Rallying behind Mayor Richard Caliguiri, he and other local business leaders put together a consortium of 13 corporations and individuals, including USX, Alcoa, Westinghouse and PPG Industries, that bought the team from the Galbreaths [the former owners] for $22 million on Oct. 2, 1985. The new owners didn’t just save the franchise, it started it back on a path toward winning. It hired Syd Thrift, who had been out of baseball for nine years, as general manager. Thrift then hired Jim Leyland as manager. Leyland, a little-known third-base coach for Tony La Russa’s Chicago White Sox, had managed 11 years in the minors. Their work in Pittsburgh looked impossible.”It ain’t easy resurrecting the dead,” Thrift said. But resurrect is what he and Leyland did. Former long-time General Manager Joe L. Brown, started the job by drafting Barry Bonds and trading Madlock to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Sid Bream and R.J. Reynolds. Thrift did his part with three terrific deals. He traded Jose DeLeon to the Chicago White Sox for Bobby Bonilla; Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements to the New York Yankees for Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher and Logan Easley; and, in the topper on April Fool’s Day 1987, he traded popular Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere and Mike Dunne.”
The blockbuster of all the late 20th century Pirates trades as far as I am concerned happened on July 23, 1986.
The Pirates received Bobby Bonilla from the White Sox for Jose DeLeon. DeLeon had a record of just 3-22 in the season and a half before the silver tongued Thrift somehow was able to deal him to the Sox for Bonilla a future six-time All-Star at two different positions (outfield and third base) and a cornerstone of the Pirates’ glory run in the early 1990s.
Hit fast forward to the Dave Littlefield era. Littlefield was hired in 2001. Appointing him as GM was possibly the granddaddy of all of the worse GM hiring’s in the Pirates 100 years plus history. Under Littlefield Treasure Island became a “Treasure Trove” for all of the remainder of MLB GM’s seeking talent, here’s why.
In 2003, Littlefield gave away the top two hitters on the Pirates, Aramis Ramirez and Brian Giles, under pressure to cut costs. The Brian Giles trade for Jason Bay and Oliver Perez has been considered his best move, while the Ramirez trade is easily his worst. Littlefield wanted primetime players while easily overlooking talented prospects that may have needed to be developed and nurtured just a bit more.
In 2004, Littlefield missed out on getting Ryan Howard for Kris Benson because he thought that Brad Eldred was comparable to Howard and the team did not need two power prospects. The bloodletting that he inflicted on the Pirates in just 3 years was inconceivable.
In September of 2007 the Pirates hired Cleveland Indians advance scout Neal Huntington as their GM. On November 14, 2010 “the management of excellence” team was completed when the Pirates were able to lure former Colorado Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle as their new manager beating out the New York Mets and the 1-2 management punch of the Pirates was completed. After almost two decades of management incompetence and questionable trades and in just three short years, the team has evolved from pretenders to contenders. They have now become a force to be reckoned with in the NL Central Division.
There will be a renewed optimism in the Pirates camp this spring because the saying April showers brings October flowers may now actually really be true for Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)