Thursday, February 22, 2018

2/22: DC Days; Hello, FLA; Doc Joins Up; Orlando Inked; RIP Howie; HBD Bennie, Frankie, Roy, Bill & Tom

  • 1892 - Pirate suit Bill Benswanger was born in New York City. His family moved to Pittsburgh when he was five and he attended Central HS. Bill married into owner Barney Dreyfuss’ family, and in 1931 he became the team’s treasurer. Dreyfuss passed away the following year and Benswanger became the president, a position he held until 1946. Baseball wasn’t exactly in his blood. He told Vince Johnson of the Post Gazette that “I literally got dumped into baseball. I didn’t know a thing about it. I was there just because I was the only man in the family.” But Bill was a quick learner and ran the club creditably before the Dreyfuss family sold it to Frank McKinney’s group for an estimated $2,225,000.
Bill Benswanger 1933 (photo from Who's Who in Major League Baseball)
  • 1900 - C Roy Spencer was born in Scranton, NC. He played his first three campaigns in Pittsburgh (1925-27) on two World Series clubs as a reserve, appearing in the ‘27 Classic. In three years, he hit .307 for Pittsburgh. After leaving Pittsburgh, Spencer played nine more seasons, starting from 1929-32 for Washington after sharpening his game by spending a year with Indianapolis of the American Association. 
  • 1911 - C Bill Baker was born in Paw Creek, NC. The backup played four seasons (1941-43, 1946) with Pittsburgh, missing a couple of years while in the Navy during WW2, and hit .247. Baker went into umpiring after his career and worked his way up to an NL arbitrator for a season before his knees finally gave out, an occupational hazard for an old catcher. 
  • 1915 - The Pirates bought 1B Doc Johnston from Cleveland for $7,500. It was thought that Doc was brought in to challenge Honus Wagner for the first base slot, with owner Barney Dreyfuss telling the Pittsburg Press that “No man is certain of his job with the Pirates. Everyplace is open this spring…” Hans was 41 and it was assumed that he would slide over to cover Ed Konetchy’s spot at first after Konetchy skipped to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Federal League. When the season started, Doc was indeed at first, but not at Hans’ expense - the Dutchman held onto his shortstop job, playing 131 games at the position. Doc started in Pittsburgh for two years and then was moved as part of the Burleigh Grimes deal after the 1916 campaign.
Frankie Zak (photo via SABR)
  • 1922 - SS Frankie Zak was born in Passaic, New Jersey. He played three years, all in Pittsburgh (1944-46), as a reserve infielder and pinch runner with a .266 lifetime BA. Even tho he only got 160 bats in 1944, he was named a replacement All-Star. The game was held at Forbes Field, and with wartime travel restrictions creating logistic problems, the NL took the easy road by selecting him (Frankie did hit .300 that season). Red Patterson in the New York Herald-Tribune explained “Frank Zak was substituted at the last moment for (Pirate) Pete Coscarart, who was supposed to replace Eddie Miller (of the Reds) but went fishing before he could be notified.” A local sports scribe cracked "He (Zak) got a break. He thought he'd have to pay his way in." The poor guy couldn’t even get a memento; he was named to the team too late to have his name included in the All-Star program. 
  • 1947 - For the first time since 1918, the Pirates held spring training in Florida with the pitchers reporting and the full squad due on the 27th. Billy Herman’s club worked out in Miami Beach, with the players getting $5 per day spending money, which the Post Gazette estimated as enough “for a couple of hamburgers...and a cup of coffee.” 
  • 1948 - RHP Tom Griffin was born in Los Angeles. He was a first round pick of the Astros (4th overall) in 1966 and spent 14 years in the show as a swingman. He bowed out as a Bucco in 1982 after being traded by the Giants for Doe Boyland. Griffin got into six games, went 1-3, 8.87, and hung up his spikes at age 34 after the Pirates released him in May to clear a spot for IF Ken Reitz. His career game was tossed against the Bucs when on May 7th, 1974, he threw a one-hitter against the Pirates, a Willie Stargell single, and took home a 2-1 win. To add a little salt to the wound, Milt May, who the Bucs had sent to the Astros for Jerry Reuss in October, tripled home the game winner. 
Tom Griffin 1982 Topps
  • 1980 - President Jimmy Carter hosted both the Steelers and Pirates in a single ceremony at the White House to celebrate their respective championship wins in Super Bowl XIV and the 1979 World Series. More than one observer believed that the ceremony had more to do with the upcoming Pennsylvania primary than trophies. Championship showcases, thought to be initiated by JFK, were made into an annual rite by Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan. 
  • 1985 - The Pirates signed Orlando Merced as an amateur free agent out of high school at the age of 17. The Puerto Rican spent seven seasons with the Bucs, playing outfield and first, batting .283 from 1990-96 before being traded as part of the Jose Silva/Abraham Nunez deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. 
  • 1999 - Howie Haak, known as the “King of the Caribbean” by baseball people and “Big Daddy” by young Latino ballplayers, died of a stroke at age 87. Haak toiled for the Pirates from 1950-88, when he resigned after a spat with GM Syd Thrift and beat the bushes for the Houston Astros for several years afterward. In 1984, Haak was selected as the first recipient of the Scout of the Year award, voted on by his peers. He signed scores of players for the Bucs, including Manny Sanguillen, Omar Moreno & Rennie Stennett of Panama; Tony Pena, Jose DeLeon, Frank Taveras & Cecilio Guante of the Dominican Republic, Ramon Hernandez & Junior Ortiz of Puerto Rico, Joe Christopher & Al McBean of the Virgin Islands, Roman Mejias & Orlando McFarlane of Cuba and Tony Armas of Venezuela. He also reeled in some US players, like Dick Stuart, Dale Berra, Steve Nicosia, Joe Gibbon, Red Witt, John Candelaria and Bob Veale.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2/21: JR Extended; Groat Into College HoF; First CBA; HBD Ted, Jouett & Joel

  • 1867 - RHP Jouett Meekin was born in New Albany, Indiana. Meekin was in his 10th year of big league ball when he joined the Pirates in 1900 at age 33; two starts and 21 runs later (half were unearned, but still…) he had tossed his last in MLB. It was an inglorious end to a stellar career; between 1894-98, he had won 111 games, even while pitching through a torn muscle in 1895. He left pro ball in 1902 and became a fireman. 
Ted Savage 1964 Topps
  • 1936 - OF Ted Savage was born in Venice, Illinois. Ted played for eight teams in a nine-year major league career, including a stop in Pittsburgh in 1963, batting just .195. He only ended up with a .233 lifetime BA, but made the most of his post-baseball days. Savage earned a Ph.D. in urban studies from St. Louis University, worked there and then for the Cards as a community relations admin before retiring. He kept his hand in the game afterward as a promoter and fundraiser for baseball’s RBI program.
  • 1961 - C Joel Skinner was born in La Jolla, California. Joel was Pirates OF Bob Skinner’s son, and the Bucs drafted him in the later rounds of the 1979 draft. Though he only played two years in the Bucco system, he was part of a pair of landmarks. The Pirates lost him in the short-lived free agent compensation draft to the Yankees as the first player ever claimed under that system (oddly enough, it was because the Phillies had signed NY’s Ed Farmer, but the compensation pool was formed by the entire league, not just the team involved.) He also was an interim manager for Cleveland, so he and his dad, a former Phil’s skipper, formed just the second father-son manager team in MLB history (George and Dick Sisler were the first). 
  • 1968 - Marvin Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in history with the team owners. The CBA ran from January 1st‚ 1968 to December 31st‚ 1969. The minimum MLB player's salary was raised to $10‚000, meal money during the season went up to $15 a day‚ and players got $40 a week for training-camp expenses. 
JR 2009 Topps
  • 2009 - The Pirates picked up manager John Russell’s contract option for the season. The sophomore skipper went 67-95 after taking Jim Tracy’s spot. "JR met or exceeded expectations in his first year as the Pirates' manager," GM Neal Huntington explained in a statement. JR skippered through the 2010 campaign, suffering through a dismal-105 loss year, and was replaced by Clint Hurdle. 
  • 2011 - Seven new members of the College Baseball Hall of Fame were announced, including Duke’s Dick Groat, who became the first player ever inducted into both the college basketball (he was a two-time All-America who considered hoops to be his best sport) and baseball halls. Groat won a World Series and MVP while with the Pirates, and in his 26 game NBA career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, he averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists before joining the Bucs full-time.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2/20: Meares Signed; IA, UA Formed; HBD Baron, Frankie, Harry, Tom, Jack & Tony

  • 1862 - 3B Harry Raymond was born in Utica. After four seasons with the Louisville Colonels, Raymond came to Pittsburgh briefly in 1892, getting into 12 games and batting just .082. He finished the year and his big league career with Washington, going 1-for-18. He did soldier on, playing seven more minor league campaigns before calling it quits in 1899 at age 37. Raymond was best know as a league jumper who went from Louisville to Lincoln in 1891 and was given a lifetime suspension by the American Association and National League, who had an agreement re: player movement. But the punishment was withdrawn later in the year and he got to play out his final MLB season. 
Tom O'Brien (image from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette)
  • 1873 - Utilityman Tom O’Brien was born in Verona. O’Brien played just two seasons and four positions for his hometown club (1898, 1900), hitting .274 for Pittsburgh before his untimely death during a Cuban barnstorming tour in 1901. The lore around his death is that it was brought on by drinking a bucket of seawater during the voyage as a seasickness cure, but he actually had typhoid that developed into pneumonia, and he passed away at age 27. 
  • 1875 - C Jack Rafter was born in Troy, New York. Jack’s big league line was 0-for-3 in one game for the 1904 Pirates. He had a long New York baseball connection. He played at Fordham and spent 13 years in the minors, staying near his home base with stints at Troy, Syracuse and Albany forming the bulk of his baseball resume. 
  • 1877 - The International Association (so-called because it had a pair of Canadian clubs) was formed in Pittsburgh with the Alleghenys as one of the charter teams. Some baseball historians consider it to be the first minor league; others think the league was conceived to rival the major National League. It was fairly short-lived, folding after the 1880 season. It really didn’t have much a schedule; Alleghenys’ ace Pud Galvin tossed 18 of the 19 IA games played that first year. Pittsburgh finished second at 13-6, 1-½ games behind the London (Ontario) Tecumsehs. 
  • 1884 - The now you see it, now you don’t Union Association was organized. It only lasted a season and had two local reps: the Pittsburgh Stogies, which absorbed the Chicago Browns before folding (they would re-form in the 1914) and the mid-state Altoona Mountain City nine. 
Frank Gustine 1947 Exhibits
  • 1920 - All-Star infielder and restaurant owner Frankie Gustine was born in Hoopeston, Illinois. He played 10 years (1939-48) for the Bucs, hitting .268 as a Pirate and earning three All-Star spots. Gustine later became the head coach at Point Park College from 1968-74 and operated a bar/restaurant on Forbes Avenue in Oakland a few steps away from Forbes Field that became Hemingways in 1982. 
  • 1928 - The Baron of the Bullpen, ElRoy Face, was born in Stephentown, NY. He pitched fifteen years (1953, 1955-68) for the Bucs, going 100-93-188/3.36. Face was the first major leaguer to save 20 games more than once, leading the league three times and finishing second three times; in 1959 he set the still-standing major league record for winning percentage (.947) at 18-1, winning 22 games in a row over two seasons (19548-59). He held the NL record for career games pitched (846) from 1967-86, and the league record for career saves (193) from 1962-82. Face still holds the NL record for career wins in relief (96), and he held the league mark for career innings pitched in relief (1,211-1/3) until 1983. 
  • 1965 - RHP Tony Menendez was born in Havana, Cuba. Tony was a first round draft pick of the White Sox out of high school in 1984 and had a three-year MLB career with three teams between 1992-94 that lasted 23 appearances. He got 14 of those outings as a 1993 Bucco. He did pretty well, with no decisions but a 3.00 ERA in 21 IP, mostly as a September call-up from AAA Buffalo. Tony signed with the Giants the following year, got a brief look in the majors and retired as a Bay farmhand after the 1995 campaign. 
Pat Meares 2001 Topps Heritage
  • 1999 - The Pirates signed free agent SS Pat Meares to a $1.5M contract. In April, they extended the deal through the 2003 season for $15M. He broke his hand early in 1999, had surgery, and was out of baseball by 2002 after a prolonged soap opera clash with management, having played 240 games for the Bucs and hitting .238.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Notes: Camp Now In Full Swing

And now they're all in Bradenton...

  • It was a full boat at camp; no visa or personal issues to warrant a late call. In a sign of future movement, not only was Jose Osuna at third base, but Daniel Nava was at first with Austin Meadows in left. Osuna is on his maiden cruise at the hot corner after being introduced to the spot in the Winter league while Nava and Meadows have some limited work at their new-ish spots.
  • Sheesh - Joe Musgrove missed his bullpen w/right shoulder discomfort; he's being evaluated. Musgrove pooh-poohed the soreness, saying his missed session was just precautionary, so we shall see.
J-Hay is all about the wins (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • J-Hay stood by his off season comments, reiterating that if the Pirates aren't in win-now mode, he wants out.
  • Elias Diaz expressed relief for his mother's rescue - she's thankfully OK after the ordeal - and says his goal is to get her and other family members out of Venezuela. Not a surprise; a recent paper by the Brookings Institute says that the troubled nation may end up with more refugees than Syria.
  • Tony Watson has enlisted in the Bucco Bay brigade, joining Cutch, Mark the Shark, Gorkys Hernandez, Alen Hanson, Chase d'Arnaud & Hunter Strickland (he was claimed from Altoona after coming over in the Adam LaRoche trade) in San Francisco. It's a two-year deal with an option; reportedly the guaranteed money is $9M, but with bonuses and an option pick up, he could take home $21M over three years.
  • Joaquin Benoit has signed a one-year/$1M MLB contract with the Nats, pending his physical.
Joaquin Benoit - life after the Bucs (photo: Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • Rajai Davis signed an NRI deal with the Indians. If you remember, his 2007 trade was the one that finally scuttled Dave Littlefield's GM run when Raj was sent to the Bay for Matty Morris. Davis, btw, is working on his 13th MLB campaign; Mo was cut after 16 starts as a Pirate to end his big league stay.
  • Alex Presley signed with the O's; it was an NRI deal.
  • Baseball America's Joe Sheehan compares Milwaukee and Pittsburgh baseball and came to the conclusion that ownership does make a difference.
  • The Bucs have returned to their free tee Friday promotions; they handed out the shirts on Saturday last year.
  • Pace of game news: MLB will limit the number of mound visits in a game (six per game; pitchers being yanked don't count) and reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes. There will be no pitch clock or between-batters times. But the league will have their stopwatch on them; they said they'd give the players a chance to self-police those items before deciding if clocks were needed.

2/19: Dodgers Sign Roberto; Bucs Get AJ; Simon Signs; HBD Stewie, Poet, Dana, Chris & Home Run Joe

  • 1876 - Utilityman “Home Run Joe” Marshall was born in Audubon, Minnesota. A prodigious slugger in the lower levels - he once bashed 26 long balls, a huge number in the dead ball era - it never translated into the show. He got a brief look in Pittsburgh in 1903, getting into 10 games and hitting .261 with a double and two triples, but no dingers, then another lengthier chance with the Cards in 1906, but again w/no homers. Joe did play 17 pro seasons before retiring in 1913 and worked a variety of jobs afterward - ump, clerk, & miner were all on his resume - until he passed away at age 55. 
  • 1944 - HP Chris Zachary was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Chris closed out his nine-year, five-team MLB stay in 1973 with the Pirates, arriving in a trade with the Tigers for C Charlie Sands. He went 0-1-1, 3.00, in six outings from the pen after spending most of the year at AAA Charleston as a starter. Following the season, he was swapped to the Phils for 1B Pete Koegel, played a year of AAA ball and retired. Chris went on to run a horse farm and was recognized as a member of the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame for his career that stretched from Central HS to the Bucs.
Howie Haak's 1954 Scouting Report on Roberto Clemente
  • 1954 - 19-year-old Roberto Clemente signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers for one year at $5,000 with a $10,000 signing bonus. The Dodgers got his John Doe in competition with the NY Yankees, NY Giants and Milwaukee Braves, which made a larger offer but dangled it after Clemente had already signed on with Brooklyn. It was a pyrrhic victory as the Bucs claimed Roberto in November’s 1954 Rule 5 Draft. He was unprotected because he was a bonus baby (any player signed to a bonus over $6,000) who wasn’t carried on the Brooklyn MLB roster during the year as the rules of the time required, and so had to be offered in the draft. Clemente was the first player taken and cost the Pirates $4,000. 
  • 1967 - Pirates scout Dana Brown was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Pirates hired the former minor league OF away from the Phils in 1993; he moved on to Montreal in 2002 as scouting director and left to become a special assistant to the GM with Toronto in 2009. As a Bucco bird dog, he was responsible for signing Ian Snell and Chris Young. 
  • 1971 - RHP Miguel “The Poet” Batista was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The outfielder-turned-pitcher began his 18-year, 12-team career by tossing a pair of innings for the Bucs in 1992. After his modest Pittsburgh beginnings, he chilled his heels in the minors until 1996 before becoming a MLB fixture from 1998 through his last game with Atlanta in 2012. His nickname came about because of his love of literature. He even published a book of poetry - a lifelong interest of his - titled "Feelings in Black and White (“Sentimientos en Blanco y Negro”) in 2002. 
Stew went to Atlanta 2016 Topps
  • 1982 - C Chris Stewart was born in Fontana, California. He joined the Pirates via trade in 2014 and hit .294 as Russ Martin’s caddy (he batted .250 in four seasons w/Pittsburgh) while providing solid defense. Stew signed a two year contract with a club option in 2016 as the back-up to Francisco Cervelli. He was familiar with the drill; he played behind Cervelli and Martin as a Yankee, too. After several visits to the DL, he became a free agent and signed with the Braves in 2018. 
  • 2004 - The Pirates signed 1B Randall Simon to an $800,000 FA contract months after trading him to the Cubs following his sausage-swatting incident in Milwaukee. He spent 26 days on the DL with a bad hammy, hit .194 upon his return and was released in August. Simon got brief looks with Tampa and the Phils, ending his MLB days in 2006. He’s played in Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands WBC team (he was born in Curacao) and the indie leagues in the meantime. 
  • 2012 - The Pirates officially had RHP AJ Burnett drop in their laps (the deal had been announced a couple of days prior). The Yankees sent him to Pittsburgh for farm hands Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones and agreed to pay $20M of the $33M remaining on the last two years of his contract. AJ went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in Pittsburgh before joining the Phils for an injury-plagued 2014 season. He returned to the Bucco fold in 2015 (9-7, 3.18 ERA) for his farewell campaign, agreeing to a team-friendly $8.5M deal after refusing to exercise a $14.75M Philly option.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

2/18: AVS Signs, The King; HBD Bruce, Manny, Bob, Maxie, Luis, Cal & Sherry

  • 1891 - LHP Sherrod “Sherry” Smith was born in Monticello, Georgia. He got his career off to an inglorious start in Pittsburgh, giving up seven runs in 4-⅔ IP in his three 1911-12 outings. But after a couple years of minor league seasoning and a change of scenery, he blossomed to win 114 games in the next 12 years for the Brooklyn Robins and Cleveland Indians. In 1980 Smith was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and a decade later he was honored with a state historical marker ("Mansfield's Famous Southpaw") near his home. 
Luis Arroyo 1957 Topps
  • 1927 - LHP Luis Arroyo was born in Penuelas, Puerto Rico. “Tite” (a Latino nickname for Enrique, his middle name) was a screwballer who got a lot of ground outs. He tossed for the Bucs between 1956-57, with 12 starts in 72 appearances and a 6-14-2/4.69 ERA. After a year in AAA, he was converted full time to relief and spent his last four seasons in Yankee pinstripes, winning a World Series game and earning an All-Star nod in 1961. 
  • 1929 - C Cal Neeman was born in Valmeyer, Illinois. Neeman came off the bench for most of his seven-year career (he made the The Sporting News’ All Rookie squad in 1957 as a Cub but never was the top man after that year), and appeared in 24 games for the 1962 Buccos, hitting .180 after earning a spot on the club as an NRI in camp. He was was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for utility player Bob Burda after the season. After he retired in 1963, he returned to college and worked a variety of jobs, including HS baseball coach. 
  • 1938 - OF Manny Mota was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The pinch hitter supreme spent six seasons (1963-68) with Pittsburgh as a fourth outfielder early in his career, hitting .297 during that span. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Dodgers used him solely as a bench bat and he came through in spades, smacking 150 career pinch hits. 
Manny Mota 1965 Jay Publishing
  • 1939 - IF Dal Maxvill was born in Granite City, Illinois. Dal joined the Bucs toward the tail end of his MLB days for parts of 1973-74, hitting .188 before being released. “Maxie” finished his 14-year career with Oakland after the Pirates let him go, playing his last game in 1975. Dal coached and was the Card’s GM afterward, retiring from baseball for good when he was fired from that job during a messy transition following Gus Busch’s death. 
  • 1939 - RHP Bob Miller was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Miller spent 18 years in the show, tossing for the Bucs in 1971-72 (6-4-6, 2.19) and pitching in two NLCS sets and a World Series. He later managed in the Padres organization and was pitching coach for the Blue Jays and Giants. Miller pitched in an era that featured three Bob Millers, all tossing in the majors starting in the late 1950s, and in fact was teammates with one of them in 1962 with the Mets. 
  • 1950 - RHP Bruce Kison was born in Pasco, Washington. The righty pitched nine years (1971-79) for the Bucs and his career bookended Pittsburgh World series titles; he was 4-1 in the postseason, including a memorable 6-1/3 shutout innings stint against the Orioles in game #4 of the 1971 Fall Classic. He was part of the rotation for three years, but was used mostly as a spot starter and long guy, putting up a Pirate pitching line of 81-63/3.49. 
Bruce Kison 1978 Topps
  • 1967 - Eddie Feigner, headliner fastpitch softball hurler of the King and his Court, appeared in a charity softball game at Dodger Stadium and struck out six MLB players in a row, including Roberto Clemente, reportedly tossing a 104 MPH underhand heater. 
  • 1989 - All-Star outfielder Andy Van Slyke dropped his demand to be paid if there was an owners' lockout when the CBA expired in 1990 (there was, but it was settled in mid-March) and signed a three-year/$5.5M contract with the Pirates, avoiding a looming arbitration hearing. Van Slyke's contract included a $600K signing bonus and salaries of $1.95M in 1989 and 1991 and $1M in 1990 with $270,000 per season available in incentive bonuses. Before the deal ran out, he signed a three-year extension in 1991 worth $12.65M, making him the Pirates' highest paid player.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

2/17: Nate Inked; Demon for Turkey Mike; Groat Award; Pace of Play 1900s Style; HBD Rivington, Eddie, Ed, Whammy & Don

  • 1890 - IF Rivington Bisland was born in New York City. He got his first big league game with the Pirates in 1912, going 0-for-1 as a September pinch hitter after hitting .287 for Springfield of the Central League. Bisland was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the St. Louis Browns in 1913 and then got another shot with the Cleveland Naps the following season after reneging on an oral agreement with the Pittsburgh Rebels. That was it for him. In 31 games, he hit .118, and after being released in June spent the next two years with the Atlanta Crackers, where the club paid him $350 per month, well over the league limit, to keep him from jumping to the Rebs. He retired after being found out rather than face the league’s music (a suspension), played a year of semi-pro ball and then went on to be a fairly successful boxing promoter and was box office treasurer at Madison Square Garden for nearly 40 years.
  • 1901 - C Eddie Phillips was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. Phillips caught for parts of six MLB campaigns and got his most work as a Pirate in 1931. He started behind the plate for 100 games, batting .232, and was traded to Kansas City as part of the Bill Swift deal the next season. After he retired after the 1943 season following 17 years of pro ball, he became a minor league manager. 
Ed Brandt 1937-38 (photo Harwell Collection/Detroit Public Library)
  • 1905 - LHP Ed Brandt was born in Spokane, Washington. In his final two MLB seasons (1937-38), he tossed for Pittsburgh and went 16-14-2/3.23. He was mostly a good pitcher on bad big league teams. In 11 MLB years, Ed’s record was 121-146/3.86. He started 278 games and finished 150 of them. After his 1939 retirement, Brandt ran a hometown hunting lodge and tavern. He was killed on November 1st, 1944, when he was struck by a car while crossing a street at the age of 39. 
  • 1909 - With an early “pace-of-play” reg, the NL made it mandatory that a relief pitcher face one batter with a five-pitch warm up limit. The rule countered managers who would yank a pitcher, bring in another (slowly) to kill a little time, and then pull him if they didn't like the hitting matchup or when the guy the skipper really wanted on the mound was good and loose. It eventually became Rule #6.2.2. 
  • 1912 - The Pirates switched outfielders, sending Vin Campbell to the Boston Braves for Mike Donlin. Both players were solid hitters but neither were one trick ponies. Campbell was a successful businessman while Donlin was a vaudevillian (he carried around an old theater program with him as a good luck talisman), movie actor and all-around bon vivant. Both left baseball for periods of time to hold out for bigger salaries knowing they could pay the bills with their side jobs. Donlin hit .316 in 77 games for the 1912 Pirates while Campbell hit .296 and led the league in at-bats for the Braves that season. After the season, the 34-year-old Donlin was waived and claimed by the Phillies but refused to report and retired. He came back in 1914 after sitting out a season to play for the Giants, but his bat deserted him and 35 games later, his career was finished. Donlin was nicknamed “Turkey Mike” due to his red neck and distinctive strut (It’s said many fans even imitated his way of walking). It wasn't a moniker that Mike particularly cared for; go figure. Campbell, who was expendable in Pittsburgh after the emergence of Max Carey, was also out of baseball for a year and then played out his string in the upstart Federal League, hitting .315 in 1914-15. His nickname was “Demon,” a carryover from his college football days. 
Whammy Douglas 1958 Topps
  • 1935 - RHP Charles “Whammy” Douglas was born in Carrboro, North Carolina. Whammy only got 11 starts in MLB, all in 1957 with the Bucs, going 3-3, 3.26. He was sent back to AAA Columbus for the ‘58 campaign, posting a 16-10, 3.35 line and was traded to the Reds in 1959. His promising career was dead-ended by elbow and shoulder problems. One physical impairment that didn’t bother him, tho, was the fact that he was blind in his right eye after childhood accident. Branch Rickey pressed him on the handicap, and Douglas replied that “You have one hitter. He’s got one bat. And I have one ball.” He had “Whammy” hung on him thx to Burlington Times-News writer Bill Hunter. “I was striking everyone out, so they just started calling me ‘Whammy,’” Douglas said. 
  • 1941 - OF Dave Wissman was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The Bucs signed him out of the University of Bridgeport in 1961, and he got his only pro shot in 1964, playing in 16 games for the Pirates and hitting .148. Wissman played AAA ball for the Pirates and Tigers over the next three years and hung up the spikes after the 1967 campaign. 
  • 2009 - CF Nate McLouth signed a three-year, $15.75M contract with an option that bought out his arbitration years. It guaranteed his salary but not his home; he was traded to Atlanta in June to open a starting spot for Andrew McCutchen. He returned to the Bucs briefly in 2012, and since then has played in Baltimore and Washington before taking his final bow after the 2014 season. 
Nate McLouth 2009 Upper Deck Series 2
  • 2016 - Dick Groat was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 80th annual Dapper Dan Dinner. In 1960, Groat hit .325, was named NL MVP for the WS winners and earned three All-Star berths as a Bucco SS. He was also a two-time All America at Duke as a hoopster.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Camp Notes: Who's In, Freeser on the Attack, Ol' Bucs in New Homes & the Week's News Around the League

Baseballs and brickbats flying through the Florida air...

  • All the Pirates pitchers/catcher reported to Bradenton on time except for C Elias Diaz, who was granted some extra time for family after his mom's kidnapping and rescue. 
  • Clint confirmed that they're looking at Joe Musgrove as a starter and expect Colin Moran to be their go-to guy at the hot corner.
  • Lots of position guys showed up early, too. Moran, Josh Bell, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, El Coffee, S-Rod, David Freese, Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff, Daniel Nava, Jose Osuna, Austin Meadows, Kevin Newman, Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer, Chris Bostick, Jason Martin, Eric Wood, Erich Weiss and Todd Cunningham all reported ahead of the opening bell. Osuna in particular is an interesting guy; he's been taking all his infield so far at third base.
Freezer sounds off (photo USA Today)
  • Freeser had an interesting chat with the media when he arrived. In one of the Pirates most memorable camp outbursts (maybe only second to Jim Leyland’s f-bomb scold of Barry Bonds in 1991), he tossed darts at the “environment” in Pittsburgh with zingers like "When you’re losing 10-2 in the pouring rain against Joe Maddon and you’re laughing, that’s not good. That says a lot.” Also “This is a different organization, where if you get drafted, you look at a guy like Jameson Taillon. It sucks that if you pan out, you have your future written for you in an organization like this. You either fold and sign a team friendly deal, or you’re bounced.” And finally "You look at the Steelers, Penguins and you’ve got the Pirates. If I’m kind of handling this situation, I’d be losing sleep trying to compete with those other two teams. To have all three teams in a city like Pittsburgh be on top of each league, that would be incredible." He explained that he thought the FO and his teammates had the desire to win, but had to move beyond analytics and focus more on intangibles to provide that winning environment for the Pirates. "You’ve got to have urgency. You’ve got to have accountability...I’ve been here for two years, and we just kind of lacked in that department a little bit. We’ve got to pick that up.”
  • The first injury of camp - Huddy turned his ankle jogging and missed a bullpen session; he was in a walking boot. On the other side of the coin, S-Rod has regained the full range of motion in the arm he injured in a car wreck and is ready to roll physically.
  • MLB Radio Network has ranked Felipe Rivero as its #7 MLB closer.
  • The Braves signed Chris Stewart to a one-year/$575K deal (spoiler alert - it's not guaranteed; he's expected to be a depth piece).
  • Mike Berardino of the Twin City Pioneer Press has a story on LHP Zach Duke and how his decision to convert from starter to reliever was due in large part to the advice of his wife, Kristin.
Zach's move to the pen was a family discussion - 2006 Topps
  • The Twins Puckett's Pond blog calls this a "make or break" year for old Bucco OF prospect Robbie Grossman.
  • Eric Fryer, who caught for the Bucs in 2011-12 and 2016, retired at 32. 
  • RHP Drew Hutchison signed an NRI deal with the Phillies.
  • C Tony Sanchez signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. It's his fifth organization since the Pirates released him after the 2015 campaign.
  • RHP Edinson Volquez agreed to a two-year minor league contract w/the Rangers; he's recovering from Tommy John surgery. The deal is worth $2M in 2019 if he makes the club.
  • The free agent camp is off limits to scouts; it's purely for the players to train, not audition. In fact, one bird dog was escorted from the premises. No biggie; we'd sorta assume most teams had a report on the gang already.
  • Pace-of-game tweaks could show up this year. They can be instituted unilaterally by Commissioner Rob Manfred (although MLB prefers a collaborative set of rules OK'ed by the MLBPA), and he says he intends to implement some without being specific yet. Among items discussed previously were a 20-second pitch clock, bullpen carts, limited catchers visits to the hill and time limits for pitching changes and between inning warm-ups. Some of the initiatives have been used by the PCL since 2015 and have cut the average game time to under three hours; their games are 17 minutes shorter than MLB contests.
  • Pitt head baseball coach Joe Jordano was named to the staff of the 2018 Collegiate National Team, per USA Baseball. Jordano is in his 21st season as the Pitt skipper and ranked among the top-25 active winnings Division I coaches. It's a big year for JJ - he'll coach his 1,500th game and has an April date to enter the National Italian Hall of Fame.
Tito Francona 1960 Topps
  • Tito Francona, who was born in Aliquippa and spent most of his adult life in New Brighton, passed away at age 84. Tito played 15 years in the majors, most notably with the Indians, and is the father of Terry Francona, the Tribes manager and former Bosox skipper.
  • Esteban Loaiza, who began his 14-year MLB career w/the Pirates from 1995-98, was arrested in San Diego County on Friday for transporting 20 kilos (about 44 pounds) of heroin and cocaine. Guess he burned through that $43M+ he earned in MLB. 

2/16 From the 80s Forward: AJ Leaves Town; Leo & Ron SIgn; Sandt Back; Satch, Josh & Cool Papa Wheaties Stars; HBD Jorge

  • 1988 - RHP Jorge Rondon was born in Calabozo, Venezuela. Jorge has spent small parts of three seasons in MLB, with two of his 16 big league outings coming with the Pirates in 2016 after a solid stint at AAA Indianapolis. It didn’t work out so well, with a 17.18 ERA/2.727 WHIP in 3-2/3 IP. He was DFA’ed five days after his call-up and signed with the Chisox, then took his services to Japan for the 2017 campaign.
  • 1996 - General Mills put out a Wheaties cereal box commemorating Negro League stars Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell to celebrate the league's 75th anniversary. All three legendary figures played for Pittsburgh and/or Homestead at some point in their Hall of Fame careers. 
  • 2000 - The Pirates signed RHP Leo Nunez out of the Dominican Republic. He never twirled for the Bucs, being traded to KC in 2004 and made the news in 2011 when he admitted to being Juan Carlos Oviedo, not Leo Nunez, a fake ID he used to shave a year off his age and make him a more desirable prospect to Pittsburgh. He pitched thru 2011, served a lengthy suspension to start 2012 and then blew out his elbow during rehab, requiring TJ surgery. Juan/Leo returned to the show in 2014, but hasn’t appeared on a MLB hill since that season. 
  • 2000 - Tommy Sandt, a popular field coach during Jim Leyland’s tenure from 1987-96 who left the team with Leyland, rejoined the club as a minor league roving instructor. The reunion didn’t last very long; Sandt stayed through the 2002 campaign and then left again to manage for the Padres organization. 

Ron Villone 2002 Upper Deck 40 Man
  • 2002 - RHP Ron Villone signed a $900K FA contract with the Bucs, making Pittsburgh one of his 12 MLB stops during a 15-year career. He went 4-6 with a 5.81 ERA for the Pirates and was released at the end of the year, but hung around through the 2009 season before retiring. Villone has been a pitching coach in the Cubs’ organization since 2012. 
  • 2014 - Free agent RHP AJ Burnett signed a one-year/$16M deal that included an option for 2015 with the Phils after coming off a pair of strong seasons (26-21, 3.41) for the Bucs that resurrected his brand. He chose Philly over the Pirates because the ballyard was located 90 minutes from his Maryland home. "It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home,” the pitcher explained. But he returned to Pittsburgh the following season, signing a contract that was $4.25M less than the option he declined. He told the press that he had one more year left in the tank and “There’s no other place I want to finish my career (than Pittsburgh).”

2/16 Through the 70s: #33 Retired; HBD Jerry, Luis, Ray, Kip & John

  • 1873 - C John Sullivan was born in Chicago. John had a 14-game showing with the Tigers in 1905 and then settled in with the minor league Kansas City Blues; he got one more call to the majors sandwiched inside that stint by the Bucs, catching for three frames in 1908. He gave up a stolen base, committed an error and went 0-for-1 before returning to KC, and he retired from pro ball in 1910 at age 37 after 11 years behind the plate. 
  • 1899 - RHP James “Kip” Dowd was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Dowd got into one game for the Pirates in 1910, his only big league outing, and gave up four runs in two innings, although in his defense they were all unearned to leave him with a spotless career ERA. Aside from getting his name on a major league scorecard, he can also add to his resume that he worked against HoF hurler Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown on that day. 
  • 1912 - RHP Ray Harrell was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. He tossed for the Bucs in 1940, getting into three games (3-1/3 IP) with an ERA of 8.10. Ray spent a total of six years in the show, returning in 1945 to take a final bow with the wartime NY Giants after working the intervening seasons in the PCL. He retired in 1950 after an 18-year pro career. 
Honus Wagner 1949 Pittsburgh Press Roto Magazine
  • 1952 - Carnegie’s Honus Wagner’s #33 was retired after he bid farewell as a Pittsburgh coach at the age of 77 following 39 years with the team. The Bucs also honored him by giving him a lifetime pension at full pay. Hans’ number was the first the Pirates retired; other Buccos to join him in the honor were Billy Meyer (1), Ralph Kiner (4), Willie Stargell (8), Bill Mazeroski (9), Pie Traynor (20), Roberto Clemente (21) and Danny Murtaugh (40). The Flying Dutchman finished his career with a .329 average and won eight NL batting titles, ranking among the Pirates' top 10 in 11 offensive categories. He was a coach with the Pirates between 1933 and 1951. Honus was also part of the first Hall-of-Fame class ever selected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth. 
  • 1952 - Jerry Hairston was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was sold to the Pirates by the White Sox in June of the 1977 campaign, and in 51 games he hit .192, mostly as a pinch hitter. Jerry played parts of 14 MLB seasons, all spent with the White Sox except for his brief Bucco stint. Hairston was a baseball legacy link - his dad Sam, brother Johnny and son Jerry were all big league players.
Jerry Hairston 1977 Topps
  • 1974 - IF Luis Figueroa was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. After playing for the Puerto Rican national team, he was signed by the Bucs in 1997 and played four games with the club in 2001, going 0 for 2. Luis was waived and claimed by the Mets. In 2006-07, he got in 14 games for the Blue Jays and Giants, his only other outings as an MLB player. But he had a long career, playing 16 years of pro ball and spending numerous campaigns in Puerto Rico, both in the winter league and with their international squad. Since 2014, he’s been a fielding coach in the Yankee organization.