30, 2009. Before joining the Pirates that year, Milledge hit .167 in seven games, with ten strikeouts and some major defensive miscues.  After the trade, he batted .291 with 20 runs, 11 doubles, four homers and 20 RBIs in 58 games for the Pirates in 2009. In 2010, he played 113 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .277, with 38 runs, 21 doubles, 34 RBIs and a .712 OPS. He was granted free agency after the season, then signed with the Chicago White Sox, where he played two games during the 2011 season, which ended up being his final big league games. He spent the rest of the 2011 season in Triple-A, where he hit .295 with 12 homers and 27 steals in 123 games. Milledge signed to play in Japan for the 2012 season and remained there for four seasons. He batted .300 with 21 homers in 2012, but his stats dropped during each of the following seasons and he played some minor league ball in Japan during the 2014-15 seasons. He played winter ball in Mexico in 2016 and then finished his pro career in independent ball in 2017 with Lancaster of the Atlantic League, where he had a .675 OPS in 85 games. In the majors he was a .269 hitter, with 166 runs, 73 doubles, 33 homers, 167 RBIs and 40 steals in 433 games.

Rennie Stennett, second baseman for the 1971-79 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an international amateur free agent out of Panama at 17 years old in February of 1969, and it took just two seasons for him to have an impact in the majors at 20 years old. Stennett debuted in Low-A with Gastonia of the Western Carolinas League in 1969, where he hit .288 in 107 games, with 51 runs, 17 doubles, 49 RBIs, nine steals and a .709 OPS. He moved up to Salem of the Carolina League (Advanced-A) in 1970 and he hit .326, with 65 runs, 20 doubles, nine triples, five homers and 50 RBIs in 131 games. He stole nine bases again, but it was a much different year than 1969 when he was caught stealing just once. He went 9-for-20 in steals with Salem. The Pirates gave him one game at Triple-A at the end of the season and he responded with two hits. Stennett jumped over Double-A in 1971 and it proved to be a smart move. He tore up Triple-A with Charleston of the International League, batting .344 with 61 runs, 30 extra-base hits and an .881 OPS in 80 games before joining the Pirates.  After coming up in early July, he hit .353 with 24 runs and 15 RBIs in 50 games, including 33 starts at second base. The Pirates went on to win the World Series, but he didn’t play in any postseason games.

In 1972, Stennett saw time at shortstop, second base and all three outfield spots. He hit .286 in 109 games, though it came with a .683 OPS due to minimal power (22 extra-base hits) and a very low walk rate (nine walks in 381 plate appearances). The 1973 season saw Stennett mostly playing middle field, while seeing just five games in the outfield. He played 84 games at second base and 43 at shortstop. He struggled at the plate, hitting .242 with only 16 walks in 128 games and 491 plate appearances, although he did connect for 18 doubles and a career high ten homers. His OPS dropped 60 points over the previous season. Stennett had a strong season in 1974 as the Pirates everyday second baseman. He played 157 games, hitting .291 with 84 runs scored, 196 hits, 29 doubles, seven homers and 56 RBIs, along with a .697 OPS. However, he hit .063 in the four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the postseason. He finished 21st in the MVP voting that year, one of two years he received mild MVP support. The 1975 season was much like the prior year. He hit .286 with 25 doubles, seven triples, seven homers, and careeer highs of 62 RBIs and 89 runs scored, helping the Pirates to the playoffs again. That year in the postseason against the Cincinnati Reds, he went 3-for-14 with three singles and no runs or RBIs. On September 16, 1975, the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 22-0 and Stennett went 7-for-7 at the plate with five runs scored, tying Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson’s record for seven hits in a nine-inning game. The pair still hold the record, which will likely never be broken.

In 1976, Stennett batted .257 with 59 runs, 60 RBIs, and career highs of 31 doubles and nine triples. He also stole 18 bases in 24 attempts. However, his low walk rate led to a .277 OPS, which resulted in a .613 OPS for the season. In 1977, he finished second to teammate Dave Parker in the National League batting race, hitting .336, while also adding 28 stolen bases. It was the only full season of his career that he batted over .300. His .806 OPS that year was easily the best of his career, topping the .707 mark he had two years earlier. Unfortunately for Stennett, he suffered a major leg/ankle injury on a slide in late August and it affected him for the rest of his career. In each of his four big league seasons following the injury, he failed to reach a .250 batting average. In 1978, he batted .243 in 106 games and his .584 OPS was the lowest of his career up to that point, though he failed to reach a .600 OPS in any of his final four seasons.

The Pirates won the World Series in 1979 and Stennett saw semi-regular action, playing 108 games, which included 84 starts at second base. He batted .238/.289/.292 in 348 plate appearances, with 31 runs, 15 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs. He played just two postseason games and singled in his only at-bat. Following the 1979 World Series, Stennett became a free agent and signed with the San Francisco Giants, where he finished his big league career two seasons later. That was despite signing a five-year deal worth $3.2 M. He saw regular starts at second base in 1980, posting a .244 average and a .588 OPS in 120 games, but he played just 38 games during the strike-shortened 1981 season and hit .230 with one extra-base hit (a homer) and three walks, leading to a .528 OPS. He fell out of favor with manager Frank Robinson and sat on the bench for the last 38 games of the season. The Giants ended up buying out his remaining three years in 1982, settling the deal for a one-time payment of $1 M. He hit just .117 in Spring Training in 1982, but got a tryout with the Pirates in early April, who got him into some Spring Training games before deciding not to sign him. While with the Pirates, he .278, with 458 runs, 1,122 hits, 164 doubles, 39 triples, 38 homers, 388 RBIs and 69 steals in 1,079 games. In 1974 and 1976, he led all National League second basemen in putouts. In 1975, his 2.9 dWAR was the best for all National League players. Stennett played over 100 games in eight straight seasons with the Pirates. He remained in pro ball through the end of 1983, spending the 1982 season in Mexico, before finishing up in Triple-A for the Montreal Expos the next year.

Wid Conroy, shortstop for the 1902 Pirates. He played five seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut with the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers (current day Orioles). Conroy debuted at 19 years old in 1896 with Carlisle of the Cumberland Valley League, where he’s credited with seven games played. The 1897 season saw him play for two teams, including 36 games with Paterson of the Class-B Atlantic League, which was the last minor league team/season for Honus Wagner. Conroy batted .229 with 13 runs and five extra-base hits for Paterson, where he also played for part of the 1898 season. He had an interesting split each of the 1897-98 seasons, playing for a Class-B team (Paterson) and two different Class-F clubs during that time, four levels lower in the minors. In 1899, Conroy played for Cortland of the Class-C New York State League, where he hit .261 with 77 runs, 13 doubles, three triples and 38 steals in 95 games. In 1900, he was with Milwaukee of the American League, though the league existed as a Class-A minor league for that one year. He hit .234 with 58 runs, 17 doubles, five triples, one homer and 42 steals in 116 games. The American League became a Major League in 1901 and Conroy stayed with the team. He hit .264 with 31 extra-base hits, 64 RBIs, 74 runs scored and 21 stolen bases in 131 games as the team’s everyday shortstop.

Conroy jumped his contract at the end of the season to sign with the Pirates for 1902. That was something that happened often going both ways during the early years of the American League. He was playing shortstop for the 1902 Pirates before it became Honus Wagner’s full-time position. Conroy hit .244 with 17 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs and 55 runs scored in 99 games, helping the Pirates to their best winning percentage ever (.741). He played strong defense, finishing third in fielding percentage among National League shortstops. His 1.6 defensive WAR ranks as the fourth best mark in the National League (for all positions) that season. During a game on June 23rd, Conroy got into a fight with Hall of Famer Joe Tinker from the Chicago Cubs, which resulted in a 20-game suspension for the Pirates shortstop. It reportedly started because Conroy held Tinker’s jersey while he was at second base, which didn’t allow him to advance on the bases. When they later met at second base again in that game, they started throwing punches.

As soon as the 1902 season ended, Conroy jumped from the Pirates back to the American League to join the New York Highlanders. There were reports in season in 1902 that he took advanced money to sign a 1903 contract, then tried to get out of it in October. Catcher Harry Smith and 3B/CF Tommy Leach were also involved in the same package deal, but only Conroy ended up going to the AL in 1903. Conroy actually took advanced money from the Pirates as well and was forced to return it before he could suit up for the Highlanders. He batted .272 in 126 games during that first season with New York, setting/tying career highs with 23 doubles, 12 triples and 74 runs scored. He also stole 33 bases. In 1904, Conroy hit .243 in 140 games, with 58 runs, 18 doubles, 12 triples, 52 RBIs and 30 steals. He assumed a utility role in 1905 and had his best season at the plate, topping the .700 mark for OPS for the only time. He played seven different positions that year, though he only played 101 games. He hit .273, with 55 runs, 19 doubles, 11 triples, 25 steals and a .723 OPS. In 1906, Conroy hit .245, while playing a career high of 148 games. He had 67 runs, 17 doubles, ten triples, 54 RBIs, 32 steals, and a career high 47 walks. That was followed by a .234 average in 140 games in 1907, when he finished with 58 runs, 12 doubles, 11 triples, 51 RBIs and a career high 41 walks. That season was his last of five straight years with double-digit triples totals.

In 1908, Conroy hit .237 in 141 games, with 44 runs, 22 doubles, 39 RBIs and 23 steals. He was sold to the Washington Senators in February of 1909, where he spent his final three seasons in the majors. He hit .244 in 139 games in 1909, with 44 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 20 doubles and 24 steals. He was their starting third baseman that year, but he also saw time at four other spots. In 1910-11, he split his time between third base and left field each year. Conroy played 103 games in 1910, hitting .254, with 36 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 27 RBIs and 11 steals. In 1911, he hit .232 in 106 games, with 40 runs, 17 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs and 12 steals. He ended up stealing at least ten bases in all 11 of his big league seasons. Conroy finished with a .248 average, 605 runs scored, 176 doubles, 82 triples, 22 homers, 452 RBIs and 262 stolen bases in 1,374 games. He saw starts at every position except catcher and pitcher during his career, with a majority of his work coming at third base.

After Conroy’s big league career ended, he played another six seasons in the minors, retiring at age 40 after the 1917 season. His last five years were spent as a player/manager, including four seasons with Elmira of the New York State League. His pro stats are missing a few of the earlier stats in the minors, but Conroy played over 2,300 games in pro ball and had over 2,100 hits. His actual first name was William. The “Wid” nickname was apparently short for Widow, which he earned at a young age before his pro days. According to his SABR bio, he had what was described as a motherly interest in the younger kids in his neighborhood.

Chuck Lauer, outfielder/catcher for the Alleghenys in 1884 and 1889. A local kid from Pittsburgh, he opened up his pro career in 1883 playing for a minor league team called the Pittsburgh Liberty Stars, from the Western Interstate League. Lauer started playing for the Alleghenys during July of 1884 as an outfielder at 19 years old. However, he was technically with the team earlier. Back in 1884, the American Association had their form of minor league teams called the Reserves. The Alleghenys split into two teams after Spring Training, with the Reserves remaining in town, where they played exhibition games against amateur, minor league and other Reserve teams from the league. Lauer was with that team, working mainly as a pitcher. It’s interesting to note that his big league career almost didn’t happen, as in February of 1884, he said that he decided not to play baseball that year. The Reserves idea was nixed after two months because the teams were losing money due to small crowds at their games. Lauer remained with Pittsburgh, and the local media even suggested that he could help the struggling team as a pitcher in late June, but he didn’t debut until a month later as a catcher. He was released on August 7th, but ended up returning to the team at the end of the season. With his team near the bottom of the American Association standings, Lauer took the mound three times in early October and allowed 25 runs in 19 innings, picking up two losses and a tie. He hit just .114 in 13 games, going 5-for-44 with five singles that season.

Five years after his big league debut, Lauer reappeared in the majors with the Alleghenys (then in the National League) and lasted just four games this time. He hit .188 with five strikeouts and five errors in his three games behind the plate. On May 7th, the Alleghenys’ owner/president William Nimick denied rumors that Lauer would be released soon, saying that he had potential as a catcher and his low salary (along with the low salaries of Jocko Fields and William Garfield) made it possible to carry extra players. At the time, “extra” meant that they had 16 active players. Lauer’s salary for 1889 was said to be $1,700 and it included a large amount of advanced salary when he signed with the team on October 31, 1888. The Alleghenys signed him based on strong reports from the Tri-State League, which included his ability to throw out runners. However, Pittsburgh only signed him after they couldn’t secure a deal with veteran catcher Charles Ganzel. Despite playing only four games, he remained with the team until being unconditionally released on August 17th. His only other experience in the majors was with the 1890 Chicago Colts (Cubs) and even then he lasted only two games. Cap Anson came to Pittsburgh to sign Lauer on December 3, 1889, going down to his job at the stockyards in East Liberty to find him. Lauer played pro ball until 1892, playing for ten different teams (minors and majors) over his nine seasons. He played two years for the Zanesville Kickapoos (1887-88) and two years for the Evansville Hoosiers (1890-91), but neither team was in the same league both years. He went out west to finish his career, playing for teams in Montana and Washington during his final season.

Editor’s Note: Bill Gray, a third baseman from the 1898 team, had an April 5th birthday until recent research corrected that to April 15th. He will be covered that day.

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