The Buccos were in it in 1982. They didn’t win it, but they played meaningful games in September – something that the club has failed to do in recent times. And as Willie Stargell once said, “I love September, especially when we are in it.” Pops retired following 1982. With a strong offense (2nd in the NL in runs scored) and a decent pitching staff in place (John Candelaria, Larry McWilliams and Rick Rhoden were slated for the rotation), what were the Bucs looking for heading into 1983?
After the jump you have more than 4,000 words including over 1,000 on Lee Mazzilli.
Bucs CF Omar Moreno left for the Houston Astrodome as a free agent following 1982. That wasn’t much of a loss as his career was in a downward spiral from which it wouldn’t recover. (Regarding Moreno, Bill James’ 1984 Baseball Abstract states: “There can be absolutely no excuse for writing his name on a lineup card.”) Three days before Christmas in 1982 and less than two weeks after Moreno signed with Houston, the Pirates acquired Mazzilli from the Yankees for four minor league prospects. One of the players, Tim Burke, would have a solid ML career. The others would never see the light of an ML stadium.
One of the players traded was the Pirates first round draft pick in 1978. Baseball-reference.com lists him as Don Aubin. The Pirates media guides from the mid-1980s refer to him as Jerry Aubin. The Baseball Cube has him as Gerry Aubin. However you slice it, he was traded and didn’t pan out. He hadn’t hit much with the Pirates in the low minors. The final stats for him on the Baseball Cube are from 1983. He was 4-24 for the Mets class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. That’s it. Don’t know if he quit or was released or got hurt.
John Holland was a catcher. He was originally with Houston and came to Pittsburgh in a deal that I can find no record of. He hit 19 homers at AA Buffalo in 1981, but his career stalled. According to the Baseball Cube, his last year in OB was 1985.
Jose Rivera was an infielder. I have no record of him beyond his 1982 season at rookie level ball.
The one who did make it was Tim Burke. He was the Pirates second round pick in 1980 out of the University of Nebraska. He pitched pretty well in 1981 at A Alexandria. He was 8-10 with a 3.44 ERA. He struggled in 1982 at AA Buffalo. He was 7-10, not much worse than 1981. But his ERA swelled to over 5.00. The Yankees left Burke at AA for 1983 and he was stellar. He was 12-4 with 3.21 ERA. That earned him a four game promotion to AAA. Then the Yanks traded him to Montreal for a guy I don’t recall – Pat Rooney. Burke spent 1984 in AAA with Montreal and Rooney, a power hitting outfield prospect, never appeared in the Show for the Bombers.
Burke made the big club in 1985 as a relief pitcher and paid immediate dividends. He tossed in 78 games. His ERA was nearly one run lower than the league average. Pretty good for a rookie. In his third season, he became the Expos closer. He saved 18 games and posted an insane ERA+ of 355. He continued to pitch well, making the All-Star team in 1989. In 1991, Montreal traded to the Mets for a quickly fading Ron Darling. Burke pitched well in New York the rest of 1991. But he was struggling in 1992 for the Mets when he was swapped to a different borough for Lee Guetterman.
Burke retired after 1992 primarily to help raise his family. During his career, he and his wife were involved in multiple international adoptions. They wrote a book, Major League Dad about their life, their kids and their faith.
Mazzilli was a Brooklyn bred standout athlete. He was the Mets first round pick in 1973 and he showed great improvement every year in the minors. His BA went up, his walks went up and his Ks went down each year while he played for in the minors. Mazzilli made his ML debut in 1976 at the age of 21. In 1978, 1979 and 1980 he posted an OPS+ of better than 120. He made the All-Star team in 1979 and homered in his first at bat off Jim Kern. The sky was seemingly the limit.
Mazzilli was a player, in the lady killing sense of the word. Think of Scott Baio as a baseball player. As a good looking and very public figure in NYC, he got a rep as enjoying the company of many females. But after a so-so year in 1981 (partially caused by back and elbow issues), the Mets traded him to the Rangers in a deal that broke the hearts of many in Flushing. The Mets got Darling and Walt Terrell. So, the trade worked out well for them. But in the beginning, Mets fans (and women in NYC) hated it. Mazzilli played at the same level in Texas as he had for the Mets in 1981. Not terrible but not as good as before. He again had injuries, spending two stints on the DL with wrist and shoulder issues. In August he was shipped to the Bombers for Bucky Dent and Mazzilli’s bat came to life. Then the Yanks traded him for Burke and the slew of others.
Mazzilli was the Bucs starting CF in 1983 and homered on Opening Day. He hit second originally, but then became the primary lead off hitter. He was hitting well – .284 – and leading the league in walks when he strained his back in mid-June. The Pirates apparently sensed danger and acquired Marvell Wynne from the Mets (more on that in a bit). Wynne played CF the rest of the year and Mazzilli became almost exclusively a pinch hitter. He wasn’t a very good PH. He was just 6 for 41 with one RBI and no homers.
1984 started like 1983 ended. Mazzilli was nearly exclusively a pinch hitter. Dave Parker was gone. Signed to a free agent contract was the rapidly aging Amos Otis. Manning right field was Canadian Doug Frobel. Neither of them hit much and Mazzilli was the regular left fielder from late May to late August when he went on the DL with a burn to his left hand, the result of picking up a piece of hot metal according to the Pirates 1985 Media Guide. What was he doing? Welding? Anyway, when he got off the DL, he appeared only as a pinch hitter until the season concluded. While he was a regular, he didn’t hit very well, posting an OPS of less than .700 in 220 or so ABs.
It is hard to imagine an OF more inept and screwed up than the Pirates was in 1984. But, it might’ve been even more messed up in 1985. Nine different players started 30 or more games in the Pirate OF in 1985. Mazzilli wasn’t one of them. He started just three times in the OF and 12 times at first. He was used as the Bucs primary PH and did well, going 16 for 56 with 15 free passes.
1986 was the same story for Mazzilli. The Bucs were in disarray and he was the main PH. He started 15 times and appeared in 61 games before being released in late July (the same day the Bucs acquired Bobby Bonilla from the White Sox for Jose DeLeon). He was hitting just .226 at the time with a .301 slugging percentage.
Mazzilli was picked up by the Mets and helped them win the World Series with a couple of hits against the BoSox. He was solid in a role for the Mets in 1987 with an OPS+ of 132 in 124 ABs. 1988 was miserable. He hit .147 in 1988 in 116 AB and had an OPS+ of 17. That has to be a record for guys with 100 ABs in a single season. That’s just wretched. He started off slowly again in 1989 and was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays from the Mets. He finished his career in 1989, batting poorly, but drawing a fair share of walks. He was hitless in 8 ABs for the Jays in 1989 ALCS.
The review I did of Mazzilli’s career left me with more respect for him as a ballplayer than I had as a kid. He hit for a decent average, had some power, was fast and drew some walks. Yet I’m surprised that Mazzilli wound up as a coach and manager in the Majors. The Mazzilli I remember with the Bucs was an uninspired player. For example, on June 6, 1984 against the Mets (and Dwight Gooden), Mazzilli left third base early when he tagged up on a fly ball in the bottom of the 9th with what would’ve been the winning run. The Mets appealed, Mazzilli was out and the Mets won in 13. That could’ve happened to anyone, of course, but to me at the time, it seemed typical of his effort. My favorite Mazzilli story comes from 1985. I’m 14 and hanging around the Pirates dugout at Riverfront trying to get autographs. This was when the Reds opened the gates two hours before game time and there was almost nobody who got there that early. Signatures were easy to come by. My sister, 22 at the time, was hanging out with me. Mazzilli comes in from BP and I ask him cordially for his John Hancock. He looks up to tell me, “No” and then spies my sister. He flashes his grin and says, “How are you?” My sister wasn’t having any of it and gave him a terse, “Fine.” And that was the end of that. I didn’t get his signature and he didn’t get my sister’s phone number.
Mazzilli was also criticized for having a candy arm. I do recall people saying that about him and it is one of the reasons, I assume, that he was used so sparingly in the outfield by the Pirates. Somewhere, someone probably has a record of people that have tagged up and gone from second to third on a fly ball to left. I would bet Mazzilli was victimized more than a few times while playing left. But I can’t recall any specific instances of that happening. I do know that on Mazzilli’s home debut in 1983 he was manning CF. In the 10th inning, not so swift afoot Keith Hernandez doubled. He advanced to third on a fly ball to Mazzilli and then scored the winning run on another fly ball to Mazzilli that could accurately be described as shallow. Fans booed.
Mazzilli was one of the players that testified at the Pittsburgh Drug Trials.
Mets fans still love him. Check out his fan memory page at the Ultimate Mets Database.
This trade boils down to Mazzilli for Tim Burke. I can’t call this a good trade, but having Burke on the club instead of Mazzilli wasn’t going to rescue the Bucs from the cellar.
On July 8, 1983 the Pirates swapped minor leaguers with the tribe. Going to Cleveland was Steve Farr. He had shown some promise in the minors with the Bucs, winning 11 games in 1980 and 8 more in 1981. After the trade, Farr went 13-1 at AA for Cleveland. After a 4-0 start at AAA in 1984, he was promoted to the Show and promptly bombed. He was 27 at the time and the Tribe released him early in Spring Training in 1985. He was picked up by KC where he became an effective set up man and then the bridge between Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery as Royals closer. After 1990 when Montgomery emerged, Farr signed with the Bombers and posted three straight seasons with 20 or more saves, including 1991 when he saved 30 games and had an ERA of 1.56 in 50 games pitched.
Malkin was a catcher who never got past AAA. He was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1978. His career stalled and he was picked up by the Tribe. But he popped 15 homers in 1981 and 20 in 1982 and found his way into the sights of the Pirates. Splitting time between the Indians and Pirates AA teams, he hit .307 with 11 homers in 1983. A solid 1984 at AAA Hawaii – 13 homers, .284 BA – earned him a spot on the 40 man roster and an invitation to Spring Training in 1985. Not sure what happened after that. He had a horrible year in Hawaii in 1985. Despite 11 homers, his BA dipped below .200. I don’t know if he was hurt or what. But, the Baseball Cube and Pirate Media Guides from the era, don’t list him past 1985.
Marvell Wynne and Steve Senteney
With Mazzilli on the shelf in June 1983, the Pirates acted quickly to fill his role. To get Marvell Wynne and Steve Senteney the Bucs sent Junior Ortiz and career minor leaguer Arthur Ray to the Mets.
Ortiz was a catcher and had an interesting and successful minor league career. As a 21 year old he led his AA league in hitting while playing for Buffalo. It took him two seasons to master AAA pitching, but when he did he hit .292. The Pirates only gave him 23 ML ABs before shipping him to the Mets. He didn’t hit (at all) with New York, posting a 54 OPS+ in 185 ABs in 1983 and a 32 OPS+ in 91 ABs in 1984. Following that season, the Pirates reacquired him via the Rule 5 Draft.
He spent the next couple of years as a suitable back up to the heavy load carrying Tony Pena, sporting lines of .292/.320/.361 in 1985 and .336/.380/.391 in 1986. After Pena was shipped to St. Louis prior to 1987, Ortiz got more at bats while splitting time with Mike LaValliere. He responded with a .271 BA in a career high in at bats. He had another solid 1988 but faltered in 1989, hitting just .217. The Pirates traded him, along with Orlando Lind – brother of Jose Lind – to Minnesota for a career minor leaguer. Ortiz hit very well for the Twins in 1990 – .335. He collected a hit for the Twins in the 1991 World Series. He never had another year that was better than decent after 1990. He bounced from Minnesota to Cleveland to Texas, where his career ended following 1994.
The Pirates 1983 Media Guide notes that Ortiz missed the entire 1978 season with injuries and lists no minor league data for him in that year. Subsequent guides, notably the one from 1987, notes that he missed most of the 1978 season with injuries and shows him as having hit .213 for Charleston in 122 at bats. Ortiz was the catcher of record when Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock’s career stolen base record. That day, he was the greatest.
Ray was a 9th round pick of the Pirates in 1979. Ray was 12-6 with the Alexandria Pirates in 1981. He struggled in 1982, splitting time between Buffalo and Alexandria he was 8-9. His Buffalo ERA in 21 IP was over 10.00. He won 10 games versus 13 losses in two minor league seasons with the Mets. Baseball Cube has nothing on him after 1984 and I don’t own any Mets Media Guides. Overall he struggled with his control. While he whiffed 7 hitters per 9 IP in his career, he also walked over five per 9 innings.
Steve Senteney spent some time in the Marine Corp before being signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays in 1979. He was old for his minor league level – 23 at Rookie ball – and progressed quickly. He appeared in 11 games for the Jays in 1982 and complied an ERA+ of 91 in 22 innings pitched. He was sent to the Mets for Jorge Orta before Spring Training in 1983. He was a hard throwing relief pitcher. When the Pirates got him from the Mets, he was 0-3 with a 2.88 ERA in 20 appearances for Tidewater (AAA). He whiffed 39 in 34-1/3 innings.
After coming over to the Pirates and reporting to AAA Hawaii, Senteney’s fast ball was there (55 strikeouts in 51-2/3 IP). But for the first time in his minor league career, he gave up better than one hit per inning on average. His ERA suffered accordingly. That performance was good enough to get him placed on the 40 man roster. He was called up to the show as part of the expanded rosters, but didn’t pitch. He split time between AA and AAA in 1984 and pitched pretty well. But, at his age, but the Pirates weren’t sure what to do with him. Not sure how, but Senteney wound up with Seattle in 1985 and that was the last year that I can find that he played in OB.
Senteney died in a car accident in 1989.
Wynne was an undrafted player, signed out of a tryout camp by KC in 1978. He moved to the Mets in a move that netted the Royals Juan Berenguer in 1981.
Wynne was considered a huge upgrade defensively over Mazzilli when this deal was made. He was young. He was fast (more on that later). He was immediately promoted to the Show after the trade and he got off to a hot start, hitting .313 in his first batch of games. It wasn’t too long until “Wynne is Marvell-ous” signs began appearing in Three Rivers next to the “Hoo-Ray for Johnny” banners. As they always do, Major League pitchers adjusted to the newly arrived Wynne and he wound up hitting .243 on the year with a .319 OBP. Wynne held down the CF job full time in 1984. He started the first 154 contests and then sat out the last 8 as the Pirates were out of contention and wanted a peek at Joe Orsulak.
Wynne was okay in 1984. Not much improvement over 1983. He hit .266, but was hitting near .280 at the All-Star break. There was talk of Wynne getting the club’s obligatory All-Star selection. That eventually went to Tony Pena. Wynne struggled to hit .250 in the second half of the year. Troubling sign: Wynne swiped 24 bases but was caught stealing 19 times. Yes, he was fast. But he apparently had trouble reading pitchers and got horrible jumps. Another troubling sign: 702 plate appearances and just 35 extra base hits. That’s just not enough.
Wynne got off to a wretched start in 1985. At the end of May he was hitting an even .200. His platoon splits went haywire. He’d been equally (in)effective against lefties and righties in 1984. But in 1985, he hit righties at a not-so-robust .181 clip (41-226). With the Bucs again out of it, Orsulak and newly acquired R.J. Reynolds and Mike Brown saw a lot of outfield time in September. Wynne started just twice after 8/25/85.
Wynne was shipped to San Diego for Bob Patterson who had a so-so career in Pittsburgh. Patterson was the Opening Day starter in 1987 but eventually settled into a middle relief role. He was one of the numerous veterans allowed to walk in the early 90s.
Wynne would never again be a regular starter. He was sent to the Cubs just before rosters had to be set in 1989 and he contributed on hit in six at bats in a losing cause in the 1989 NLCS. After spending 1990 with the Wriglies, Wynne went to Japan. I can’t help but think of Chris Duffy when I think of Marvell Wynne. Duffy is a better base stealer. But both have been less than adequate with the stick.
Marvell’s son plays in the MLS after a stellar collegiate career at UCLA.
On August 19, the Pirates traded Steve Nicosia to San Francisco for aging for Pirate Milt May.
Not really sure why this deal was made. Nicosia was a former first round pick. A relatively young catcher who hadn’t (and wouldn’t) become an effective Major Leaguer. May was old, especially for a catcher. The Pirates were already carrying one aging, washed up catcher in Gene Tenace. Why they needed a second one is a mystery.
Milt May’s career was supposed to be a good one. He was the son of a former MLBer, Pinky May. He was signed as an infielder but converted to a catcher. He drove home the game winning run in Game 4 of the 1971 World Series. He was groomed to take over for Manny Sanguillen. That day arrived early in the wake of Roberto Clemente’s tragic death. Sangy was moved to RF and May was inserted as the starting catcher. That experiment ended in June when:
1. The Pirates were in fifth place, nearly 10 games out of first.
2. Steve Blass couldn’t find the plate with May catching him. He later couldn’t find the plate with Sangy back behind the dish.
3. Sangy’s defense in RF was not quite up to snuff.
4. Richie Zisk was ready to rake in the Bigs.
After 1973, the Pirates traded May to Houston for big lefty Jerry Reuss. May became the Astros regular catcher, but Reuss became a big winner and went on to notch over 200 wins. May was the number one catcher in Houston and later in Detroit and San Francisco. He never hit well enough to get more than 450 PAs in any one season after 1974. He had his finest year in 1981 when he batted .310 in the strike shortened season. His effort earned him some MVP votes.
After the trade, he spent the remainder of 1983 in Pittsburgh and then made the Big Club out of Spring Training in 1984. Like Tenace in 1983, May spent all of 1984 on the roster despite being an offensive zero. His line for 1984: .177/.255/.240 in 96 at bats. I’d rather have had Rick Rhoden or Don Robinson get those 96 at bats. He was granted free agency after 1984 and was unsigned. He eventually became a coach for the Pirates.
Steve Nicosia was the Bucs #1 pick in 1973. He was a 17 year old at the time and went right to single A ball. He hit pretty well when he was healthy in the minors. That includes .305 with 92 RBI in A Salem in 1974 and .322 at Columbus in 1978, second in the IL to Mike Easler.
Upon being promoted to the Majors, Nicosia was primarily a platoon player. He didn’t hit righthanders very well (just .220 for his career). So he never got many at bats. He did start Game 7 of the 1979 World Series as a rookie. With Ed Ott out of the picture in 1981, Nicosia began the season as the Pirates #1 catcher. He started 15 of the club’s first 16 games but was hitting less than .150 and was replaced as the starter by Tony Pena.
With Frisco in 1984, he combined with Bob Brenly to drive in 99 runs between them, with Brenly doing the bulk of the work. Nicosia hit a career best .303 that year. On August 11, 1984, he crashed into the Dodgers Mike Scioscia trying to score (he was out). He stayed in the game for a few more innings but apparently broke two ribs in the collision. He wouldn’t play again until early September and only got 11 more ABs the rest of the season. He signed with Montreal as a free agent. But in 1985 he hit poorly in Montreal and was released. The Blue Jays picked him up and also released him after the end of the season. That was the end of his ML career.
Miguel Dilone and Mike Maitland
On September 7, 1983 the Pirates shipped Randy Niemann to the White Sox for Miguel Dilone and Mike Maitland.
I discussed Niemann at some length in Part 14. He was the other part of the deal that sent Phil Garner to Houston and brought Johnny Ray to the Steel City. His first name is Randal, with just one “l”.
I also gave quite a bit of detail on Miguel Dilone in Part 11. Dilone had a big year in Cleveland in 1980 and that was about it.
That leaves Mike Maitland to talk about. He was a third round selection of the White Sox in 1978. He bounced around the ChiSox minor leagues for several years, spending parts of 1979, 1980 and 1982 at Appleton (A). He appeared to have the deadly combination of not striking anyone out (less than five whiffs per 9 in his minor league career) and being wild (326 BB to 315 Ks in 588-2/3 innings of work). That won’t get you very far.
He was acquired after the 1983 minor league concluded, though he was assigned to Hawaii. So, his first appearance with the Pirates came at AA Nashua in 1984. He wasn’t impressive. He was 3-8 in 19 appearances (15 starts) with a 5.77 ERA. He walked more hitters than he struck out. his WHIP was an astoundingly poor 1.91.
I’m not sure when he was released by the Pirates, but I have no record of him past 1984. Neither does the Baseball Cube. The 1985 Pirates Media Guide doesn’t have an entry for him, though it lists all other minor league players in the organization. So, I assume he was let go before Spring Training of 1985.