12/9 From 1975: Walker, Blyleven Dealt; Crosby, Hernandez Signed; '91 Jugglin'; Rule 5 Picks; Rumor Mill; Minors Cut; RIP Carl; HBD Geoff
- 1976 – The Post-Gazette reported that Al Oliver was an item on the trade market, with the hottest rumor involving the Montreal Expos, said to be dangling C Gary Carter and RHP Dale Murray as bait. But GM Pete Peterson held onto Oliver through the 1977 campaign before sending him to Texas in a four-team off-season deal that brought Bert Blyleven and John Milner to Pittsburgh.
- 1977 – The Pirates tried to pry LHP John Hiller from the Detroit Tigers by offering pitchers Larry Demery and Odell Jones. The Tigers wanted Bruce Kison included in the package, and the two clubs parted ways. Hiller was a 35-year-old reliever who had one good campaign left in him, but the Bucco bullpen did just fine without him in ‘78, led by Kent Tekulve and Grant Jackson.
|Larry Demery – 1977 Topps|
- 1980 – The Pirates traded RHP Bert Blyleven and C Manny Sanguillen to the Indians for LHP Bob Owchinko, RHP Victor Cruz‚ C Gary Alexander‚ and minor league RHP Rafael Vasquez. The California Angels were set aback by the deal, as they had offered 1B/OF Don Baylor and RHP Mark Clear to Pittsburgh for Blyleven plus C Ed Ott and thought they had made the better offer, per published reports. Halo GM Buzzy Bavasi said at the time “Blyleven wanted to come to California. The Pirates sent him to Siberia.” There may have been some truth to that as Buc GM Pete Peterson and Bavasi were not thought to be on the best of terms and Blyleven had burned his Pittsburgh bridges to ashes. The disgruntled Hall of Famer went on to pitch 11 more seasons while winning 148 more games. The righty requested a trade, saying that manager Chuck Tanner didn’t show any confidence in him by not letting him go deeper into games, although the Frying Dutchman (named because he loved setting teammates’ shoelaces on fire – the “hotfoot” prank – rather than his temperament) averaged 233 IP per season under Tanner’s watch. Sangy was at the end of his days and was released in spring camp. For the Bucs, Cruz split his time between the minors and the parent club, going 1-1-1/2.65 in 22 games before being sent back to Cleveland the next season for SS Nelson Norman. Owchinko was traded for Ernie Camacho, who tossed seven games for the Pirates (0-1/4.98). It was Alexander’s last go-around in the show; he hit .213 in 21 games. Vasquez had originally been signed by the Pirates and sent to Seattle in 1978 as part of the Enrique Romo deal. He pitched in AAA at Buffalo and then finished his career in the Mexican League.
- 1987 – GM Syd Thrift told the Pittsburgh Press that he was 0-for-3 in trade efforts during the winter meetings. He wanted 3B Brook Jacoby or SS Julio Franco from the Indians, using a mix-and-match menu of pitchers, but the Tribe didn’t take the bait. Then he tried to work out a deal with the Brewers for C Bill Schroeder to platoon with Mike LaValliere. Milwaukee wanted both Bob Kipper and Mike Bielecki; Thrift countered with one of the above and the second guy to come off a list of five non-rostered pitchers. The Brew Crew nixed that offer, dousing the third iron in the fire, a trade of C Junior Ortiz to the Astros for hot prospect OF Eric Anthony. Still, with a little patience, the pieces fell together. A year later, the Pirates did swing a deal with Cleveland to land SS Jay Bell. The Bucs found Spanky’s platoon partner by 1990 when Don Slaught was picked up; Schroeder never hit above .225 with more than six HR after his standout ‘87 campaign. As for Anthony, it was probably better that his ship sailed – he did play nine years in the show, but hit .231 with a lifetime -0.2 WAR.
|Brian Fisher – 1990 Upper Deck|
- 1991 – GM Larry Doughty was juggling a lot of balls. He signed ex-Bucco RHP Brian Fisher to a minor league deal with an invite to camp (he was ultimately cut) and took RHP Miguel Batista from Montreal in the Rule 5 Draft (he pitched just once as a Pirate, but did put together an 18-year MLB career after some minor league tinkering). He was also trying to lure free agent CF Otis Nixon to Pittsburgh and re-sign C Spanky LaValliere, RHP Bob Walk and 3B Steve Buechele. Doughty succeeded in three-of-four, herding LaValliere, Walk and Buechele back into the fold, but lost Nixon, who returned to the Atlanta Braves. He was also trying to sign/trade LF Barry Bonds, who would win the MVP in 1992, in his walk year, but nothing was to come of those efforts.
- 1992 – Carl Barger, 62, passed away at the winter meetings from an aneurysm despite the efforts of Bobby Brown, AL President and cardiologist, who tended to him almost immediately. Barger was an attorney for Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott who was key in putting together the public-private partnership that kept the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and then became the team president in 1987. He jumped to the newly formed Marlins in 1991, answering the call of his longtime friend Wayne Huinzenga. Barger’s Pittsburgh legacy is repped by a bronze bust by sculptor Robert Berks, originally set in TRS and now home in PNC Park.
- 1992 – The Pirates selected LHP Dave Otto in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft – and his guaranteed $500,000 contract. John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times was told by Bucco GM Ted Simmons that “Frankly, I didn’t know he had a guaranteed contract and I take the blame for that. I wanted the guy, though…He may even be a bargain.” Or not. Otto made the team and went 3-4/5.03 in 28 games (eight starts) and was released in August.
|Geoff Hartlieb – 2019 photo Mike Reaves/Getty|
- 1993 – RHP Geoff Hartlieb was born in Highland, Illinois. The big reliever (6’6”) was drafted in the 29th round from Lindenwood College in Missouri. That’s not a great launching pad, but Geoff moved through six levels in four years, from the short-season Appy League in 2016 to the show in 2019. The righty made his first appearance on May 18th, closing out the Pirates first-ever “opener” game, a 7-2 win. He tossed 35 IP with 38 K in 29 outings, but with an ugly 9.00 ERA after giving up eight long balls. Still, he was put into a higher leverage spot in 2020 and responded with a 1-0/3.63 line in 21 outings. In ‘21, the Bucs waived him after four games; he went to the Mets and they let him loose in September. He’s now with the Boston Red Sox organization.
- 1996 – Pittsburgh plucked OF Emil Brown from the Oakland Athletics in the Rule 5 draft. The 22-year-old played parts of five seasons with the Pirates but hit just .205 before being sent to San Diego in 2001. He was a poster boy for the dark side of the Rule 5 draft which requires MLB rostering instead of everyday farm play – after some seasoning in the minors, he came back as a 30-year-old in 2005 and hit .271 over four years for KC and Oakland. The Pirates also took Texas OF Jason Johnson in the minor league portion, while losing LHP Jesus Pena to the White Sox and C Wilkenman Gonzalez to San Diego.
- 2005 – The Pirates agreed to sign free agent reliever RHP Roberto Hernandez, 41, to a one year‚ $2.75M contract (it was finalized a week later, on the 15th). The set-up man was flipped to the NY Mets, his old club, at the 2006 deadline as part of the Xavier Nady trade after working in 46 Bucco outings w/2.93 ERA, and had just one more MLB campaign left in his tank.
- 2009 – The Bucs signed free agent IF Bobby Crosby, late of the Oakland A’s, to a one-year/$1M deal with another $500K dangled as bonus money. The 30-year-old former Rookie of the Year (2005) hit .224 with one homer and was swapped to Arizona; 2010 was his final campaign.
|Bobby Crosby – 200 Topps Heritage|
- 2015 – The Pirates traded 2B Neil Walker to the New York Mets for LHP Jon Niese. The Pittsburgh Kid (he was born in Gibsonia and went to Pine-Richland HS) had been a Bucco since he was selected in the first round (#11 overall) of the 2004 draft and took over the second base spot in 2010. Along with Robinson Cano, he was the only 2B with double-digit dingers for six straight seasons. From 2009-15, Walker put up a .272/.338/.431 slash for the Bucs, with 93 HR. Niese fizzled and was shipped back to the Mets while Walker remained injury-bitten and ended up on five different clubs through 2020.
- 2020 – The Pirates announced that due to MLB affiliate contraction, the Bucco minor league teams will be the Indy Indians (AAA), Altoona Curve (AA), Bradenton Marauders (A+) and Greensboro ‘Hoppers (A). They lost Charleston’s West Virginia Power (future status TBD) and Morgantown’s West Virginia Black Bears, which played in a short-season drafted player’s league.
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