This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 26th, A Huge Trade, Two Kings and a Famous Line

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1953, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded infielder Danny O’Connell to the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for six players and $100,000 cash. O’Connell had a strong season for the Pirates in 1953, hitting .294 with 88 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 57 walks and a .762 OPS. He was 24 years old at the time of the trade, and he had played just one prior season in the majors (1950), while missing two years due to serving in the military. This deal, along with another trade a month later, gave the team financial flexibility that they wouldn’t have had due to very poor attendance in the early-to-mid 50’s. That other deal included $70,000 cash and the departure of Murry Dickson, who was one of the higher paid players on the team. The O’Connell trade was done just as much for the cash aspect as it was done for the players in return, despite the fact they received six players back. As it turned out, O’Connell had his best seasons with the Pirates. In four years in Milwaukee, he was a .248 hitter with 208 runs, 98 extra-base hits, 127 RBIs and a .647 OPS in 457 games, so the deal turned out to be a good one for the Pirates, even if the players they received weren’t that good.

The best player they got back was Sid Gordon, a veteran OF/3B, who had a better year in 1954 with the Pirates than O’Connell had in any year. Gordon hit .306 with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 67 walks and an .843 OPS in 131 games during his one season in Pittsburgh. He was sold the following season to the New York Giants. Max Surkont was the second most valuable player in the deal, and the Pirates got two years of starting pitching out of him. He was just 16-32, 4.92 in 376.2 innings, but the team was barely any better when he didn’t pitch. Curt Raydon was a 20-year-old minor league pitcher at the time of the trade. It took him until 1958 to reach Pittsburgh, and he played just one year in the majors due to arm injuries derailing his career. Another pitcher named Fred Waters pitched well for the Pirates in 25 games between 1955-56, but he was on the older side at the time and he finished his career six years later in the minors. The two other returns were veteran Sam Jethroe, who played just two games for the Pirates in 1954, and Larry LaSalle, a minor league pitcher who retired after the 1954 season.

Based on WAR values, O’Connell had 13.2 WAR in eight seasons after leaving Pittsburgh. That’s a decent total, but far from a star player. Gordon had 1.7 WAR with the Pirates before they sold him to New York. Surkont had 1.5 WAR in Pittsburgh. Waters added 1.4 WAR and Raydon had 0.9 in his one season, for a combined total of 5.5 for the group of six players. As it turned out, the cash was the real star of the trade.

The Players

Jeff King, third baseman for the Pirates from 1989 to 1996. King was the first overall pick in the 1986 amateur draft by the Pirates out of the University of Arkansas. The Chicago Cubs drafted him in the 23rd round three years earlier out of high school, but he decided to attend college instead. King signed with the Pirates five weeks after the draft and he went right to Class-A ball, where he had a .235 average, 18 runs, 20 RBIs and a .752 OPS in 37 games for Prince William of the Carolina League. He had a .268 average, 80 runs scored, 16 doubles, 28 homers, 86 RBIs, 65 walks and an .882 OPS in 116 games during his first full season in pro ball, which was spent most with Salem of the Class-A Carolina League, though he made it to Double-A (Harrisburg of the Eastern League) for a month. He had drastically different results that season, with a .960 OPS with Salem, and a .629 mark with Harrisburg. The Pirates had him spend the entire 1988 season in Harrisburg, and he did so with mediocre results, posting a .732 OPS in 117 games. He batted .255 with 21 doubles, 14 homers, 66 RBIs and 46 walks. He didn’t do any better in Triple-A in 1989 with Buffalo of the American Association, batting .254/.300/.414 with six homers and 29 RBIs in 51 games. Despite the mediocre results and brief time in Triple-A, the Pirates jumped him to the majors in June. He looked over-matched in his first big league trial, hitting .195/.266/.354 with 31 runs, 13 doubles, five homers and 19 RBIs in 75 games.

Despite a slow debut, the Pirates stuck with King in 1990 for the entire season and he had a low average/OBP, with a little bit of power mixed in. He batted .245 in 127 games, with 46 runs scored, 17 doubles, 14 homers and 53 RBIs, finishing with a .692 OPS. The Pirates won the pennant that year and he went 1-for-10 in the playoffs, with a single, walk and five strikeouts. King was limited in 1991 to 33 big league games and nine games with Buffalo, missing plenty of time due to a back injury. He hit .239/.328/.376 with four homers and 18 RBIs that year for the Pirates. He served in a utility role in 1992, playing five different positions, while batting .231 with 56 runs scored, 21 doubles, 14 homers, 65 RBIs and a .643 OPS in 130 games. During the postseason, he hit .241 in seven games, with four doubles and two RBIs.

King struggled during his first four seasons in the majors (1.4 WAR total), then hit .295 in 1993, with 82 runs, 35 doubles, nine homers, 98 RBIs and a .762 OPS, while playing a career high 158 games. He went from his utility role in 1992, to the starting third base in 1993, making 155 starts. He regressed in 1994 due to the back problems that he suffered from most of his career. Those problems seemed to take a toll on him during the middle of that strike-shortened 1994 season when he hit just .263 with 23 doubles, five homers and 42 RBIs in 94 games, finishing the year with a .691 OPS. He batted .265 in 1995, with 61 runs, 27 doubles, 18 homers, 87 RBIs and a .798 OPS in 122 games. He then set career highs with 91 runs, 36 doubles,30 homers, 111 RBIs and an .843 OPS in 1996, all while playing for a team that finished 73-89. He batted .271 that year and walked 70 times.

King was traded to the Kansas City Royals along with Jay Bell in December 1996 for four players, including Joe Randa and three young pitchers. He moved to first base full-time and had a big first season with Kansas City, despite a low batting average. He hit .238 in 155 games, with 84 run scored, 30 doubles, 28 homers, a new career high of 112 RBIs, as well as a career best 89 walks. His 16 stolen bases were also a career high. He posted a .792 OPS that season. King played 131 games in 1998, hitting .263 with 83 runs, 17 doubles, 24 homers, 93 RBIs and a .769 OPS. He retired in early 1999 due to injuries and his losing passion for playing the game. He was hitting .236/.385/.389 in 21 games at the time of his decision. In three seasons with the Royals, he had a .249 average, with 181 runs scored, 49 doubles, 55 homers and 216 RBIs in 307 games.  His .781 OPS in Kansas City was 44 points higher than during his time in Pittsburgh. His final stats with the Pirates over eight seasons showed a .258 average, 419 runs scored, 173 doubles, 99 homers and 493 RBIs in 894 games. Third base was his primary position in Pittsburgh, but he also saw plenty of time at first base and second base. In his career (1,201 games total), he started 526 games at third base and 455 at first base.

Mario Mendoza, shortstop for the Pirates from 1974 to 1978. Mendoza was signed as an amateur free agent in 1970 out of Mexico, and he slowly worked his way through the minors, earning promotions based more on his defense than his hitting. He is still often referenced to this day due to his poor hitting skills, when someone who has a batting average hovering near .200 is said to be near the Mendoza line. He hit below .200 in three of his five seasons in Pittsburgh, and five times overall in his nine-year career. Mendoza debuted in the Gulf Coast League at 19 years old, hitting .263 in 47 games, with 21 runs, seven extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and a .629 OPS. The next year he moved up to Monroe of the Class-A Western Carolinas League, where he batted .234 with 45 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers and 36 RBIs in 106 games, while seeing his OPS drop to a .593 mark, due mostly to a 45 point drop in his OBP. He played for Salem of the Class-A Carolina League in 1972, where he hit .221 in 136 games, with 48 runs, 17 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs and ten steals in 11 attempts. His OBP went up due to a much better walk rate, but his OPS dropped to .554 due to poor power numbers. He also had 125 strikeouts, which was extremely high for that era in the minors. Mendoza still got moved up to Sherbrooke of the Double-A Eastern League in 1973, where he batted .268 in 132 games, with 54 runs scored, 32 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, a .705 OPS and 30 steals, though he was unsuccessful at pilfering 23 times. He played just two games in Triple-A in 1974, spending the rest of the season with the Pirates.

Mendoza’s best season with the Pirates was actually his rookie year when he hit .221/.259/.252 in 91 games, finishing with ten runs, three extra-base hits and 15 RBIs. In was the only time in his five seasons in Pittsburgh that he batted over 100 times. He played 324 total games with the Pirates, coming to the plate just 478 times. He mostly remained at the big league level during the 1975-78 seasons, playing a total of 38 games at Triple-A Charleston of the International League over that stretch. Mendoza batted .180/.226/.200 in 56 plate appearances over 56 games in 1975, making 17 starts at shortstop. He started 24 of his 50 games in 1976, when he put together a .185/.217/.239 slash line in 97 plate appearances. He batted 86 times in 71 games in 1977, hitting .198, with a .461 OPS. In his last season in Pittsburgh, Mendoza hit .218/.283/.291 in 62 plate appearances over 57 games, while connecting on his first home run. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners in December of 1978, in a six-player deal that brought Enrique Romo to the Pirates. Mendoza played regularly in Seattle over two seasons, seeing nearly half of his career at-bats in the majors during that time. He played in a career high 148 games in 1979, when he hit .198, with career bests of ten doubles and 29 RBIs, but he also finished with a .466 OPS. During the 1980 season, he hit a career high .245 and belted half of his career homers (two). He set career highs with 27 runs and 16 walks, while posting a .596 OPS. After the 1980 season, he was involved in a huge trade with the Texas Rangers that included a total of 11 players. It turned out to be an unfortunate trade for Mendoza. He went from playing regularly, to playing 100 games over two seasons in Texas.

Mendoza was a regular during the strike-shortened 1981 season, getting into 88 games. He hit .231 with 18 runs scored, seven extra-base hits, 22 RBIs and a .521 OPS. He played just 12 games over the first two months of the 1982 season before being released in early June, putting up a .118/.118/.118 slash line in 18 plate appearances. That would be his final season in the majors. He went to Mexico afterwards and played until he was 39 years old in 1990. His only time in affiliated ball came in 1983 with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, which was the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates at the time. Mendoza had a .563 OPS in 34 games for Mexico City to finish out the 1982 season. He had a .185 average and a .453 OPS in 62 games for Hawaii in 1983. His stats from Mexico are almost non-existent over his final seven seasons, but his 1984 stats show a .325 average in 96 games. He also hit .275 with 15 extra-base hits in 122 games during the 1988 season. Since retiring as a player, he has managed for 20 seasons between the minors and Mexico, last taking the helm in 2016. In his MLB career, he hit .215 in 686 games, with 106 runs, 33 doubles, nine triples, four homers and 101 RBIs. While he put up positive defensive numbers (dWAR) in six of his nine seasons, and had a 0.0 mark in another season, his career WAR was -2.6 due to the poor offense.

Lee King, outfielder for the 1916-18 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1914 at 21 years old, hitting .254 with ten extra-base hits and a .643 OPS in 35 games for Adrian of the Class-C Southern Michigan League. Even though he didn’t playing pro ball in 1915, the Pirates first noticed King in late 1915 when he had three hits against them in an exhibition game in Morgantown, while showing off impressive speed and an even better arm. King joined the Pirates in late 1916 after hitting .315 over 125 games for Wheeling of the Class-B Central League. He was selected by Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 draft on September 15th. He reported to the Pirates three days later and played his first game on September 20th. He went 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts in eight games during that first trial, then gained a regular spot on the 1917 club during the following spring. King hit .249 with 32 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 35 RBIs, eight steals and a .602 OPS in 111 games that season. He spent most of his time in right field, as the Pirates finished with a 51-103 record. King batted .232 with nine runs, six extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and a .622 OPS over 36 games in 1918, before deciding to leave the team on June 20th to enlist in the military to aid the fight in WWI. The war was over shortly thereafter, and he was sold to the New York Giants in January of 1919.

King ended up playing in the majors until 1922, and then retired from minor league ball four years later. He played for New York each year from 1919 through 1922, but he spent parts of 1921 and 1922 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played just 21 games in 1919 and batted 21 times, finishing with a .100 average, one double and one walk. He played 93 games in 1920, seeing most of his time in center field. He batted .276 with 22 extra-base hits, including seven homers, which was nearly half of his big league career total (15). King scored 32 runs and had a career high of 42 RBIs, to go along with a .764 OPS. He batted .223/.324/.309 in 39 games with the Giants in 1921, before he was part of a five-player deal with the Phillies that also included Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel, who was an outfielder at the time. King hit .269/.298/.449, with 25 runs, 27 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs in 64 games for the 1921 Phillies. He batted .226/.328/.472 in 19 games in 1922, before the Phillies sent him to Toledo of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time) in May. After hitting .281 with 19 extra-base hits in 58 games for Toledo, the Giants purchased him back in early August. He hit .176/.282/.265 in 20 games to finish out the season. The Giants won the World Series in 1921, so his trade was unfortunate at the time, but they also won the title again in 1922, so he got to be part of that team. He batted just once in the World Series, but it was a big at-bat. In game five, with the Giants winning 4-3 over the New York Yankees in the eighth inning, his two-out RBI single gave them an insurance run. The Giants won the series four batters later. That was his last big league action. He was sent to the minors in 1923 and remained active through the end of the 1928 season. In his big league career, he hit .247 in 411 games, with 134 runs scored, 93 extra-base hits and 144 RBIs. He was a .241 hitter over 155 games with the Pirates.

King played for Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League in 1923, where he hit .288 in 146 games, with 32 doubles, four triples and 18 homers. He split the 1924 season between Galveston and San Antonio of the Class-A Texas League, hitting .295 in 133 games, with 32 doubles, 12 triples and ten homers. He went to the Class-A Western League in 1925 to play for Omaha, where he hit .287 with 21 extra-base hits in 50 games (these stats are missing from his online numbers). He next played in the Class-C Middle Atlantic League with Cumberland and Uniontown in 1926. Between both stops, he hit .298 in 93 games, with 32 extra-base hits. King stayed in that same league with Fairmont in 1927, where he hit .303 with 18 doubles, nine triples and ten homers in 104 games. He actually played for Fairmont for a short time in 1925, but an eye injury suffered in a fight prevented him from seeing well enough to play baseball. His final season was spent with Canton of the Central League in 1928, where he batted .167 in 15 games.

There were two players named Lee King who debuted in the majors in 1916, and both of them had the actual first name of Edward, with the same full name, Edward Lee King. The other one was a utility man for the Philadelphia A’s in 1916, then played very briefly for the 1919 Boston Braves. When he joined the Pirates, King told the local reporters the story of how he was lucky to be alive. He was supposed to be working in the Monongah mine shafts on December 6, 1907 at 14 years old, but on the way to work he saw a frozen pond and decided to ice skate. An explosion occurred at the mine that killed 362+ people, with just five survivors. King actually worked in the mines after the explosion and prior to signing to play pro ball.

Bonnie Hollingsworth, pitcher for the 1922 Pirates. The Pirates signed him with very little pro experience. He played one season for LaGrange in the Georgia-Alabama League in 1916, prior to serving during WWI. He then spent the 1919-20 seasons playing for independent teams in Tennessee. The Pirates signed him on February 16, 1921 and brought him to Spring Training a month later. He was with the Pirates for the first eight games of the 1921 season without an appearance, before being shipped to Wichita Falls of the Class-A Texas League on April 22nd.  After going 21-11, 2.56 in 288 innings over 41 games for Wichita Falls, Hollingsworth went to Spring Training with the 1922 Pirates, looking to earn a spot. His 224 strikeouts in 1921 with Wichita Falls was said to be a league strikeout record. He made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1922, but didn’t make his first appearance until the end of May. He ended up being used only in a mop-up role through mid-July, posting a 7.90 ERA in 13.2 innings. The Pirates lost all nine games in which they used him. On July 18, 1922, he was traded (along with cash) to Minneapolis of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time) for outfielder Reb Russell. Hollingsworth went 5-5, 3.86 in 86 innings to finish the season with Minneapolis.

Hollingsworth ended up playing for the Washington Senators for the first three months of the 1923 season. He went 3-7, 4.09 in 72.2 innings over eight starts and nine relief appearances. He finished the season with Memphis of the Class-A Southern Association, where he had an 8-8, 3.41 record in 131 innings. He began the 1924 season in the same league with New Orleans, where he went 22-11, 2.75 in 255 innings. That led to his third big league trial, as he appeared briefly with the Brooklyn Robins in September of 1924, allowing six runs in 8.2 innings. Hollingsworth played for Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League in 1925, going 15-15, 3.88 in 281 innings. He spent the 1926 season back with Minneapolis, where he had an 11-18, 4.48 record in 271 innings over 50 games. The 1927 season was spent with Buffalo of the Double-A International League, where he went 17-7, 2.85 in 199 innings. After spending three years in the minors at three different Double-A levels, Hollingsworth resurfaced one last time to pitch for the 1928 Boston Braves. He went 0-2, 5.24 in 22.1 innings over two starts and five relief appearances. He finished his big league career with a 4-9, 4.91 record in 117.1 innings over 36 games (11 as a starter). He had two complete games and an 81:50 BB/SO ratio.

Hollingsworth saw time back in Buffalo in 1928, but most of his remaining time was spent playing for Baltimore of the International League during the 1928-30 seasons, before he finished his career back in the Southern Association with Chattanooga. His combined record from 1928 was 8-10, with 159 innings pitched over 35 appearances. He went 11-8, 4.76 in 136 innings over 29 games in 1929. Hollingsworth had a 1-1 record in four appearances for Baltimore in 1930, then posted a 3-6, 6.33 record in 81 innings with Chattanooga. His real name was John, which he went by with the Pirates, but he was often referred to as “Bonnie” in the minors. It was a somewhat unfortunate nickname, as a combo of his Tennessee accent and a speech impediment led to him pronouncing his middle name (Burnette) like he was saying Bonnie. It was said that he used his middle name because there were a few other Johns in his family. He pitched a total of ten seasons in the minors and won 114 games before retiring following the 1930 season.

Al Jackson, pitcher for the Pirates in 1959 and 1961. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1955 at 19 years old, and he got to pitch in his hometown of Waco, Texas for the Waco Pirates of the Class-B Big State League during that first season. He had an 8-5, 2.79 record and 88 strikeouts in 116 innings.  He was loaned to the Mexican League in 1956, where he posted a 14-10, 2.87 record in 207 innings. He remained there for part of 1957, while also pitching eight minors league game spread between two affiliates. Jackson went 7-6, 3.86 in 86 innings in Mexico. His stateside numbers were rough that season in limited work, with a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings with Columbus of the Triple-A International League, and a 6.55 ERA and 14 walks in 11 innings with Lincoln of the Class-A Western League. After posting a 2.41 ERA in 71 innings of winter ball over the 1957-58 off-season, Jackson pitched for Lincoln in 1958, where went 18-9, 2.07 in 230 innings, with 162 strikeouts. He followed that up the next season in Columbus with a 15-4, 2.33 record and 111 strikeouts in 162 innings, with 19 starts and seven relief appearances. That same season he earned a Major League call-up in early May for one game and allowed four runs on seven hits in three innings in his MLB debut. That was followed by a month-long recall on May 31st, then one more appearance at the end of September during his third stint with the Pirates that season. He pitched eight big league games that year, and had a 6.50 ERA in 18 innings.

Jackson spent the entire 1960 season in the minors with Columbus, despite a strong 3.06 ERA in 197 innings. He pitched well in 1961 back in Triple-A, posting a 12-7, 2.89 record and 166 strikeouts in 196 innings, which earned him a September call-up. He made three appearances (two starts) for the Pirates that season. He won his final game in a Pirates uniform by throwing a complete game in an 11-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds. He had a 3.42 ERA in 23.2 innings during his second big league trial. On October 10, 1961, Jackson was selected by the New York Mets in the expansion draft. After pitching just 41.2 innings in the majors for the Pirates over a three-year span, he saw regular time with the Mets. In his first season, he went 8-20, 4.40 in 231.1 innings for a team that lost 120 games. Four of his wins that season were shutouts. Jackson had a 13-17, 3.96 record in 227 innings over 34 starts and three relief appearances in 1963. His total of 142 strikeouts that season set his career high. He followed that up with an 11-16, 4.26 record in 213.1 innings over 31 starts and nine relief appearances in 1964. He was putting up those records over the 1963-64 seasons for a team that lost 100+ games each year, but that caught up to him in 1965 when he finished with an 8-20 record again. That year he had a 4.34 ERA in 205.1 innings. Jackson tossed three shutouts in 1964, then again in 1965.

Jackson was traded to the St Louis Cardinals before the 1966 season, and pitched in some really bad luck during his first season with his new club, going 13-15, with a 2.51 ERA in 232.2 innings. He did that while playing for a team that had a winning record. He moved to relief for most of the 1967 season, going 9-4, 3.95 in 107 innings over 11 starts and 28 relief appearances. After seeing his innings cut in half in 1967, he went back to the Mets in a trade after the 1967 season, and stayed there until early 1969. He remained in that swing-man role, going 3-7, 3.69 in 92.2 innings over nine starts and 16 relief outings in 1968. He started off very slow in 1969, giving up 13 runs over 11 innings through early June. Jackson finished his career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1969, joining them after being purchased from New York on June 13th. He had a 5.27 ERA in 27.1 innings over 33 games with the Reds. He had a 67-99, 3.98 career record in 302 games, 184 as a starter, with 1,389.1 innings pitched. He had 54 complete games, 14 shutouts and ten saves. He finished with 738 strikeouts.

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