1987 Pittsburgh Pirates
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 1987 Pittsburgh Pirates / Franchise: Pittsburgh Pirates / BR Team Page
Managed by Jim Leyland
 History, Comments, Contributions
The 1987 Pirates season represented a vast improvement over the prior year's campaign. After losing 98 games in Jim Leyland's first year as a manager, the club opted for a youth movement in 1987. In the off-season, they had traded veterans Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements to the New York Yankees for prospects Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher, and Logan Easley. On April 1, GM Syd Thrift pulled off his most successful trade, sending popular and talented catcher Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for three more prospects, Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere and Jose Lind. All three became regular members of the lineup within a year, while Drabek and Fisher joined the rotation. That added to a team that already featured youngsters Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds, John Smiley and Bob Kipper.
In Grapefruit League play, the Bucs were 13-13. Bonilla batted .394 and drove in 20 runners in 22 contests. They began the season with this opening day lineup:
- 1. Barry Bonds, CF
- 2. Junior Ortiz, C
- 3. Johnny Ray, 2B
- 4. Bobby Bonilla, LF
- 5. Andy Van Slyke, CF
- 6. Jim Morrison, 3B
- 7. Sid Bream, 1B
- 8. Rafael Belliard, SS
- 9. Bob Patterson, P
Patterson was the first rookie to start the opening day for the Pirates since Preacher Roe in 1944. On April 10, Morrison homered twice in the home opener to give the Bucs a 4-3 win. They lost their first two games and went 8-11 in April. Highlights of the month included a triple play that went Ray-to-Bream-to-Denny Gonzalez-to-Ortiz on April 21, Mike Schmidt's 500th career homer on April 18 (against Don Robinson) and a 4-hitter by Bob Kipper on April 16.
On May 5, Belliard hit one of two career homers, as part of a 10-8 win over Eric Show. The Pirates struggled through May and June (26-31 in that span), though they were clearly more competitive than the prior year's veteran team. The club also continued to get younger when they dealt Bill Almon for Al Pedrique on May 29, called up Mike Dunne on June 1. On June 29, the Pirates lost a 6-5 game to open a doubleheader; Steve Bedrosian picked up his 13th save in 13 games, a new record at the time.
July remained a rocky month (11-15) though the team saw some more bright spots - Bonilla was the first Pittsburgh player to hit homers from each side of the plate in a game on July 3, then hit an upper-deck home run on July 12 at Three Rivers. The only Pirate to appear in the All-Star game was 38-year-old Rick Reuschel, who was 7-4 and had the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.32.
The youth movement continued in August as the team began to improve. Don Robinson was traded for cash and Mackey Sasser, Morrison was dealt for Darnell Coles, Reuschel was sent away for Jeff D. Robinson and Scott Medvin and Ray was traded for Bill Merrifield and a player to be named later to free up room for Lind. That meant that since the end of the 1987 season, Pittsburgh had disposed of nine veterans and picked up lots of young talent.
With LaValliere as the main catcher, Coles, Van Slyke and Bonds in the outfield, Bonilla, Pedrique and Lind on the infield and a staff including Dunne, Fisher, Drabek, Smiley, Patterson, Vicente Palacios and Kipper, the young movement was in full force. With Jim Gott joining as a $50,000 waiver pickup early in August, they also had a closer. The club began to get on a roll in August and went 15-14. Drabek was NL Player of the Week after a 3-hit shutout one game and a victory another. he would also be named Pitcher of the Month with a 5-0, 2.79 August.
That was merely setting the stage for a great September fueled by the youngsters. On September 7, Robinson became the first NL'er since Bruce Sutter ten years earlier to strike out the side on nine pitches - and he got Leon Durham, Andre Dawson and Rafael Palmeiro, three good hitters. Two days later Robinson hit a game-winning homer and the club won seven games in a row before a loss on September 14 in extra innings. Bonilla was Player of the Week 9/7-9/14 by going 9 for 22 with 2 homers and 7 RBI. On September 15, John Cangelosi became the first Pirate to pull a straight steal of home in 21 years; Mike Bielecki threw a perfect game for over six innings that day. The Pirates split six games later in September with the great New York Mets, beating Dwight Gooden 9/26 after he had made a public guarantee that the Mets would win. Coles hit 3 homers in a game on September 30, the first Pirate in 11 years to do that.
They won 27 of their last 38 games to finish 80-82, a sign of recovery that would continue a year later.
The team got strong performances all over - LaValliere hit .300/.377/.365, Bonilla emerged as a star with a .300/.351/.481 season, Pedrique batted .301/.354/.362, Bonds hit .261/.329/.492 with 25 homers, 32 steals and 99 runs at just 22 years of age and Van Slyke batted .293/.359/.507 with 93 runs, 36 doubles, 11 triples, 21 homers and 34 steals. Mike Diaz (.241/.326/.490), Ortiz (.271/.322/.329) and Cangelosi (.275/.427/.418, 21 SB) provided an excellent bench, while Lind (.322/.358/.434) gave hope for the future. On the mound, Dunne (13-6, 3.03) was second in the NL in ERA and was named NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. Drabek (11-12, 3.88) also impressed, while Bob Walk (8-2, 3.31) was a fine swingman and Reuschel (8-6, 2.75) had done well with the club. Jeff Robinson (2-1, 4 Sv, 3.04) and Gott (0-2, 13 Sv, 1.45) formed a good bullpen. Weak spots in the rotation were Fisher (11-9, 4.52), Kipper (5-9, 5.94), Patterson (1-4, 6.70), Bielecki (2-3, 4.73) and Dorn Taylor (2-3, 5.74). Rookie John Smiley (5-5, 4 Sv, 5.76) was pretty bad as the most-used relief pitcher.
Overall, the team clearly left promising hopes for the 1988 Pirates, as Walk would be the old man on the team at age 31. The hot finish and young talent would pay off, if it would take a little longer than hoped-for. It is surprising that the Pirates have not tried many youth movements since then (as of 2006), given the success of this one.
Main source: Pirates '88 Yearbook