The Pittsburgh Pirates have made two minor trades of note on this date, not enough to warrant their own article separate from the one posted earlier this morning. On August 13,1926 though, they changed the face of the franchise, just ten months after winning their second World Series title. John Fredland has a Jolly Roger Rewind that recaps a game that turned around the 1978 season for the Pirates.
On this date in 1926 the Pirates made the decision to release pitcher Babe Adams and outfielder Carson Bigbee, while putting outfielder Max Carey on waivers and suspending him until he was picked up by another team. Adams won 194 games in a Pirates uniform, second most all-time. Carey is a Hall of Famer, who is among the top ten in many all-time categories in Pirates history. Bigbee played his entire 11 year big league career with the Pirates. The story about their departure from the Pirates was so big, that it became front page news in town for the next four days as fans wanted an explanation of what happened.
At the time of their departure, the Pirates weren’t a tight-knit group despite being in first place. Many players thought the reason was that former manager Fred Clarke was on the bench coaching, and the team was being run by both him and the current manager, Bill McKechnie. Players said they were getting conflicting signals from Clarke and McKechnie during games. Clarke had words with players and soon players were getting fined or suspended left and right. The last straw for the veteran group though, was when Bigbee overheard Clarke tell McKechnie to get the struggling Carey out of the lineup and he didn’t care who he replaced him with, even the batboy could do better.
The team then held a player’s meeting(that McKechnie knew about) to vote on whether to get Clarke off the bench, with Max Carey saying that they couldn’t continue to play with two managers. The vote came back 18-6 in favor of keeping Clarke, but word of the vote got to the front office and when they found out the six players were led by Adams, Bigbee and Carey(the other three votes were supposedly young rookies that were thought to have been swayed by the veteran trio), the group of players were cut and it became known as the “ABC Affair”(the first letters of each of their last names).
The move was unpopular from the start with the fans. It got even worse as the Pirates dropped out of first place and Max Carey quickly came back to bite the Pirates in his first game with the Brooklyn Robins, scoring two runs in the first game of a three game series, a game won by Brooklyn. Two days later, he drove home a run in a 2-1 Robins win over the Pirates, the game that knocked them out of first place. The Pirates finished that 1926 season in third place, going 23-24 the rest of the way. Carey stuck around for four seasons with Brooklyn, but neither Bigbee, nor Adams, played in the majors again.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates traded pitcher Barry Jones to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for pitcher Dave LaPoint. Jones was a 25 year old righty reliever, who had spent three seasons in Pittsburgh. In exactly 100 outings, all relief appearances, he went 6-9 3.81 with six saves in 137 innings. LaPoint was a 29 year old left-handed pitcher, in his ninth season at the major league level. The 1988 White Sox were his sixth major league team, and he had a 10-11 3.40 record in 25 starts. He had won as many as 12 games in a season(twice), but that was during the 1983-84 seasons. After the trade, LaPoint went 4-2 2.77 in eight starts. The Pirates finished in second place, 15 games back of the Mets, and Dave became a free agent after the season. Jones pitched for Chicago until the end of the 1990 season, when he was part of a trade with the Expos that saw Tim Raines go to the White Sox. Barry was 11-4 2.31 in 65 appearances during the 1990 season.
On this date in 1894, the Pirates traded pitcher George Nicol and cash, to the Louisville Colonels for pitcher Jock Menefee. Nicol was struggling in 1894, just like most pitchers during that time, due to the pitching distance recently being moved back five feet to it’s current distance. He threw a slow curveball, that he had to adjust for the new distance and he wasn’t doing well, posting a 6.22 ERA, with 39 walks in 46.1 innings with the Pirates that year. After the trade, Nicol made just two starts for the Colonels and they were both disastrous, going the distance in each, he allowed 35 hits, 35 runs and 16 walks in 17 innings. He did however prove valuable as a hitter, playing right field for 26 games, he batted .339 with 19 RBI’s. It still ended up being his last season in the majors. Menefee had begun his career with the Pirates in 1892, getting a one game trial that didn’t go so well. He then pitched for Louisville in 1893-94, going a combined 16-24 4.28 in 43 games. The 26 year old righty would make 13 starts for the Pirates over the last two months of the 1894 season, going 5-8 5.40 with 13 complete games. He made one start and one relief appearance for the 1895 Pirates before they got rid of him, due to his eight runs and seven walks in 1.2 innings of work.
Jolly Roger Rewind: August 13, 1978
In mid-August 1978, the Pirates appeared all but irrelevant to the National League East pennant race. A mild July hot stretch had rallied the Bucs to a then-season-best three games over .500, but the subsequent twenty-one contests had seen Chuck Tanner’s squad lose seventeen times, drop to a season-worst 51-61 mark, and plunge from second to fourth place in the division, eleven and a half games behind the front-running Phillies.
The latest nadir of this midsummer freefall had occurred on Veterans Stadium’s familiar turf. After rolling into Pittsburgh the previous weekend and taking three of four from the Pirates, the Phillies had resumed their domination when the teams continued their rivalry in Philadelphia, winning the first three games of the series—the second two by a combined 25-5 margin.
Their remaining schedule seemingly reduced to a quest for individual goals and preparation for 1979*, the Bucs came out for Sunday afternoon’s finale and salvaged a measure of respect with a 7-3 victory over the Phillies. Rookie Don Robinson played the stopper, surviving a sixty-five-minute rain delay in the sixth inning to record a six-hit complete game. The twenty-one-year-old right-hander kept Philadelphia’s potent offense off the scoreboard until Richie Hebner’s two-run homer in the sixth inning; by then, the Pirates had built a commanding 7-0 advantage. Robinson improved his record to 8-5.
The Pirates broke the game open with a four-run third inning off Phillies’ starter Larry Christenson. Leading 1-0, the Bucs put their first two runners on base via Frank Taveras’ double and Omar Moreno’s infield single. With Dave Parker batting, Christenson made repeated attempts to pick off Moreno, nearly catching the Bucco center fielder four times. When Christenson finally threw home, Parker ripped the 2-2 pitch over the wall in left center for his twentieth homer of the season and a 4-0 lead. Four batters later, Rennie Stennett’s RBI single off reliever Warren Brusstar drove in John Milner with the fourth run of the frame, and the Pirates never looked back.
While the victory appeared a relatively humble achievement, it would ultimately turn the Bucs’ season around. The Pirates came home the next night and beat Cincinnati, lost the following night, and then won ten games in a row. After a brief interlude of two losses, the Buccos won another eleven consecutive games; by the morning of September 7, they stood ten games over .500 and one-half game behind the Phillies. The stage was set for a pennant race that would last until the final weekend of the season.
Box score and play-by-play
* Of the Phillies’ five-run sixth inning in Saturday’s 10-1 rout, the Beaver County Times had remarked, “[t]hen came the sixth inning that undoubtably drove the final nail into the 1978 Pirates’ coffin.”