When analyzing trades made by the Pittsburgh Pirates, one conclusion that can be made is that plenty are forgotten throughout time. The Pirates are known for their share of awful deals, especially in recent years, but there are some that have helped reshape the franchise.
In this case, one trade shaped an entire legacy.
As baseball started to gain popularity prior to the start of the 20th century, the Pittsburg(h) Pirates were part of a handful of teams in a struggling National League. One team that struggled heavily was the Louisville Colonels owned by Barney Dreyfuss.
Dreyfuss also owned half of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time and, sensing the end was near for Louisville, made a deal with the league to reduce the buyout by sending his top players to Pittsburgh.
He, along with team president Harry Pullium, would use this tactic to pull off a three-for-twelve player trade that included two revolutionary names.
On Dec. 8, 1899, the Pirates acquired shortstop Honus Wagner, outfielder and future manager Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Waddell, Tommy Leach, Claude Ritchey, Chief Zimmer, Bert Cunningham, Tom Messitt, Mike Kelley, Tacks Latimer and Jack Wadsworth from the Colonels in exchange for pitcher Jack Chesbro, first baseman George Fox, second baseman Art Madison, second baseman John O’Brien and $25,000 cash.
Wagner, as many know, would go on to be one of, if not, the greatest Pirate of all time. With more than 3,400 career hits, 630 stolen bases and multiple awards, including leading the National League in OPS in eight of his first 12 seasons, according to John Dreker of Pittsburgh Baseball Now, “The Flying Dutchman” quickly cemented himself as a main baseball pioneer. He was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 as part of the inaugural class.
Clarke, as a player, excelled with the Pirates, especially in 1903. That season, he led the MLB in doubles (32), slugging (.532), OPS (.946) and OPS+ (165).
He continued to succeed as a player by leading the league in triples (13) in 1906, and in walks (80) in 1909.
Clarke also managed the Pirates to a 1,602–1,181 record from 1897 to 1915. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Waddell also had a Hall of Fame career, posting a 2.37 ERA in 1900, but his shenanigans with the team quickly ruined his tenure with the Pirates as they traded him in 1901.
Leach helped the Pirates to their first title in 1909 after hitting seven RBI in the World Series. In total, he tallied more than 1,600 hits and 1,000 RBI in 14 seasons with the Pirates. Despite these numbers, he would not be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Phillippe posted a career record of 189-109 with five 20+ win seasons. In 1910, he led the league with a .875 win percentage. He also led the league in FIP twice, once in 1902 (2.15) and again in 1904 (2.04).
Phillippe also won three games during the first World Series.
Ritchey didn’t have the greatest tenure with the Pirates, but he still put up solid numbers. His lowest batting average with the Pirates was .255 in 1905, and his highest was .296 in 1901.
The remaining players were in the tail-end of their careers so success wasn’t something seen from them much, if at all.
The only loss for the Pirates was Chesbro, who set the single season record with 41 wins with the New York Yankees in 1904. Everyone else had low to moderate success.
All baseball franchises start somewhere and this trade set the Pirates up for years of success.