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.
On April 5, 1975, the Pirates acquired Robinson even up for Wayne Simpson.
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.
Simpson won six games in 1977. But, he’s credited with no Win Shares. Perhaps because his ERA was so unsightly.
No argument at all with this trade. Robinson was an important cog and Simpson was unable to regain the magic in his arm.