This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 28th, John Milner, Zane Smith and the Ted Kluszewski Trade

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

The Trade

On this date in 1957, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Dee Fondy to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Fondy was veteran who the Pirates acquired from the Chicago Cubs during the 1957 season. At age 32 that year, he hit .313/.360/.384 with 42 runs and 35 RBIs in 95 games for Pittsburgh, in what ended up being his only season with the team. He wasn’t the typical corner infielder. He had more speed and less power than you would normally see at that position, and by 1956 he was on the downside of his career. Kluszweski was a big time slugger at one point in his career, hitting 171 homers from the left side over a four-year stretch from 1953-56. Unfortunately for him, he hurt his back in 1957 and his power disappeared for the season. He hit just six homers in 69 games for the Reds that year, but the Pirates were hoping he could regain his form.

Fondy lasted just one season in Cincinnati, and he was mainly used off the bench, starting just 20 games all year. He had a .218/.246/.266 slash line in 131 plate appearances. It would be his last seasons in the majors. Kluszewski failed to regain his power. His .292 average in 100 games during the 1958 season was strong, but his four homers all year was not, especially not from a first baseman. He finished with a solid .750 OPS, but his .402 OPS was more than 100 points off of his career mark coming into that season. The Pirates brought him back for the 1959 season, although he was traded away before the season ended. He managed to hit two homers in 60 games with the Pirates that year, giving him a total of six in his 160 games in Pittsburgh. That was a far cry from the slugger their pitchers had been facing since 1947 in Cincinnati. He final slash line with the Pirates was .284/.333/.404 in 458 plate appearances. The Pirates received just nine games from the two players they acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Kluszewski, though he had just 0.9 WAR total over his final 2 1/2 seasons in the majors.

The Players

Dario Agrazal, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates.  The Pirates signed him as an international free agent in 2013 out of Panama, where he grew up pitcher under the tutelage of his father, who was a famous pitcher and pitching coach in Panama. Agrazal came up through the minors as a finesse pitcher with an easy delivery and excellent command of his pitches. He went 6-0, 2.40 in 60 innings in the Dominican Summer League in 2013 at 18 years old during his first season of pro ball. He moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 2014, where he had a 3-4, 4.20 record in 55.2 innings over 12 starts. He walked just five batters all year, finishing with one hit batter and no wild pitches. From there he moved up to Morgantown of the short-season New York-Penn League in 2015, posting a 6-5, 2.72 record in 76 innings over 14 starts. Agrazal hit full-season ball in 2016, playing for West Virginia of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He went 8-12, 4.20 in 150 innings over 27 outings. He walked just 18 batters all season, though he allowed 18 homers and hit 14 batters. He began to add velocity in 2016, then added even more in High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League in 2017, while also racking up strikeouts once the calendar hit May. Those improvements and performance earned him a mid-season promotion to Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League. He went 5-3, 2.91 in 80.1 innings for Bradenton that year, finishing with ten walks and 63 strikeouts.

Just when he prospect star seemed to be getting its brightest, Agrazal suffered a pectoral injury in his first start with Altoona that cost his the rest of the season. A forearm strain cost him time during the 2018 season, then a back injury knocked him out of the 2018 Arizona Fall League after one game. All three injuries caused him to miss extended time, including missed off-season training time. He had a 3.65 ERA in 93.2 innings in 2018, which included rehab time back in Bradenton. He pitched a total of nine innings between Altoona in 2017 and the Arizona Fall League in 2018. When Agrazal returned in 2019, he was back to being the finesse/command pitcher, losing all of his added velocity. However, he was able to make it to the majors due to the Pirates using 14 starting pitchers during the season. Agrazal had his share of issues in Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League in 2019, posting a 4.78 ERA in 12 starts, though he still had 55 strikeouts in 64 innings. He was only slightly better in the majors, though his ERA was second best among the seven starters with 11+ starts for the Pirates. Agrazal went 4-5, 4.91 in 73.1 innings for the Pirates. He allowed 15 homers and hit ten batters during that abbreviated time. After the 2019 season, the Pirates sold him to the Detroit Tigers. He missed the 2020 season due to forearm tendinitis, and then the Tigers designated him for assignment after the season. He cleared waivers and became a free agent. He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 2021, but ended up pitching just one game in August and gave up three runs in his only inning of work, then went on the injured list for the remainder of the season. He did not play during the 2022 season.

Zane Smith, pitcher for the Pirates from 1990 to 1994 then again in 1996. Smith began his career in the Atlanta Braves system as a third round draft pick in 1982 out of Indiana State. He made his MLB debut two years later and stayed in Atlanta until he was traded to the Montreal Expos on July 2, 1989. Smith debuted during his draft year with Anderson of the Class-A South Atlantic League. He went 5-3, 6.86 in 63 innings, with more walks (34) than strikeouts (32). The next year was spent with Durham of the Class-A Carolina League, where he posted a 9-15, 4.90 record in 170.2 innings over 27 starts. He threw seven complete games and he recorded 126 strikeouts. He had a 1.65 ERA in 60 innings over nine starts with Greenville of the Double-A Southern League to begin the 1984 season. That was followed by a 4.15 ERA in 123.2 innings over 19 starts with Richmond of the Triple-A International League. He had 88 walks and 103 strikeouts in 183.2 innings that season. Smith debuted in the majors on September 10, 1984. He posted a 2.25 ERA in three starts, with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts in 20 innings. He remained in the majors for the rest of his career, except for a handful of rehab starts over the years.

Smith had a 9-10, 3.80 record in 1985, throwing a total of 147 innings, with 18 starts and 24 relief appearances. He had two complete games, both were shutouts. He followed that up by going 8-16, 4.05 in 204.2 innings, with 32 starts and six relief appearances. His 139 strikeouts that year set a career high, as did his 105 walks. His best season in Atlanta was 1987, when he went 15-10, 4.09 and led the National League with 36 games started. His ERA that season was slightly higher than his overall mark with the Braves, yet he was just 29-48 in his other five seasons combined. He tossed a career high 242 innings that season, while setting career bests with 36 starts, nine complete games and three shutouts (which he would tie twice). Smith missed some time during a down year in 1988, going 5-10, 4.30 in 140.1 innings. His season ended in late August when he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He had a mix of poor support and poor results in 1989, going 1-12, 4.55 in 99 innings over 17 starts with the Braves, before being traded to Montreal for three players in July. Smith moved to the bullpen with the Expos in 1989 and had a 1.50 ERA over 48 innings and 31 appearances. A year after the Braves/Expos deal, the Pirates acquired him in a trade for pitcher Scott Ruskin, infielder Willie Greene and a player to be named later, which unfortunately for the Pirates, turned out to be Moises Alou.

Prior to the trade to the Pirates, Smith had a 6-7, 3.23 record in 139.1 innings for the 1990 Expos. He went 6-2, 1.30 in 76 innings the rest of the way for the 1990 Pirates, helping them to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. His regular season success failed to carry over in the postseason, as he went 0-2, 6.00 in nine innings against the Reds in the NLCS. He set a career high in wins in 1991, going 16-10, 3.20 in 228 innings over 35 starts, helping the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. This time he pitched great in the playoffs against the Braves. In two starts he posted an 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, allowing just one run. Smith had an incredible turn around with his control mid-career and it showed for the 1991 Pirates. He had just 29 walks that season, while picking up 120 strikeouts. It was easily his best strikeouts rate, though his 1992 season wasn’t far behind. Unfortunately, the low walk rate couldn’t help him that season. Smith injured his throwing shoulder in 1992, and he made just two starts after July 11th, which cost him a spot on the playoff roster. He was having a fine season up until the injury, posting a 3.06 ERA over 141 innings.

Smith had a rough season in 1993, starting the year on the disabled list, then missing the last month of the season. When he was able to pitch, the results weren’t there, as he went 3-7, 4.55 in 83 innings. He pitched well in 1994, going 10-8, 3.27 in 157 innings before the strike ended the season early. He was allowed to leave via free agency when the season ended. Smith signed with the Boston Red Sox for 1995, and struggled badly in the American League, posting a 5.61 ERA in 110.2 innings over 21 starts and three relief appearances. The Pirates re-signed him early in Spring Training in 1996. He pitched poorly during his second stint with the Pirates, going 4-6, 5.08 in 83.1 innings over 16 starts, before he was released in early July. He had a 47-41, 3.35 record in 768.1 innings over six seasons in Pittsburgh. Overall in 13 seasons, he went 100-115, 3.74 in 1,919.1 innings, with 291 starts, 69 relief appearances, 35 complete games and 16 shutouts.

John Milner, 1B/LF for the Pirates from 1978 until 1982. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 14th round in 1968 out of high school. He played with Marion of the short-season Appalachian League in 1968, hitting .321 with 51 runs scored, 18 doubles, 28 RBIs, 42 walks and an .841 OPS in 67 games. Most of the 1969 season was spent with Visalia of the Class-A California League, where he hit .326 in 111 games, with 90 runs scored, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 63 RBIs, 78 walks and a .957 OPS. He also saw brief time that year with Pompano Beach of the Class-A Florida State League, hitting .354/.455/.600 with 12 runs and 18 RBIs in 17 games. Milner moved up to Memphis of the Texas League in 1970, where he had a .297 average in 136 games, with 98 runs scored, 19 doubles, eight triples, 20 homers, 71 RBIs, 27 steals, 100 walks and a .924 OPS. He moved up to Tidewater of the Triple-A International League in 1971. There he batted .290 in 133 games, with 82 runs, 27 doubles, 19 homers, 87 RBIs, 57 walks and an .843 OPS. Milner made it to the majors at age 21 in 1971 as a September call-up, and then he was a regular in the lineup by the next season. He hit .167/.167/.222 in nine games during his first taste of the majors.

Milner saw plenty of time in left field for the 1972 Mets. In 117 games that year, he had a .238 average, with 52 runs, 12 doubles, 17 homers, 38 RBIs, 51 walks and a .762 OPS. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting. He mostly played first base in 1973, helping the Mets get to their second World Series, where he hit .296 with five walks in the seven-game series loss to the Oakland A’s. Milner batted .239 in 129 games during the regular season, with 69 runs, 12 doubles, 23 homers, 72 RBIs and 62 walks. He had a .762 OPS for the second straight season. During the 1974 season, he hit .252 in 137 games, with 70 runs, 19 doubles, 20 homers, 63 RBIs, 66 walks and a .745 OPS. The next season saw him hit .191/.302/.336 with 24 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers and 29 RBIs in 91 games, as he moved to more of a bench role. Milner bounced back in 1976 to hit .271 with 56 runs, 25 doubles, 15 homers, 78 RBIs, 65 walks and an .809 OPS in 127 games. In his last season in New York, he batted .255 in 131 games, with 43 runs, 20 doubles, 12 homers, 57 RBIs, 61 walks and a .768 OPS. He spent seven seasons in the majors with the Mets, hitting .245 with 94 homers and 338 RBIs in 741 games.

The Pirates acquired Milner as part of a four-team, 11-player trade in December of 1977. That deal also included Bert Blyleven coming to the Pirates, while Al Oliver was sent to the Texas Rangers. Milner was used mostly in left field during his first season in Pittsburgh, starting 82 of his 108 games, while hitting .271, with 39 runs, 17 doubles, eight homers, 34 RBIs and a .732 OPS. He had his best season in Pittsburgh in 1979, when he hit .276 in 128 games, with 52 runs, 16 homers, 60 RBIs, 53 walks and an .849 OPS. That batting average was his single season best during his 12-year career. Milner went hitless in the NLCS in 1979, but he hit .333 with two walks in 11 plate appearances during the World Series, which was won by the Pirates in seven games. He batted a total of 22 times in the postseason that year.

Milner took on more of a bench role with the Pirates in 1980, getting just 292 plate appearances in 114 games. His batting average dipped to .244, but his walk rate went up, helping him set a season high with a .378 OBP. He hit eight homers, drove in 34 runs and walked 52 times, helping him to a .748 OPS. He had a similar role in the strike-shortened 1981 season, until the Pirates traded him to the Montreal Expos on August 20th for veteran first baseman Willie Montanez. Milner was batting .237/.292/.356 with two homers and nine RBIs in 34 games at the time of the trade. He hit .237/.341/.421 in 31 games after the deal. He started 1982 with the Expos, but didn’t last long, posting a .107 average and a .319 OPS in 26 games. After playing just 57 games over two seasons with the Expos, Milner was released on July 6, 1982. He re-signed with the Pirates to finish out the 1982 season, then was released just prior to Opening Day in 1983, which ended his pro career. He had 32 plate appearances in 33 games with the 1982 Pirates, with two homers and six walks helping him to a .966 OPS. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, he batted .263 with 133 runs scored, 34 homers and 149 RBIs in 417 games. He was a career .249 hitter with 455 runs, 140 doubles, 131 homers and 498 RBIs in 1,215 games. He walked more times (504) than he struck out (473) during his career. He finished with a career total of 12.5 WAR, which was dragged down by below average defensive numbers. His cousin Eddie Milner played nine seasons in the majors (1980-88), spent mostly with the Cincinnati Reds.

Harry Sweeney, first baseman for the 1944 Pirates. Sweeney played one game in the majors, going 0-for-2 and handling all ten plays he had at first base. His one game was the last game of the 1944 season, a doubleheader played on October 1st against the Philadelphia Phillies. Babe Dahlgren started the game at first base, then after one at-bat, Sweeney came in to take his place. The 28-year-old Sweeney was coming off the best season of his nine-year minor league career when he joined the Pirates. Playing for York of the Class-B Interstate League that year, he hit .334 in 129 games, with 97 runs, 39 doubles and 14 homers, 108 RBIs, 67 walks and a .934 OPS. Despite that strong season and his first trip to the big leagues, Sweeney played just 93 more games in his pro career before retiring. The Pirates purchased his contract from York on August 30, 1944, though he was allowed to remain with his team for two more weeks while they finished out their season. The press release from the day said that he was two years younger than his actual age, and he was third in the Interstate League in batting average at the time. York ended up making the playoffs, which delayed his arrival with the Pirates by two weeks. It likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as manager Frankie Frisch said that he wanted to make sure that the Pirates secured a second place finish (which had bonus money involved for everyone on the team) before he used any of the new players. That didn’t happen until the Pirates won the first game of their doubleheader on the final day of the season (the Cincinnati Reds also lost that day which may have been the clincher depending on completion time). In Spring Training of 1945, Sweeney was supposed to compete for the first base job. He was a no show in camp, and on March 25th he was sent to San Diego of the Double-A Pacific Coast League to complete an earlier trade for pitcher Bill Salkeld.

Sweeney debuted in pro ball in 1937 at 21 years old, playing for Paducah of the Class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League. There are no stats available from that season. Paducah had a working agreement at the time with the Pirates He remained in Class-D ball, playing for McKeesport of the Pennsylvania State League in 1938, where he hit .315 with 71 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 63 RBIs, 53 walks and an .879 OPS in 98 games. Sweeney saw brief time in McKeesport in 1939, while spending the rest of the year with Hutchinson of the Class-C Western Association. He hit .272 that year, with 12 extra-base hits in 85 games, showing better stats during his 19 games with McKeesport. He returned to McKeesport in 1940, a year in which that team also played in Oil City for part of the season. He batted .269 with 35 extra-base hits in 92 games. The entire 1941 season was spent in Oil City, where he hit .303 with 25 doubles, six triples and seven homers in 104 games. Sweeney missed the 1942 season serving in the Army during WWII. He returned to pro ball in 1943 with Albany of the Class-A Eastern League, where he struggled in 35 games, before ending up with York, where he stayed until his purchase by the Pirates. Sweeney hit .235 in 88 games between both stops in 1943, with 38 runs, 13 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and a .638 OPS. After being sold to San Diego following his brief stay in Pittsburgh, he hit .209/.308/.308 in 26 games in 1945. San Diego sold him to Montgomery of the Class-B Southeastern League in July of 1946, but after hitting .161 in 18 games that first month with the team, he was back in York to finish his career. Sweeney up a .326 average, 35 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 38 RBIs in 49 games for York in 1946. He often went by Hank or Henry in print. He is one of the few players in team history whose uniform number is unknown. Pirates started wearing numbers in 1932.