’79 Champs Witness Bucs Rise to 5th Place

I was supposed to be in the audience tonight. But a business trip looms tomorrow. Thusly, I witnessed the game courtesy of Fox Sports Ohio. 22 members of the 1979 World Series champs were honored before the game and they got to watch Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones pitch and pound the Reds into submission. And into the cellar.

The Pirates took over 5th place with their fifth straight win. Duke allowed two runs on eight hits and no walks in seven innings. The Pirates got on Justin Lehr in the first inning with three runs. Doumit was in the middle of it. With the Pirates already up 1-0, one gone in the first and Jones on third, Doumit hit a high bouncer back to Lehr. The Reds hurler wanted to get two and end the inning, but Doumit hustled down the line and was credited with a fielder’s choice RBI. He then swiped second based and scored on a single from Lastings Milledge.

Doumit hit a two run homer high into the seats in right in the fifth to make it 6-1. Jones added a two run double in next frame and the route was on. The Pirates added four more in the 7th. Steve Pearce had a two run single. Had it not been for an acrobatic stop by Brandon Phillips off the bat of Delwyn Young that Phillips helped turn into a double play, it could’ve been worse.

Lehr allowed six runs on 8 hits in five innings.

The Good

Five straight wins.

Fifth place.

Doumit had three hits, scored three times and drove in three.

Jones also had three hits and three runs knocked home.

Duke picks up win #10.

The Bad

Nothing at all, other than me not being in the Steel City tonight.

The Rest

The 19 players from the 1979 team on hand were:

Matt Alexander, Dale Berra, Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria, Mike Easler, Phil Garner, Grant Jackson, Bruce Kison, Lee Lacy, Bill Madlock, Omar Moreno, Steve Nicosia, Ed Ott, Dave Parker, Don Robinson, Jim Rooker, Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett and Kent Tekulve. Chuck Tanner and coach Al Monchak were there along with trainer Tony Bartirome. Willie Stargell’s wife was also there.

Among the deceased in addition to Stargell are Bill Robinson, John Milner, Dave Roberts and Dock Ellis (not on post-season roster). Living players who did not come back were Jim Bibby, Doe Boyland (not on post-season roster), Joe Coleman (not on post-season roster), Tim Foli, Gary Hargis (not on post-season roster), Alberto Lois (not on post-season roster), Rick Rhoden (disabled most of the season), Enrique Romo, Frank Taveras (traded early on for Foli), Ed Whitson (traded for Madlock in June)

This was Doumit’s fifth career game with three runs scored. It was the third time he reached three RBI and three runs scored in one contest.

Jones has six RBI in the last two games.

Duke reached double figures in wins for the second time in his career.

Each of the starting 8 had a hit and scored a run.

Last five game winning streak was May 15 to 20th against Colorado and Washington. Each of the starters were the winning pitcher during the current winning streak.The bullpen picked up three wins during the earlier winning streak.

Luis Cruz got his third start of the year in place of Ronny Cedeno who has a fractured finger.

Welcome back Phil Dumatrait who pitched a scoreless inning, his first game since July 7, 2008.

 

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Former Buc Bill Robinson Found Dead Sunday

Bill Robinson, a corner infielder and outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirate teams of the 1970s, was found dead in his hotel room Sunday. Robinson, 64, had been serving as a minor-league instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Robinson, who also played with the Braves, Yankees and Phillies in his 16-year major-league career, was a regular on the 1979 team that won the World Series.
Randy Linville took a look at Robinson’s career in part eight of the “Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee” series, a number of posts put together with the idea of examining the notion that “ill-conceived trades made to acquire the players on the 1979 roster doomed the team to flounder in mediocrity in the mid-1980s.”
I’ll let Randy do the talking here:

Robinson was originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves. He was traded to the Yankees with Chi Chi Olivo (brother of former Pirate reliever Diomedes Olivo) for the popular Clete Boyer and was tabbed to be Mickey Mantleís successor. Like many other players given that weight to carry around (Bobby Murcer and Roy White come to mind), Robinson had a very good career but failed to live up to the billing. He played terribly for the Yankees, seeing action in 1967, 1968 and 1969, hitting just .206 in over 900 at bats.
Having seen enough, the Yanks traded him to the ChiSox for Barry Moore after 1970. Moore never appeared for the Yankees and Robinson never made it to the Show for the South Siders. Following 1971, Robinson went to the Phillies for a minor leaguer.
After not appearing in the bigs in 1970 or 1971, Robinson made it back in 1972, but hit just .239. Finally as a 30 year old in 1973, Robinson busted out with 25 homers and a .288 BA for Philadelphia. After another lackluster season in 1974 (.236 BA and five homers in 280 at bats), Robinson was dealt to Pittsburgh.
Iíve read (and canít recall where), that Ken Macha was set to make the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1975, but the acquisition of Robinson blocked his way. Macha was a third baseman by trade and wouldíve been Richie Hebnerís back up. Robinson had played 14 games at third in 1974 for Philadelphia and was supposedly going to help fill the back up role in Pittsburgh. I doubt that this was really the case. Robinson wasnít a good third baseman (less than .900 fielding average for his career) and another young third baseman (Art Howe) did make the club out of Florida.
Robinson did, however, play third occasionally while with the Pirates. But in 1975, all of his appearances were in the OF. Robinson hit pretty well (.280) with decent power (6 homers in 200 ABs) in 1975. However, he would immediately begin to shine the following year. With Stargell, Parker and Oliver all missing some time, Robinson filled in beautifully, cracking 21 homers and hitting .303 in less than 400 ABs. He ripped three taters in a 15 inning game against San Diego on 6/5/76. He would continue that level of production through 1979 as he averaged 20 homers and 81 RBI in that span.
At age 36, Robinson hit 24 homers and drove in 75 for the 1979 World Champs. His post-season accomplishments were more modest (no hits in 3 at bats in the NLCS and five hits in 19 tries in the World Series). But, he was on base when Stargell stroked what proved to be the game winning homer in Game 7.

Robinson left behind a wife, Mary Alice, and two children.

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 15

In 1981 the Pirates failed to win either half of the regular season and finished in last place in the second half with a sad 21-33 record. Both the offense and pitching finished near the middle of the NL pack in runs per game. The club acquired a new second baseman in Johnny Ray. An aging Willie Stargell had been replaced at first base by Jason Thompson. What other off season and in-season moves were made to put the club into contention?
Over 4,000 words after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 15

In 1981 the Pirates failed to win either half of the regular season and finished in last place in the second half with a sad 21-33 record. Both the offense and pitching finished near the middle of the NL pack in runs per game. The club acquired a new second baseman in Johnny Ray. An aging Willie Stargell had been replaced at first base by Jason Thompson. What other off season and in-season moves were made to put the club into contention?
Over 4,000 words after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 12

In the previous posts Iíve made the case that the Pirates collapse in the mid-80s was not the result of trades made to acquire the players that appeared on the 1979 post-season roster. Hereís a brief rundown of some other trades in the 1970s in which the Bucs didnít acquire a member of the 1979 post-season roster. Iím examining trades that resulted in the Pirates losing a player who was active during the 1984 to 1986 time frame. Other trades are inconsequential to this discussion. Players are listed in alphabetical order:
Kurt Bevacqua
Bevacqua was never much more than a bit player, yet he had a long career. In 15 seasons he had more than 250 plate appearances just four times. He never reached double digits in homers and never scored or drove in 50 runs in a single season. It wouldnít be unfair to call him a journeyman. He played everywhere except pitcher and catcher in his career. I remember him for two reasons. First, he won the bubble blowing contest in 1975 when MLB held the event every year and was immortalized on a 1976 Topps baseball card. Second he got into a verbal spat with Tom Lasorda, causing Lasorda to describe Bevacquaís lack of ability by saying he couldnít hit water if he fell out of a boat.
The Pirates acquired him in 1973 in a trade that saw Nellie Briles go to KC. In the middle of 1974, KC reacquired Bevacqua for a minor leaguer and cash. He had less than 40 ABs for the Bucs at the time of the trade. After much travel, the Bucs traded Luis Salazar and Rick Lancellotti to San Diego for Kurt and Mark Lee down the stretch in 1980. Between 1980 and 1981, Bevacqua was just 14 for 70 for the Pirates. He was released following the 1981 season and picked up by the Padres.
Bevacqua had his moment in the sun in the 1984 World Series. He had seven hits, including two homers and two doubles in a losing effort for the Friars. He served as DH for San Diego as this was when the use of the DH in the World Series was alternated every year – one year on and one year off. He was free agent following 1985 but never appeared in another ML game.
Quite obviously, the presence of Kurt Bevacqua on the Pirates in the mid-80s would not have prevented the ship from sinking.
Read the rest of this entry »

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 8

Continuing with a string of posts the looks at whether or not ill-conceived trades made to acquire the players on the 1979 roster doomed the team to flounder in mediocrity in the mid-1980s. I think no, but let’s continue with Bill Robinson.
The Trade
On April 5, 1975, the Pirates acquired Robinson even up for Wayne Simpson.
The Background
The Pirates had an insane amount of talent in the outfield in 1974. The primary outfielders were Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Richie Zisk. The Pirates also had burgeoning superstar Dave Parker and do it all utility OF Gene Clines on the bench in 1974.
Clines always felt that he deserved a chance to play everyday and definitely wasn’t going to get it in Pittsburgh. So, he was traded to the Mets for Duffy Dyer after the 1974 season. Zisk played right, but he was better suited to left. Bob Robertson in the middle of his career tailspin played first in 1974, but was moved to the bench in 1975 as Stargell took over those duties to free up space for Zisk in left and Parker in right. While those moves gave the Pirates a great starting outfield, it left them short of a good sub. Hence the trade for Bill Robinson, less than one week before Spring Training started.
Robinson was originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves. He was traded to the Yankees with Chi Chi Olivo (brother of former Pirate reliever Diomedes Olivo) for the popular Clete Boyer and was tabbed to be Mickey Mantle’s successor. Like many other players given that weight to carry around (Bobby Murcer and Roy White come to mind), Robinson had a very good career but failed to live up to the billing. He played terribly for the Yankees, seeing action in 1967, 1968 and 1969, hitting just .206 in over 900 at bats.
Having seen enough, the Yanks traded him to the ChiSox for Barry Moore after 1970. Moore never appeared for the Yankees and Robinson never made it to the Show for the South Siders. Following 1971, Robinson went to the Phillies for a minor leaguer.
After not appearing in the bigs in 1970 or 1971, Robinson made it back in 1972, but hit just .239. Finally as a 30 year old in 1973, Robinson busted out with 25 homers and a .288 BA for Philadelphia. After another lackluster season in 1974 (.236 BA and five homers in 280 at bats), Robinson was dealt to Pittsburgh.
I’ve read (and can’t recall where), that Ken Macha was set to make the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1975, but the acquisition of Robinson blocked his way. Macha was a third baseman by trade and would’ve been Richie Hebner’s back up. Robinson had played 14 games at third in 1974 for Philadelphia and was supposedly going to help fill the back up role in Pittsburgh. I doubt that this was really the case. Robinson wasn’t a good third baseman (less than .900 fielding average for his career) and another young third baseman (Art Howe) did make the club out of Florida.
Robinson did, however, play third occasionally while with the Pirates. But in 1975, all of his appearances were in the OF. Robinson hit pretty well (.280) with decent power (6 homers in 200 ABs) in 1975. However, he would immediately begin to shine the following year. With Stargell, Parker and Oliver all missing some time, Robinson filled in beautifully, cracking 21 homers and hitting .303 in less than 400 ABs. He ripped three taters in a 15 inning game against San Diego on 6/5/76. He would continue that level of production through 1979 as he averaged 20 homers and 81 RBI in that span.
At age 36, Robinson hit 24 homers and drove in 75 for the 1979 World Champs. His post-season accomplishments were more modest (no hits in 3 at bats in the NLCS and five hits in 19 tries in the World Series). But, he was on base when Stargell stroked what proved to be the game winning homer in Game 7.
After a down 1981, Robinson was in the middle of a mediocre 1982 when he was traded to the Phillies in a bizarre trade. On 6/15/82, Wayne Nordhagen went from Toronto to Philly for Dick Davis. That same day, the Phillies shipped Nordhagen to Pittsburgh for Robinson. Nordhagen played one game for Pittsburgh (6/19/82) and went 2-4 with two RBI. But he came down with a stiff back. The Pirates claimed it was a pre-existing issue and cried foul. So, to remedy the issue, the Blue Jays swapped Davis to Pittsburgh for Nordhagen. I don’t know if he went on the DL or what, but Nordhagen didn’t play again until late August. Davis played in three games for the Blue Jays before the trade.
Robinson filled primarily a back up and pinch hitting role for the Phillies in 1982 and 1983. He didn’t last long in 1983, being released in June.
Since his playing days ended, Robinson has picked up two more World Series rings as a coach for the 1986 Mets (he was the closest person to Bill Buckner when the ball rolled through his legs) and the 2003 Marlins. In between those stints, Robinson was an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.
Robinson was involved in a Mets-Pirates brawl on June 6, 1986. Rick Rhoden was tossing for the Pirates. Robinson was the Mets first base coach. Rhoden struck out Gary Carter to end the fifth inning and Robinson accused him of scuffing the ball. A fight ensued with some fines being levied in the aftermath. That game is notable for two other reasons. First, Barry Bonds hit his second career homer off Ron Darling. Also, it was the Pirates only win against the Mets against 17 defeats in 1986.
The ballad of Wayne Simpson is a sad one. He was a first round pick of the Reds in 1967 and paid dividends upon his introduction to the Bigs in 1970. In his first big league appearance he tossed a complete game two hitter against LA. Two games later, he threw a complete game 1 hitter against Frisco. He made the All-Star team later than year but in a 7/31/70 start against Chicago he heard a pop in his arm. Turns out he tore his rotator cuff and would never be the same.
He started 20 games in each of the next two seasons for the Reds but was not good by any means. After 1972 the Reds packaged Simpson and Hal McRae to KC for Richie Scheinblum and Roger Nelson. The Royals clearly got the better of that deal. After a bad year in KC in 1973 (ERA of over 5.00), he was traded to Pittsburgh for Jim Foor. (Foor was one of the subjects interviewed by Rob Trucks -relation of former MBLer Virgil Trucks – in his book Cup of Coffee. Great book that I need to read again at some point). Not sure where Simpson spent 1974, but he didn’t appear in the Majors. Following that year, the Pirates dealt him for Robinson. The Phillies sold him to the Angels and he last appeared in the Majors in 1977 with California, going 6-12 with an ERA of 5.83.
The Data
Simpson won six games in 1977. But, he’s credited with no Win Shares. Perhaps because his ERA was so unsightly.

Year Robinson Simpson
1975 6 2
1976 17
1977 18 0
1978 14
1979 12
1980 7
1981 0
1982 2

The Conclusion
No argument at all with this trade. Robinson was an important cog and Simpson was unable to regain the magic in his arm.

Downfall of the Fam-A-Lee – Part 2

The authors of the book When the Bucs Won it All state that the Pirates plunge into last place in the 1980s was due to the poor trades that were made to acquire the players on the 1979 club. I disagree.
In part 1 of this series, I looked at how the World Series roster was put together – which players were acquire via trade, draft, and free agency. In the next several posts, I’ll analyze the trades that brought the members of the team to Pittsburgh. Going alphabetically, the first player on the 1979 post-season roster acquired in a trade was Bert Blyleven.
The Trade
After a season and a half pitching for the Rangers, Blyleven was involved in a mammoth four team trade on 12/8/77. Blyleven was dealt to the Pirates. The Braves sent Willie Montanez to the Mets. Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs, and Eddie Miller went to Atlanta from Texas. The Rangers sent Ken Henderson and Tom Grieve to the Mets. The Bucs dealt Al Oliver and Nelson Norman to Texas. The Mets sent Jon Matlack to the Rangers. John Milner went from the Mets to the Pirates.
From the Pirates perspective, this boils down to Oliver for Blyleven and Milner. Norman’s career was inconsequential as he amassed just a single win share in the Show.
The Background
Oliver was a star, an outstanding hitter and a player capable of playing multiple positions. His career totals fall a touch short of serious Hall of Fame consideration, in my opinion. He hit .308 with 19 homers and 82 RBI in 1977. However, in that season, Willie Stargell was injured, leaving Bill Robinson as the Pirates primary first baseman. Robinson, finally living up to the billing given to him as a prospect, hit .304 with 26 taters and 104 RBI. A couple of things made Oliver expendable. Stargell was presumably healthy and the Pirates were most likely looking to keep the slightly more potent (and slightly more aged) bat of Robinson in the lineup. Stargell was only capable of playing first at this point in his career, which meant Robinson would go to the outfield. Fleet footed Omar Moreno manned center field. Though not as skilled a hitter as Oliver, his speed gave him range in center matched only by Garry Maddox in Philly. Moreno led all NL outfielders in put outs both in 1979 and in 1980. Dave Parker, a budding superstar, had a justifiable stranglehold on right field. Additionally, the rotation was a bit suspect. The pitching staff posted the third best ERA in the NL in 1977, but two of the four starters (Jerry Reuss and Bruce Kison) posted an ERA+ of less than 100. The fifth starting spot was manned most often by Odell Jones who posted an ERA above 5.00 in 34 appearances (15 starts).
For Oliver the Pirates acquired a pitcher with a track record for being a workhorse (no fewer than 230 IP in every season since he was a 20 year old rookie in 1970) and for being hard to score on (his career worst ERA+ was 117 in his rookie season). They also got Milner, a capable home run hitter who could (and would) spell Stargell at first and Robinson in left.
The Data
The following table has win share data for the primary players involved for 1978 to the end of their careers. I’ve included Robinson’s numbers here for comparison’s sake since he became the primary left fielder in Oliver’s absence.

Year Blyleven Milner Oliver Robinson
1978 16 10 22 14
1979 13 13 18 12
1980 9 7 21 7
1981 14 4 13 0
1982 1 2 26 4
1983 10 14 0
1984 20 8
1985 23 2
1986 18
1987 18
1988 4
1989 22
1990 3
1991 DNP
1992 5

The Analysis
In the short term, this was a good trade for the Pirates. Blyleven continued his solid pitching and Milner and Robinson proved to be capable players for the immediate future. However, Blyleven bristled at the frequency in which he pitched (he preferred a 4 man rotation) and the quick hook delivered by skipper Chuck Tanner. The Dutch Master felt that he pitched better when his arm was a little tired. The Pirates felt compelled to trade him following the 1980 campaign and got little in return. Robinson and Milner (and Stargell) declined quickly after 1979, while Oliver had perhaps his best season in 1982 when Milner and Robinson were bit players in the Show.
Conclusion
Overall, this was a good trade. Blyleven helped the Pirates win the 1979 World Series. He pitched the clinching game in the 1979 NLCS. Robinson and Milner played big roles that season, as well. The combination of Blyleven and Milner provided more win shares in both 1978 and 1979 than Oliver did. The trade went sour after 1980 when Blyleven was unloaded for a package of players that didn’t pan out. But that is the subject of a future post.