Editor’s Note: With the lockout here and a serious lack of baseball news to write about, we figured now is the time to talk about some fun historical stuff. So we’re going to be running a Best and Worst Pirates Trades series. We’re not going to rank them, but each writer is going to pick out a best or worst Bucco move of their choice and revisit it. It’ll give us something to pass the time. Enjoy the series! - DY
It’s difficult to rank the worst trades in Pittsburgh Pirates history because whatever is the opposite of beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But one of the worst, at least in my lifetime, occurred just about 46 years to the day.
On Dec. 11, 1975, the Pirates – coming off their fifth National League East Division title in six seasons – sent pitchers Dock Ellis and Ken Brett and a young second baseman named Willie Randolph to the New York Yankees for starting pitcher Doc Medich.
Ellis had appeared in 27 games for the Pirates during the ’75 campaign, going 8-9 with a 3.79 ERA. Brett was 9-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 23 appearances. Randolph appeared in only 30 big league games that season, and it looked like he’d be blocked long term by incumbent second baseman Rennie Stennett.
Medich had a Pittsburgh connection even before he joined the Pirates; he was a native of Aliquippa, graduated from Hopewell High School and both pitched and played tight end and wide receiver at the University of Pittsburgh before the Yankees selected him in the 30th round of the 1970 amateur draft. He spent a portion of that season and the next two in the Minor Leagues and then spent the next three full seasons in the Yankees’ starting rotation, compiling a 49-40 record with a 3.37 ERA in 787 innings.
Still just 26, Medich figured to have plenty of good years left after returning to his hometown, but his first – and what turned out to be his only – year in Pittsburgh wasn’t what he or the Pirates had hoped it would be. Battling injury problems, he made 26 starts and while his 3.51 ERA would look good today, it wasn’t so good in 1976, and neither was his 193 hits allowed in 179 1/3 innings.
The Pirates had seen enough, and in Spring Training the next season, he was sent packing to the Oakland A’s along with Dave Giusti, Doug Bair, Rick Langford, Tony Armas and Mitchell Page in exchange for Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and Chris Batton. Garner, of course, would go on to become a key cog in the Pirates’ most recent World Series championship team in 1979.
Randolph, meanwhile, proved to be the one who got away as far as the Pirates were concerned. He blossomed in New York and went on to play 13 years for the Yankees, compiling a career batting average of .275 with a .731 OPS. Altogether, Randolph played 18 seasons in the big leagues and compiled a career WAR mark of 65.9 according to Baseball Reference.
Stennett looked to be every bit as good a player as Randolph until a ghastly injury that occurred during a slide into second base late in the 1977 season limited his effectiveness for the rest of his career. The Pirates didn’t exactly struggle at second base during the first few years after Randolph left; Garner saw plenty of action there during his tenure in Pittsburgh, which ended in 1981, and his departure brought the Pirates his successor in Johnny Ray. Ray earned a Silver Slugger award in 1983 after batting .283 with an NL-leading 38 doubles and wound up playing parts of seven seasons in Pittsburgh, batting .286 with a .723 OPS.
Still, he was no Randolph, and that trade proved one of the worst in Pirates history.