This Date in Pirates History: March 25

Light date for Pittsburgh Pirates history, one former player born on this date and one partial trade. I say partial trade because the deal was originally started in November of 1988 when the Pirates traded infielder Denny Gonzalez to the Cleveland Indians. The deal was announced as also including a player to be named later going to each team. On March 25, 1989 the Pirates sent shortstop Felix Fermin to the Indians and received back Jay Bell. It turned out to be a lopsided trade in favor of the Pirates. Bell had played parts of three seasons in the majors and struggled at the plate but he just turned 23 that off-season so he still had plenty of time to develop.  Gonzalez was also young at just 25 but he too struggled at the plate in the majors, hitting .200 in 90 games over four partial seasons with the Pirates. Fermin played 66 games for the Pirates between 1987-88, hitting .265 in 175 plate appearances. He was a light hitting, good fielding shortstop that made great contact at the plate but didn’t hit for power or add much speed to the lineup.

Fermin ended up playing six seasons in Cleveland and while he was able to hit .256 over his 652 games there, his OPS was just .603 due to the fact he never walked more than 41 times in a season and he hit only three homers, an average of one every other season. It was actually an improvement in power numbers for Fermin who never homered in 2610 minor league plate appearances. In his first season with Cleveland, Felix led AL shortstops in errors, something he would accomplish again four seasons later. Denny Gonzalez played eight games with the Indians in 1989, his last season in the majors.

Jay Bell ended up playing eight seasons in Pittsburgh. He was their shortstop on the three straight pennant winning teams from 1990-92. In 1993 he was an all-star, he won the Gold Glove award and the Silver Slugger award. In 1106 games with the Pirates he hit .269 with 423 RBI’s and 623 runs scored. In both 1990 and 1991 he led the NL in sacrifice hits and his total of 39 in 1990 is second only to Pie Traynor’s 42 in 1928 on the team’s all-time list. On December 13, 1996, the Pirates traded Bell and Jeff King to the Royals in a deal that was covered here. David Kaleida at 6-4-3 putout made this trade tree for Jay Bell that goes from his acquisition to his eventual trade and how it turned out for the Pirates.

The only former Pirates player born on this date was Lee Mazzilli in 1955. He played for the Pirates from 1983 until 1986. Mazzilli was originally a first round draft pick of the New York Mets in 1973, going 14th overall. He worked his way quickly through the minors despite being drafted out of high school. Playing A ball in 1974, he hit .269 with 76 walks, 11 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 132 games. Moving up to the Carolina League in 1975, he hit .281 with 13 homers, 49 stolen bases and 88 walks in 125 games. Lee hit .292 with 111 walks in AA in 1976 and earned a September promotion to the Mets. He became their regular center fielder immediately and despite hitting just .195 in 93 plate appearances, he earned a full-time job in the majors in 1977, never playing AAA ball until a rehab stint years later.

Mazzilli played 159 games his first full season in the majors. His power and speed didn’t come around too well his first season but he still drew 72 walks and his defense was strong in center. He hit .273 with 16 homers and 69 walks in 1978 then followed that up with his first, and what would turn out to be his only, all-star season. Lee hit .303 in 1979, drove in 79 runs and drew 93 walks. All three of those numbers would turn out to be his career high in each category. He also added 15 homers and 34 stolen bases, making it his best overall season in the majors. In 1980, Mazzilli began to play first base more often, getting into 92 games at the position that year. He hit .280 with 82 walks, 16 homers and a career high 41 stolen bases but he was in for a rough season the next year. The 1981 season was shortened by the strike and Lee never got going all year. In 95 games he hit just .228 with six homers and he played a majority of his games in left field, while also seeing plenty of time in CF but none at first base. Prior to the 1982 season, the Mets traded him to the Rangers for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. His stay in Texas was short, he was dealt to the Yankees mid-season in exchange for Bucky Dent.

Lee had batted a combined .251 with ten homers and 13 steals in 1982. His time with the Yankees organization was just as short as his time in Texas. Before the calendar year was over, they sent him to Pittsburgh in exchange for four minor leaguers, only one of which ever made the majors. That trade was covered in detail here. Mazzilli started each of the first 52 games of the 1983 season in center field for the Pirates and despite the fact he was batting .284 at the time and he drew at least one walk in each of the last seven games, he was sent to the bench to serve in a pinch hitter role. He would receive only five more starts the rest of the season, all at first base. In 1984 he platooned in left field, getting 70 starts. In 309 plate appearances that year, he hit .237 with four homers, 21 RBI’s and 40 walks.

By 1985, Mazzilli was mostly being used as a pinch hitter. He did well in the role, hitting .282 that season and he had a .425 OBP thanks to 29 walks in 147 plate appearances. He lasted with the Pirates through late July of 1986 before he was released. He signed quickly with the Mets and played there until the trading deadline in 1989 when he went to the Blue Jays to play the last two months of his career. Lee later managed three seasons in the minors and two seasons in the majors for the Baltimore Orioles. In 1475 career games, he hit .259 with 460 RBI’s, 571 runs scored and 197 stolen bases. With the Pirates, Lee hit .244/.369/.337 in 373 games.

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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.

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