This Date in Pirates History: March 15 The Transactions

I decided to split up the “This Date” article today into two articles due to the length. The first one is for two important trades that happened on this date, while the second one is for the former players born on this date, which will be posted this afternoon.

On this date in 1979 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded minor leaguers George Hill and Martin Rivas to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Mike Easler. There was also cash involved in the deal, going to Boston. This trade brought back Easler before he could play a game for Boston. He was sold to the Red Sox on October 27,1978 after spending two years in the Pirates organization. At the time, Easler had already played parts of five seasons in the majors(three with the Astros, one with Angels) totaling just 57 games.

George Hill was a left-handed hitting outfielder, who had spent two seasons in the Pirates organization.  At age 23 in 1977, the Pirates took Hill in the 36th round of the amateur draft. He played two levels of A ball that year, hitting .270 with five homers and 38 walks in 69 games. In 1978 he played for Salem of the Carolina League, hitting .235 in 101 games, although he did have a great 52/20 BB/K ratio.

Martin Rivas had already played three seasons in the Pirates organization by 1977. At the time of the trade, the righty pitcher was 20 years old, coming off a 1978 season in which he missed the entire year. He threw 114 total innings over his first three seasons, all as a reliever.

The trade was a one-sided one for the Pirates, although they were giving up two minor leaguers to get back a player they already had five months earlier, so the only credit they should get is realizing their mistake before it cost them more. Hill never even played for the Red Sox organization at any level, the 1978 season was his last in pro ball. Rivas went 11-6 3.74 in 118 innings in 1979, playing in the Carolina League. Repeating the level the next season, he pitched 98 innings in relief, getting into 56 games while collecting 21 saves. He missed all of 1981 with an arm injury, then posted a 2.86 ERA in 36 games the following season topping out at AA. Rivas never played after 1982, leaving the Red Sox with nothing to show for the trade except an undisclosed amount of cash.

Easler played for the Pirates until the end of the 1983 season, when he would be traded to the Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. While with the Pirates, Easler was a .302 hitter, twice batting over .300 including his 1980 season that saw him hit .338 with 21 homers. During the strike-shortened 1981 season he made his only all-star appearance. During the 1979 World Series winning season for the Pirates, Easler was the ultimate bench player, getting three starts over the entire year and 52 appearances off the bench. He had one AB in the NLCS and two plate appearances in the World Series.

Exactly two years prior to the Easler trade, the Pirates and Oakland A’s hooked up for a nine player deal. The Pirates acquired Phil Garner, the key piece for them, along with Tommy Helms and Chris Batton. They gave up six players though, including Tony Armas, a 23 year old rookie in 1976 that would go on to win two home run crowns and have a productive 13 year career. Also included in the deal was Doc Medich, who the Pirates just gave up three players for prior to the 1976 season, Mitchell Page, Rick Langford, Doug Bair and longtime reliever, Dave Giusti.

Batton was a 21 year old starter, with two games of  major league experience prior to the trade. He had a 5.39 ERA in 24 starts at AAA in 1976. Helms was a 36 year old veteran of 13 seasons prior to the trade. He actually has the same story Easler had, Helms was a member of the Pirates in 1976 that they sold to Oakland in the off-season. Garner was a 27 year old all-star second baseman for Oakland in 1976. He hit .261 with 74 RBI’s and 35 steals that season, his second full season in the majors.

Medich went 8-11 3.52 in 179 innings during his only season in Pittsburgh. He had won 49 games over the previous three seasons with the Yankees. The trade to acquire Medich, along with the subsequent deals, was broken down here by David Kaleida in our feature on Dock Ellis from four days ago.

Giusti was 37 years old and coming off his worst season with the Pirates. During his seven years in Pittsburgh, he pitched 410 games, 618 innings, with 47 wins, 133 saves and a 2.94 ERA. Page, as a 24 year old, had hit .284 with 22 homers and 23 stolen bases in AAA in 1976. He was originally drafted by the A’s in 1970 but did not sign. Bair made his major league debut in 1976, getting into four games. He was a 26 year old reliever at the time. Langford was a 24 year old starter who went 9-5 3.20 before getting his first call to the majors for 12 games with the Pirates in 1976. Armas, at AAA at age 22 in 1976, batted just .235 with 34 walks and 120 strikeouts but he did hit 21 homers in 114 games.

As mentioned above, Armas had a productive 13 year major league career, topped off by a 1984 season that saw him lead the AL with 43 homers and 123 RBI’s. He was a two time all-star, that topped the 100 RBI mark three times, won the 1981 AL HR crown and hit 251 career homers with 815 RBI’s. He made this trade at least even for the A’s by himself, although Garner helped the Pirates to the 1979 World Championship that they won. His 4 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh saw him hit .267 with 280 RBI’s and 112 stolen bases in 664 games before he was dealt for a young Johnny Ray in 1981. Helms, much like Giusti, was nearing the end of his career and neither provided much for their new team. Batton never played in the majors again.

The other four players involved going to the A’s all had decent careers after the trade. Bair pitched another 14 years and 580 games following the deal. He actually finished his career with the Pirates in 1989-90. Page played seven seasons in Oakland, finishing his time there with a .266 average, 72 homers and 104 stolen bases. Just like Bair, he finished his career in the Pirates uniform, playing briefly for them in 1984. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1977. Langford pitched ten seasons for the A’s, winning 73 games with a 3.97 ERA and twice he led the league in complete games, including a total of 28 in 1980. He had a rough start, losing 19 games his rookie season and a very rough ending, going 1-10 7.36 his last season. Medich only pitched with the A’s for part of the 1977 season but in his seven seasons after the trade, he won at least ten games, five times.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.