This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 28th, Two Trades, Mark Melancon and Chief 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, finishing with a 4.66 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. He had a 4-8, 2.53 minor league record in 1988, along with a 1.22 WHIP, 71 strikeouts and 15 saves in 81.2 innings over 49 games, while splitting the season evenly between Double-A and Triple-A. The 29-year-old 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. He went 3-10, 4.99 in 1988, with a 1.45 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 97.1 innings over 32 games (11 starts).

Gideon spent most in 1989 in the minors, getting four appearances for the Expos in June. He made the team out of Spring Training in 1990, but the good feelings didn’t last long. He injured his elbow 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. It would require surgery that put him out the entire season. Gideon never pitched in the majors again, and he 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. He went 6-7, 3.05 in 147.1 innings during the 1989 season, when he made 18 starts and 24 relief appearances. 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. He then made 41 relief appearances for the 1991 Pirates, as they won their second straight NL East title. In three seasons with Pittsburgh, he had a 21-19, 3.46 record in 362 innings over 114 games, 43 as a starter. During Spring Training of 1992, the Pirates traded Heaton to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Kirk Gibson. It was 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. The 26-year-old Sisk 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. The 30-year-old Cannizzaro played in the majors from 1960 to 1965, before spending two full seasons in the minors. The Pirates traded for him in November of 1967, though he played just 25 games with the team in 1968. Davis was 26 years old at the time of the trade. He split the 1968 season between the St Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, hitting .203/.255/.280, with one homer and 17 RBIs in 85 games. Klaus was 31 years old. He spent the last three seasons (1966-68) 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 hit .234/.310/.281 in 1969, with four RBIs in 62 games. Just ten of those games came as a starter, leaving him with 73 plate appearances for the year. 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. 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, then his career would be over by 1971. 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 had a .220 average and a .587 OPS in 134 games that season. His career lasted six seasons in the majors after the trade. He hit .279 in 1970, with 42 RBIs in 111 games, while 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 signing as 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 and a 1.74 WHIP 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 Great Lakes of the Low-A Midwest League. He posted a 3.20 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 81.2 innings before the trade. He had a 5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings over three starts after joining the Pirates, while pitching for Hickory of the Low-A South Atlantic League. A strained bicep ended his season early. He spent the entire 2009 season in High-A with Lynchburg of the Carolina League, though he missed some time due to an off-season toe surgery, followed by right shoulder inflammation when he came back. He had a 5.57 ERA, a 1.67 WHIP and a 34:32 BB/SO ratio in 72.2 innings over 15 starts upon his return. Morris was healthy in 2010 when he started the year with the new Pirates High-A affiliate in Bradenton of the Florida State League. He had an 0.60 ERA in 44.2 innings over eight starts, before spending the rest of the season with Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League. Combined between both stops, he had a 3.03 ERA in 133.2 innings, with 124 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP.

Morris spent the entire 2011 season in Altoona, converting to a relief role during the year. He had a 3.35 ERA, three saves, a 1.35 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 78 innings over 35 games (six starts). He pitched the 2012 season with Indianapolis of the Triple-A International League, where he had a 2.67 ERA, five saves, a 1.15 WHIP 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 almost all of the 2013 season, throwing just 6.1 innings with Indianapolis. He made 55 appearances (all in relief) for the Pirates that year, 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 during his three partial seasons with the Pirates.

Morris was incredible for the Marlins after the trade, going 4-1, 0.66 in 40.2 innings over 39 games during the last four months of the 2014 season. His best season overall was 2015 with the Marlins, when he had a 3.14 ERA, 47 strikeouts and a 1.48 WHIP 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 over 24 appearances with Miami in 2016. He 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 and a 1.67 WHIP 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, a 1.37 WHIP and 168 strikeouts 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, followed by 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, then 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 an 8-1, 2.27 ERA, an 0.96 WHIP and 89 strikeouts over 95 innings between all three stops. All 44 of his appearances were in relief. Melancon debuted in the majors in late April of 2009. Over three stints with the Yankees that year, he had a 3.86 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 16.1 innings. He spent the rest of the year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he had a 4-0, 2.89 record in 53 innings, with 54 strikeouts and an 0.91 WHIP. He struggled in a brief stint in the majors in 2010, then 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. A majority of his year was spent back with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he had a 3.67 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP in 56.1 innings. He also pitched briefly for Round Rock of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League after joining the Astros.

Melancon had a big season for the Astros in 2011. He went 8-4, 2.78, with 66 strikeouts, a 1.22 WHIP and 20 saves in 74.1 innings over 71 outings. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox in the off-season, where he 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 and a 1.27 WHIP in 45 innings over 41 appearances with Boston. He pitched great for Pawtucket of the International League that year, posting a matching 0.83 ERA and an 0.83 WHIP, with 27 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. He immediately turned things around after joining 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 that year, with an 0.93 WHIP and 62 strikeouts. 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. Between both stops he went 2-2, 1.64 in 71.1 innings, with an 0.90 WHIP, 47 saves and 65 strikeouts. He signed with the San Francisco Giants after the 2016 season, then 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, and his WHIP rose to 1.43 in 30 innings. That ERA came back down a bit to 3.23 over 39 innings in 2018, but it came with a 1.59 WHIP. 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 68 strikeouts, a 1.32 WHIP and 12 saves in 66 appearances and 67.1 innings. The Braves gave up two pitchers to get him at the July 31st trade deadline.

Melancon made 23 appearances during the shortened 2020 season, putting up a 2.78 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 11 saves in 22.2 innings. He signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent in February of 2021, where he had a 4-3, 2.23 record and a 1.22 WHIP 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 had a rough 2022 season, going 3-10, 4.66, with a 1.50 WHIP , 18 saves and 35 strikeouts in 56 innings. He has pitched 14 seasons in the majors, posting a 37-40, 2.94 record and 262 saves in 732 appearances. He has 643 strikeouts in 726.2 innings. Going into the 2023 season, he ranks 36th 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. The Pirates selected him in the 28th round three years later, 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 short-season New York-Penn League after being drafted, putting up a 2-7, 4.43 record, a 1.35 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings for Erie, 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. Sparks spent most of his first full year of pro ball in 1999 with Hickory of the South Atlantic League (Pirates changed affiliates that year), while also adding in five starts for Lynchburg of the High-A Carolina League. He combined to go 6-9, 4.87, with 92 strikeouts and a 1.74 WHIP in 114.2 innings over 17 starts and 13 relief appearances. His 1999 splits were strikingly similar to the 1998 season. He had a 4.47 ERA at the lower level in 1999, which was just .04 higher than the previous season with Erie. That was followed by matching 6.23 ERAs at the higher level during both season. He began the 2000 season with Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League, before he was called upon to help a worn out bullpen in Pittsburgh on July 20th. He made three appearances for the Pirates, allowing three runs over four innings, with four hits, five walks and two strikeouts. Sparks was sent back to Altoona on August 5th, which ended his big league career just two years after he was drafted. He went 6-7, 4.77, with 66 strikeouts and a 1.44 WHIP 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 when he returned to the majors, 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. Sparks cleared waivers and remained with the Pirates, getting an invite to Spring Training in 2001, though he ended up cut 15 days before Opening Day. Sparks split the 2001 season between Altoona and Nashville of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, combining to go 4-9, 5.50, with 95 strikeouts and a 1.74 WHIP in 113 innings, which were spread out over 16 starts and 22 relief appearances. He split the 2002 season between Triple-A (Memphis of the Pacific Coast League) for the St Louis Cardinals, and Triple-A (Fresno of the Pacific Coast League)/Double-A (Shreveport of the Texas League) for the San Francisco Giants. He struggled in brief stints at all three spots, Combining to post an 11.88 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP in 11 games. He had an ERA over 10.00 with all three teams. He walked 19 batters in 16.2 innings that year. That year ended his pro career after only five seasons, which included two partial seasons. 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. He 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, 158 strikeouts and a 1.69 WHIP. 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 and a 1.40 WHIP. 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 and a 1.28 WHIP 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. He faced one batter on May 6th, and served up a grand slam to Bobby Thomson in the eighth inning of a 9-8 loss to the New York Giants. He made his first Major League start on May 23rd, and threw a shutout with seven strikeouts over the Philadelphia Phillies. He made his second start a week later 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 and a 1.48 WHIP. 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.

MacDonald served in the military during the 1951-52 seasons, 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 3.43 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP in 84.1 innings. He was released outright to Hollywood on May 25, 1953, the day after his final big league appearance. He retired from baseball just four appearances into the 1954 seasons for Hollywood, after allowing eight runs in 2.2 innings. 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. He didn’t pitch at all during the first few weeks of 1953 Spring Training, before making his debut on March 24th. His final career records show an 8-11, 4.66 record, with 96 walks, 64 strikeouts and a 1.53 WHIP 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. While pitching for Little Rock of the Class-A Southern Association in 1920, he went 21-7 in 46 games, pitching 278 innings, with 55 walks, 138 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP. His ERA isn’t available, but he allowed 3.72 runs per nine innings. 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, throwing four innings over three appearances. The papers also claimed that he was 19 years old, but research has uncovered that he was actually 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. He went 5-3, 2.98 in 48.1 innings for the 1921 Pirates, with 19 strikeouts and a 1.20 WHIP. 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. He ended up pitching 77.2 innings that year, finishing with a 3-1, 4.52 record, 24 strikeouts and a 1.44 WHIP. He batted .316 in limited at-bats, after going 0-for-17 in 1921. In an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers on September 26th, Yellow Horse hit Ty Cobb with a pitch on his that knocked him out of the game, forcing him to be carried from the field. Cobb was already nursing a leg injury at the time, but pinch-hit in the exhibition game and got hit near the injured spot. Yellow Horse pitched again in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians on September 28th. 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.

Yellow Horse was traded to Sacramento of the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) on December 13, 1923, in exchange 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, with a 1.38 WHIP 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 and a 1.72 WHIP in 46 innings. That was 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 a 1-1 record in three appearances. His time with the Pirates amounted to an 8-4, 3.93 record in 126 innings over eight starts and 30 relief appearances.

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