Saturday, January 31, 2015

1/31: Hall of Fame Mob, Al Buckenberger, Death to Flying Things, The Wiz of Whiff, Barry Bonds, Jeff Suppan & More...

Hall of Fame Mob, Al Buckenberger, Death to Flying Things, The Wiz of Whiff, Barry Bonds, Jeff Suppan & More...
  • 1845 - IF Bob Ferguson was born in Brooklyn. In a 14 year career with eight teams, he closed out his playing days in 1884 with the Alleghenys, getting into 10 games and hitting .146. But he did leave a legacy; he was the first recognized switch hitter in baseball, and also had one of the all-time unforgettable nicknames, “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson, because of his fielding prowess. He managed a couple of years after hanging up the spikes and then went to umpiring. 
  • 1861 - Manager Al Buckenberger was born in Detroit. He managed the Pirates from 1892-94, coming in second in 1893 and posting an overall 187-144 slate while also serving as club president. He tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the old American Association, earning himself a brief league suspension during the 1894 off season.
Al Buckenberger - 1914 Syracuse Herald
  • 1899 - LHP Don Songer was born in Walnut, Kansas. He tossed three of his four MLB years with the Bucs between 1925-27, going 7-9-3/3.55. Songer was part of two World Series teams, but never got to participate, being off the playoff roster in his rookie year of 1925, then traded to the Giants before the 1927 year ended. 
  • 1919 - P Ken Gables was born in Walnut Grove, Missouri. He pitched for the 1945-47 Pirates, spending his entire brief career as a Bucco. Gables had a 13-11/4.69 slate before being traded to the PCL San Francisco Seals. 
  • 1950 - The Pirates signed high school LHP Paul Pettit (“The Wizard of Whiff” pitched six prep no-hitters) for a record $100‚000 after buying his contract from film producer Fred Stephani‚ who had signed him to an exclusive contract as an athlete/actor. The lefty went 1-2/7.43 for the Pirates (1951, 1953) and retired in 1961 with arm problems that first surfaced a decade earlier.
  • 1952 - RF Paul “Big Poison” Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame and inducted on July 21st. In a 20 year career, he led the NL in hitting three times and put up a slash of .330/.404/.473. 
  • 1965 - RHP Pud “Gentle Jeems” Galvin was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee and was the lone HOF selection that year. Galvin earned 20 victories ten times in 14 seasons. He tossed for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Pirates from 1885-1892. Pud won 138 games and notched four 20+ win years for Pittsburgh. He was inducted on July 26th. 
  • 1971 - The Hall of Fame Special Veterans Committee selected two Bucs from the early days to the Hall, 1B Jake Beckley and OF Joe Kelley. Beckley played for the Alleghenys, Burghers and Pirates from 1888-96, hitting .300. He banged a modest 43 HR, but legged out 113 triples in that span. Kelley got a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh in 1892, hitting just .239. The Pirates dumped him, and he went on to have a dozen consecutive .300+ seasons beginning the following year, playing mostly for the Baltimore Orioles. They were inducted on August 9th.
Jake Beckley 1994 American Archive Origins of Baseball series
  • 1976 - The Special Veterans Committee selected C Al Lopez for the Hall of Fame. Lopez caught for Pittsburgh from 1940-46, hitting a modest .254. But he was best known for his glove and ability to handle a staff, and went on to manage the Indians and White Sox when his playing days ended. He was inducted on August 9th. 
  • 1992 - The Pirates signed OF Barry Bonds to a one-year contract worth $4.7M‚ the largest one-year deal in baseball history at the time. Bonds won his second MVP trophy and the Bucs won their division, so it was money well spent. 
Barry Bonds via Operation Sports
  • 2003 - RHP Jeff Suppan was signed as a free agent to a $500K deal. After a breakout summer, he was flipped to the Red Sox at the deadline as part of the Freddy Sanchez/Mike Gonzalez deal. Steady Freddy was a Pirate All-Star while Gonzo eventually became the closer.

Friday, January 30, 2015

1/30: Matt the Scat, Smoky, the Kitten & Tiger Join Up, Highpockets, Pokey, Paul & Eric...

Matt the Scat, Smoky, the Kitten & Tiger Join Up, Highpockets, Pokey, Paul & Eric...
  • 1947 - Pinch runner Matt (“The Scat”) Alexander was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He spent the last four years of his career (1978-81) with the Pirates, and though he only got 27 at-bats during that time, he stole 30 bases (out of 37 tries) and scored 36 runs. During his nine year MLB career, he was in the field for just 138 games, while pinch-running 271 times. 
  • 1959 - C Smoky Burgess, LHP Harvey Haddix and 3B Don Hoak went from the Reds to the Pirates in exchange for RHP Whammy Douglas, OF Jim Pendleton, OF John Powers and 3B Frank Thomas, providing three major pieces of the 1960 championship club. Slugger Thomas, the key figure in the deal, was the last to know - he was touring military bases in Germany when the deal was made, and the press had to get quotes from his wife Dolores.
Frank Thomas 1954 Bowman series
  • 1973 - The Veteran’s Committee selected 1B George “Highpockets” Kelly to the Hall of Fame. Kelly spent one season with the Pirates, more or less on loan from the NY Giants, to replace an injured Honus Wagner in 1917 (he was playing first in the twilight of his career). Highpockets was a slick fielder who played 16 MLB season with a .297 BA. He was inducted on August 6th. 
  • 2002 - The Pirates signed FA 2B Pokey Reese to a two year, $4.25M contract with a 2004 club option. Pittsburgh was the fourth team for Reese since the end of the 2001 season. He finished the year with Cincinnati, and then was traded to the Colorado Rockies and the Boston Red Sox in a span of three days in December. Boston didn’t offer him a deal, making him a free agent. Pokey stuck with the Bucs for both seasons, although he lost all but 37 games to injury in 2003. 
Pokey Reese - 2003 Topps Heritage series
  • 2009 - The Pirates avoided arbitration by signing former first round pick LHP Paul Maholm to a three year, $14.5M contract, which included a team option for 2012. He was released after the 2011 season, playing for three different teams since. The lefty reinvented himself in 2014, switching to a bullpen role, but a late-year torn ACL (and 4.84 ERA) has him iffy for this season. 
  • 2009 - OF/UT Eric Hinske sinked a one year, $1.5M FA contract with Pittsburgh. Hinske was shipped to the NY Yankees before the deadline, hitting .255 with one HR for the Bucs. He retired after the 2013 season, having played 12 years for seven teams.
Eric Hinsky via Getty Images

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1/29: Billy, Honus, Murry, Max, Branch, Little Poison, Matty-for-Vic, Jason, Jose...

Billy, Honus, Murry, Max, Branch, Little Poison, Matty-for-Vic, Jason, Jose...
  • 1932 - P Billy Swift was traded by Kansas City Blues of the American Association to the Pirates for P Bob Osborn and C Eddie Phillips. It was a good deal: Osborne never pitched in the majors again and Phillips played for three more seasons while Swift worked eight years for the Bucs and notched 91 wins. Swift was a pitch-to-contact guy; he walked few (1.9/9 innings), struck out almost no one (3.4/9 innings) and still put up a 3.57 ERA in Pittsburgh.
Bill Swift via Retro Images
  • 1936 - Honus Wagner, along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson, was selected by the BBWAA to become the first Hall of Fame class. They had to wait until July 12th, 1939, for the enshrinement, though, until the museum in Cooperstown was opened and the first four HoF classes were inducted en masse. 
  • 1949 - The Pirates purchased RHP Murry “Dick” Dickson from the Cardinals for $125,000. During his five-year stay in Pittsburgh, he went 66-85 with a 3.83 ERA and had a 20-win season in 1951; the Pirates won only 64 games that year. Dickson was a soft thrower with a variety of pitches and a rubber arm. Beginning in 1947, when he turned 31, he worked more than 200 innings in each of the next ten seasons. 
Murry Dickson 1953 Red Man series
  • 1961 - OF Max Carey was voted into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee and inducted on July 24th. In 17 seasons with Pittsburgh, he collected 2,400+ hits, batted .287 and stole 688 bases. Carey joined the Bucs planning to become Pittsburgh’s everyday shortstop, but thanks to Honus Wagner, Max spent the entirety of his long Pirate career as an outfielder.
  • 1967 - GM Branch Rickey and OF Lloyd Waner were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the Special Veterans Committee and were inducted on July 24th. Rickey was GM from 1950-55; his teams were terrible but he began the process of building a farm system that paid dividends in 1960. “Little Poison” spent 17 years with the Pirates, mainly in CF, and batted .319 during that time. 
Lloyd Waner 1928 via Horsehide Trivia
  • 1971 - The Pirates traded OF Matty Alou and P George Brunet to the Cardinals for OF Vic Davalillo and RHP Nellie Briles. Davalillo spent 2-½ years in Pittsburgh as a role player, hitting .290. Briles spent three full seasons as a Bucco, winning 36 games with a 2.98 ERA. 
  • 1973 - RHP Jason Schmidt was born in Lewiston, Idaho. He was drafted by Atlanta and came to the Pirates in 1996 as part of the Denny Neagle deal. In 5-1/2 seasons with Pittsburgh, he went 44-47/4.39 before being traded to San Francisco, where he had three All-Star campaigns. 
  •  2004 - The Bucs signed RHP Jose Mesa, 37, to a minor-league deal after a dismal season in Philly. The vet rediscovered his mojo and became the Buc closer, saving 43 games in 2004 and 27 in 2005 before leaving for Colorado as a FA. He saved 321 games over a 19 year career.
Jose Mesa photo from ESPN

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1/28: Emil, Spittin' Bill, Alf, Deacon, Kiki, Chris, & The Cobra...

Emil, Spittin' Bill, Alf, Deacon, Kiki, Chris, & The Cobra...
  • 1900 - LHP Emil Yde was born in Great Lakes, Illinois. As a rookie in 1924, Yde led the NL in shutouts with four, in winning percentage (.842) with a record of 16–3 and he was a member of the Pirates 1925 World Series championship team, going 17-9 during the season. His career was brief; he pitched four years for the Pirates with a 44-22/3.84 line. The bottom fell out in 1927 (1-3/9.71). He spent 1928 in the minors and was out of MLB after a stint with the Tigers in 1929. 
  • 1908 - P “Spittin’ Bill” (guess what his bread and butter pitch was) Doak was born in Pittsburgh. Even though he never pitched for the hometown nine, the Bucs and MLB can thank him for an innovation still in use, the first modern glove. He proposed to Rawlings that a web should be placed between the first finger and thumb to create a natural pocket, and his model was introduced when he pitched against the Pirates in 1920. The Bill Doak glove soon replaced all other mitts and is yet considered a classic design. 
Bill Doak 1922 Exhibits series
  • 1914 - SS Alf Anderson was born in Gainesville, Georgia. He saw some action in 1941-42, but lost the next three years to wartime service. He returned for a cup of coffee in 1946, but that was it; he retired after the season. Alf hit .238 as a Bucco. 
  • 1962 - Local boy Bill "Deacon" McKechnie was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee. He was inducted on July 22nd. The Wilkinsburg native played for and managed the Pirates, winning the 1925 World Series. McKechnie was the first manager to win World Series titles with two different teams (1925 Pirates and the 1940 Cincinnati Reds; he’s one of 15 to pull off that feat), and is one of only two managers (Dick Williams is the other) to win pennants with three teams, also capturing the NL title in 1928 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bill McKechnie by Dick Perez Art
  • 1968 - OF Kiki Cuyler was elected into the Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the Special Veterans Committee, and was inducted on July 22nd. Kiki spent his first seven MLB seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .336. Cuyler was traded for the equivalent of a bag of baseballs by the Bucs when he bumped heads with management over a new contract and then with new manager Donie Bush when he didn’t slide into second to break up a DP. 
  • 1972 - LHP Chris Peters was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He graduated from Peters Township HS in McMurray, was drafted by the Pirates in 1993 and tossed five years (1996-2000) for the Bucs, going 17-21/4.57 as a long man/spot starter. His career was short circuited by shoulder surgery in 1999, and 2001 was his last season in MLB, with the Expos. 
Chris Peters 1999 Fleer Tradition series
  • 1979 - Dave “The Cobra” Parker, a couple of days removed from signing his $5M contract, was feted as the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year at the Hilton ballroom. He was the first Pirate to take home the award since 1971 when Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Danny Murtaugh were named co-winners.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No Rumor: Lunchbox Hero on the Oriole Menu...

Edit - The Pirates acquired LHP Stephen Tarpley & a player to be named from the Orioles in exchange for OF Travis Snider. The 21-year-old Tarpley spent the entire 2014 season w/ Aberdeen in the NYPL and went 3-5 with a 3.68 ERA and 60 Ks in 13 games (12 starts).

Per Baseball America (behind a subscription wall & reported by MLB Trade Rumors) "Tarpley has the stuff to start, with a 90-92 mph fastball that touches 96 at times in addition to a curveball and changeup. He previously had a slider in his arsenal as well, though the Orioles opted to scrap that pitch so he could focus on his change, per BA. praised him as an arm with upside, touting not only solid curveball and a changeup that shows potential, but also his pitchability and size."

We'll wait until the PTBNL is named to weigh the deal.

Travis Snider's deal shouldn't be a shocker; the O's needed a lefty OF'er with a little bop, and the Bucs have Andrew Lambo sitting around. In fact, Snider-for-Brian Matusz was one of the few baseball meeting rumors generated by the Pirates' FO, but the Antonio Bastardo deal squelched the need for a bridge lefty and the talks.

Travis Snider - Baltimore Bound? (credit: Charles LeClaire/USAToday Sports)
Pittsburgh is moving a guy at high tide, more or less - Lunchbox Hero had a decent year, getting into 140 games with 390 PAs, putting up a slash of .264/.338/.438 with 13 homers and 38 runs batted in. It's true that Lambo has two more options to go to Indy, but he is 26 and doesn't have much left to prove in AAA, where last year he hit .328 with 11 bombs and 42 RBI in 260 plate appearances. He also has been lightly groomed to play first base, which could be an open position in 2016. Lambo is under team control through 2020, which plays into the equation.

The Pirates have pretty strong organizational depth in the OF. Ol' bud Jose Tabata is still around (and will be through 2016) and Jaff Decker is probably a competent bench option, while Willie Garcia and Josh Bell are comin' hard, though Bell is likely the post-Pedro answer at first base. Even Gorkys Hernandez is back in the system, a guy that can fly and glove with the best.

On the ML roster, Josh Harrison and Corey Hart have both been corner outfielders, too, so that shelf is stocked high and wide.

Could it backfire? Sure. First off, Snider could turn into Steve Pearce or Brandon Moss. And it does weaken the outfield depth a bit. Cutch is a rock in center. Even with his achy ribs, he was in 146 ballgames - and that was the fewest he played since his rookie season in 2009.

But Snider was the wild card when the league passed around the book on Gregory Polanco, and that safety net is now gone. And one never knows when Starling Marte is gonna take one for the team that lands him on the DL, (for various reasons, he's never topped 135 games in a season) so depth is big part of the 2015 outfield construction as the fourth man is in play.

But the FO seems confident they have that depth. After many years of wandering through the wilderness, players actually have to earn a spot on the roster, and that makes some guys expendable. The team is deep in outfielders and pitching, so don't be surprised if the Bucs move some more players on the fringes to restock the system.

And they won't be trading bubble players for other pine riders. The discussed take from Baltimore is said to be a minor league player or two from the AA or even A ranks. The FO is looking to keep the system stocked at each level with guys that are young and hopefully can be coached up to snuff. So it begins...

1/27: Otis and St. Mary's Joe...

Otis and St. Mary's Joe...
  • 1876 - OF Otis Clymer was born in Pine Grove (Schuylkill County) Pennsylvania. Clymer started his career in Pittsburgh, playing from 1905-07, when the often injured OF’er was traded to Washington after hitting .285 during his Pirate days. He was a feisty guy, getting into a fight with Reds 1B Cliff Blankenship during a 2-1 win at Expo Park in 1905. It started when Clymer spiked Blankenship as a payback for an event a few days prior when the Reds infielder ran into Honus Wagner. Blankenship won the fight but not the war as he was pelted with bottles (and even a knife was tossed from the stands) by heated Bucco fans after the pair were ejected, per The Baseball Library. A more memorable moment came in 1908 when Otis hit for the cycle while a Cub. 
Otis Clymer at the dish as a Washington Senator (photo via All Posters)
  • 2011 - St. Mary’s native Joe Beimel signed a minor league deal with the Bucs, reuniting him with both the Pirates and his former manager, Clint Hurdle. The lefty reliever started the year on the DL with forearm stiffness, pitched six weeks to a 5.33 ERA, went back on the DL and was DFA’ed in August. He had TJ surgery in 2012, and returned as a Mariner in 2014, going 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 56 games at age 37.
St. Mary's Joe in 2011 (photo by Peter Diana/Post Gazette) 

Monday, January 26, 2015

1/26: Ad Gumbert; Baseball to City Hall & The Cobra Discovers Money Can't Buy Me Love...

Ad Gumbert; Baseball to City Hall & The Cobra Discovers Money Can't Buy Me Love...
  • 1895 - RHP Addison “Ad” Gumbert was traded to the Brooklyn Grooms for C Tom Kinslow. Ad, only 26, had gone 26-21 for the Bucs in 1893-94 and Kinslow was a back-up catcher. Both ended up washes, retiring after the 1896 season. Ad was a local boy, and was elected County Sheriff in 1906 and County Commissioner in 1915. He headed a variety of benevolent efforts - in fact, Pittsburgh Mayor Magee once appointed him an Assistant Director of Charities - and belonged to many service groups, including the Masons, Shriners and Odd Fellows. Ad is buried in Homewood Cemetery. 
Ad Gumbert Old Judge Cigarettes series
  • 1979 - Dave Parker of the Pirates became the first $1M per year player in sports when he signed a five-year, $5M contract after winning consecutive batting crowns and being named MVP. He didn’t get to enjoy it long - he had three straight All-Star seasons, but missed half of the 1981 and 1982 campaigns with injuries before having a full-time but poor, by his standards, 1983. Fans behaved even more poorly when they tossed batteries, nuts, bolts, cups and other assorted trash at him in the field. He signed with Cincinnati when the deal expired. As Lennon and McCartney so aptly noted, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Dave Parker at Press Conference - photo by Robert Pavuchak (Pittsbrugh Press)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ban the Shift? Sheesh.

Well, it didn't take MLB Commissioner Bud Selig Rob Manfred long to fire another salvo against teams that use their smarts versus their wallets to win baseball game.

"Things like eliminating shifts, I would be open to those sorts of ideas," Manfred told ESPN."We have really smart people working in the game and they're going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage. I think it's incumbent upon us in the commissioner's office to look at the advantages produced and say, 'Is this what we want to happen in the game?'"

Huh? Is he saying teams are too smart for their own good? Or is the message that SABR savvy teams are draining the offense out of baseball by their various strategies, killing interest in the game? Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweets (here and here) that the idea, as silly as it seems, may gain some serious traction around the league. He wrote:

"This is very telling: I ran Rob Manfred's idea to limit defensive shifts by two sabermetrically inclined GMs - and both said they agree. Both essentially said same thing: The game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want. Big concern baseball isn't delivering."

Hmmm. The last decade produced all 10 of the best-attended seasons in MLB history. The new national TV pact has teams rolling in dough. Sounds like fixing something that isn't broken.

We assume the metric that is Manfred's driver is World series TV ratings. Four of the five series that have put up the poorest TV numbers in history have been played since 2010. Since 2000, three of the five top viewed October Classic have been during Yankee series. So that appears to be where the casual fan and "the product" comes into play. The age of the average fan is trending up, too, and appealing to the younger go-go generation may be a part of the discussion.

Though the shift - three guys on one side of the bag - has gained in popularity in recent years (lookin' at you, Joe Maddon), it dates back to the twenties, and was originally called the "Boudreau" or "Williams" shift because Indian's manager Lou Boudreau used it against the Red Sox's Ted Williams starting in the forties. The Bucs have utilized it at the big-league level since 2011 and have long had it in place throughout their organization.

Well, may not need these much longer (from Brooks Baseball)
The truth be told, shifts affect just pull hitters, especially lead-footed ones and lefties (the SS can't make a play from short left nearly as well as a 2B can from short right because of the distance), with the corollary that a team that commits to the shift also has to commit to either power or ground-ball pitchers to be effective. And the infield shift isn't the only defensive ploy going on.

Middle infielders cheat up the middle in DP situations and move dependent on the pitch, game situation and batter, toward the hole or closer to the line. Outfielders shift left, right, shallow and deep. Catchers frame pitches. Pitchers work up and down, in and out, off and on the plate. LOOGYS are one-and-done. So we're looking at a potentially very slippery slope; there are a lot of moving pieces chipping away at hitters.

Of course, a change won't be all that drastic. The league will float a rule that there can be just two infielders on one side, and teams' smart guys, being smart guys, will come up with a data-driven alignment that's not exactly the same thing, but will serve the same purpose. The small fish learn to adapt if they want to swim in this league.

But the message it sends that the league wants to dummy down the game so the big money teams don't have to deal with gnats isn't a good one for lesser revenue clubs. First Selig took away big draft bonuses after the Bucs stole Josh Bell, and now Manfred wants to take away analysis-based strategy (ie, smart baseball); heaven forbid that a batter counters. Every step forward...

1/25: Greenburg, Cronin Get the Call; Clemente Cashes In...

Greenburg, Cronin Get the Call; Clemente Cashes In...
  • 1956 - SS Joe Cronin and OF Hank Greenburg were elected to the Hall of Fame. Both were considered to be among the top RH hitters of their era and had brief stops in Pittsburgh. Cronin started as a Pirate in 1926-27 and played sparingly before breaking out for Washington and Boston, while Greenburg spent 1947, his last MLB season, as a Bucco, hitting 25 HR and served as a mentor to up-and-coming slugger Ralph Kiner. They were inducted on July 23rd. 
Joe Cronin 1926 - via tnfoto Out of the Ballpark Development
  • 1967 - Roberto Clemente signed a $100,000 contract, then the highest in Pirate history. The Great One’s payday topped Ralph Kiner’s $90,000 deal of 1952. He joined the MLB elite of players with a six-figure deal. The others on the short list were Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

1/24: Stu and Ugly Johnny...

Stu and Ugly Johnny...
  • 1906 - IF William “Stu” (for Stewart) Clarke was born in San Francisco. He spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, albeit one that lasted just from 1929-30. The back-up infielder hit fairly well, putting up a .273 BA over his 61 big league games, but finished out his time in the bushes, where he compiled a lifetime .238 average before retiring after the 1933 season. 
Stu Clarke - from Ctrane via Out of the Park Development
  • 1910 - OF “Ugly Johnny” (he gave himself the nickname as the self-proclaimed “ugliest man in baseball”) Dickshot, whose given name was John Oscar Dicksus, was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He played for the Bucs from 1936-38. Ugly was a feared hitter in the minors, putting up a .318 BA in 14 seasons, but was just a .250 batter with Pittsburgh, although his career MLB average was .276 after six seasons. When he retired after the 1945 campaign, he opened a bar in his hometown. John Ducey, an actor who appears quite often in TV sitcoms, is his grandson.  
Johnny Dickshot from

Friday, January 23, 2015

1/23: Rabbit Maranville, Kurt Bevacqua, Benny Distefano, Ralph Kiner...

Rabbit Maranville, Kurt Bevacqua, Benny Distefano, Ralph Kiner...
  • 1921 - SS Rabbit Maranville was traded to the Bucs by the Boston Braves for IF Walter Barbare, OF Fred Nicholson, OF Billy Southworth and $15,000. Billy and Rabbit were the keys to the deal. Hall of Famer Maranville played four seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .283. Southworth played another eight seasons and entered the Hall of Fame with a career slash of .297/52/561 and a stellar coaching record, winning four league titles and a pair of World Series. 
  • 1947 - IF Kurt Bevacqua was born in Miami Beach. The Bucs called on him twice, in 1974 and then again from 1980-81 despite him hitting just .171 in a Pirate uniform. But he was a popular bench guy, especially in San Diego. He spent 15 years in MLB (six with SD) and hit 2 homers in the Padres’ World Series win against the Detroit Tigers in 1984. 
Kurt Bevacqua 1982 Topps series
  • 1962 - 1B/OF Benny Distefano was born in Brooklyn. He played for the Bucs in 1984, 1986, and 1988-89, hitting .227 in 300 PA. Distefano was the last lefty to catch a major league game, catching in three games for the Pirates in 1989. 
Benny Distefano 1989 Fleer series
  • 1975 - OF Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame and was inducted on August 18th. Kiner played only 10 years in MLB, but led the NL in home runs for seven consecutive seasons. He received 273 votes on the 362 ballots cast by the writers, exactly enough to be selected. There are a pair of often cited quotes that follow Kiner. One, attributed to Kiner himself was "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords." The other was a quote by Bucco GM Branch Rickey when he told Kiner that he had traded him to the Cubs: "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

1/22: Diomedes Olivo, Jimmy Anderson...

Diomedes Olivo, Jimmy Anderson...
  • 1919 - LHP Diomedes Olivo was born in Guayubin, Dominican Republic. He was the second oldest rookie to pitch MLB when in 1960 he got a September call-up at age 41 after being plucked from the Mexican League (although many questioned his age, believing he was older). He spent the following season in AAA, then all of 1962 in Pittsburgh, going 5-1-7/2.78 in his 66 big league games with Pittsburgh. He was traded to St. Louis in 1963. 
Diomedes Olivo via SABR
  • 1976 - LHP Jimmy Anderson was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. After being drafted in the ninth round of the 1994 draft, he pitched the first four years (1999-2002) of his six-season career in Pittsburgh, going 24-42 with a 5.17 ERA before retiring in 2006.
Jimmy Anderson 2002 Topps series

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1/21: Jimmy Zinn, Waite Hoyt, Octavio Dotel...

Jimmy Zinn, Waite Hoyt, Octavio Dotel...
  • 1895 - RHP Jimmy Zinn was born in Benton, Arkansas. Zinn worked three years for the Bucs (1920-22), with the last his only full season with the club. But he was a minor league legend. A fringe hurler in the majors, he tossed on different farm clubs for 25 years, collecting 279 wins and compiling a 3.49 ERA. 
Jimmy Zinn
  • 1933 - Future Hall of Fame RHP Waite Hoyt was signed by the Pirates after being waived by the New York Giants. Working mostly out of the bullpen, he went 35-31/3.08 in his five year Bucco career before being sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937. 
Waite Hoyt - Out of the Park Development (Pegasus27)
  • 2010 - Free agent RHP Octavio Dotel agreed to a one year, $3.5M deal with the Bucs, the only team that offered the right-hander the opportunity to save games. The 36-year old reliever hadn't been a closer since 2007 with Kansas City. He thrived in the role, saving 21 games before being traded at the deadline to the Dodgers.
Octavio Dotel 2010 - Jared Wickersham/USAToday/Getty Images

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

1/20: Josh Gibson, Carl Taylor, Adam LaRoche, DJ Carrasco, Brian Giles...

Josh Gibson, Carl Taylor, Adam LaRoche, DJ Carrasco, Brian Giles...
  • 1947 - Homestead Gray and Pittsburgh Crawfords C Josh Gibson, the “black Babe Ruth,” died of a stroke at the age of 35. The future Hall of Fame catcher was put to rest in an unmarked grave in Allegheny Cemetery. In 1975, Negro League teammate Ted Page and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn paid for a granite marker as a memorial.
Josh Gibson's Tombstone via Baseball Think Factory
  • 1944 - UT Carl Taylor was born in Sarasota, Florida. He caught, played first and pinch hit for the Bucs in 1968-69, and again in September of 1971 for their pennant drive. His best season far and away was 1969, when he hit .348/4/33 in just 221 at-bats. 
  • 2009 - 1B Adam LaRoche signed a one-year, $7.05M contract and avoided arbitration. he lasted until July 22, when he was shipped to Boston for RHP Hunter Strickland and SS Argenis Diaz. 
  • 2010 - RHP DJ Carrasco was signed to a one year, $950K contract. The reliever lasted until the deadline, and was packaged as part of a deal with Arizona. Carrasco was a part of the Pirate organization way back in 2002, before KC took him in that year’s Rule 5 draft from Pittsburgh’s High A Carolina League club, Lynchburg. 
DJ Carrasco photo from Getty Images
  • 1971 - RF Brian Giles was born in El Cajon, California. In five years with Pittsburgh, he put up a line of .308/.426/.591 with 165 HR/506 RBI and three All-Star berths. He retired in 2010 after a couple of rough seasons with San Diego, trying to play through an arthritic knee.

Monday, January 19, 2015

1/19: LaRoche Comes to Pgh, Stan the Man Passes On...

LaRoche Comes to Pgh, Stan the Man Passes On...
  • 2007 - The Bucs traded LHP Mike Gonzalez and SS Brent Lillibridge to the Atlanta Braves for 1B Adam LaRoche and minor league 1B/OF Jamie Romak. Gonzo ended up injury-bitten, Lillibridge became a utility player and Romak a career minor leaguer while LaRoche has held a starting job at first for several clubs since the deal after putting up a slash of .265/58/213 in three Bucco seasons.
Adam LaRoche - 2009 Bowman series
  • 2013 - Hall of Famer Stan the Man Musial of the Cards, who was born in Donora, died at the age of 92. His 24 All-Star Game selections are more than anyone except Hank Aaron. When he retired after the 1963 season, Musial had an NL record 3,630 hits – 1,815 at home and 1,815 on the road – and a .331 batting average. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 on his first appearance on the ballot, garnering 93.2 percent of the vote. In 2001, SABR master Bill James ranked Musial the tenth-greatest baseball player in history. No wonder Mon Valley's Donora is called “The Home of Champions.”
Stan the Man - 1939 Donora HS (top row, 4th from left) (photo: Donora Historical Society)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

1/18: Hank Greenberg, Wandy Rodriguez...

Hank Greenberg, Wandy Rodriguez...
  • 1947 - The Pirates purchased Hank Greenberg from the Tigers for $75,000 after a contract dispute. The Bucs signed him to a reported $90,000 deal, the biggest in history at that time. In his one season with Pittsburgh, he hit .249 with 25 homers and 74 RBI. He became the first player with a 25 homer season in both leagues, walked a league high 104 times and served as a mentor to a young Ralph Kiner. He inspired “Greenberg Gardens” when the Bucs shortened Forbes Field’s left field for him. When he retired after the season, his garden was renamed Kiner’s Korner. 
  • 1979 - LHP Wandy Rodriguez was born in Santiago Rodriguez, Dominican Republic. Wandy joined the Bucs in 2012, when he was acquired in a deadline deal from the Astros. He didn’t become a major contributor as hoped, as his 2013 season derailed after just a dozen starts with arthritis in his pitching arm, and contributed just 11 wins in 25 outings, with a 3.66 ERA, as a Pirate before being released in late May of 2014.
Wandy Rodriguez - 2012 Al Behrman/Associated Press

Saturday, January 17, 2015

1/17: Pink Hawley, Empty Draft, Kip Wells, 2014 Arb Class...

Pink Hawley, Empty Draft, Kip Wells, 2014 Arb Class...
  • 1895 - The Pirates traded P Red Ehret and cash to the St Louis Browns for P Pink Hawley. Hawley won 71 games for the Pirates in his three year (1895-97) stint with Pittsburgh, becoming one of only three Bucs to win 30 games in a single season, notching 31 victories in 1985, while Ehret would claim just more 35 victories during the remainder of his MLB career. Pink was quite a bargain - the Pirates paid him $2,400 a year, the maximum salary at the time. He was a hit with the local fans, too. According to Dale Voiss of SABR “Hawley earned the nickname ‘Duke of Pittsburgh’ because of his stylish dress and good looks. He was known to wear diamonds and other items of high fashion and developed a reputation similar to that of a matinee idol in Pittsburgh. Later a cigar was named Duke of Pittsburgh after Hawley. Boxes of these cigars featured his picture.” 
Pink Hawley 1896 team photo via Wikipedia
  • 1984 - The Pirates drafted pitcher Gil Heredia first, but the righty from Pima CC didn’t sign. He went pro three years later, albeit as a ninth round pick of the Giants. He made up for lost bonus money by carving out a 10 year MLB career. Light hitting OF Alex Cole was also selected that year. The best pick was in the secondary phase when the Bucs took OF Jay Buhner, who ended up swatting 310 HR in 15 big league seasons after being traded to the Yankees. 
  • 2006 - The Bucs signed RHP Kip Wells to a one-year, $4.15M contract, avoiding arbitration. Kipper only lasted to the deadline, going 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA before being dealt away to the Texas Rangers for Jesse Chavez. Wells, a former first round draft pick of the White Sox in 1998, pitched for nine teams in 12 seasons with a career slash of 69-103-2/4.78 ERA.
Kip Wells 2003 Topps Heritage series
  • 2014 - The Pirates signed five players to one year deals - 2B Neil Walker, 3B Pedro Alvarez, P Mark Melancon, 1B Gaby Sanchez and P Vin Mazzaro - to avoid arbitration. They had previously inked deals with arb-eligible P Charlie Morton, OF Travis Snider and C Chris Stewart, and non-tendered 1B Garrett Jones, C Mike McKenry and OF Felix Pie to close out an oversized 2014 arbitration class.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Arb Day - Nine Signed: Neil, Pedro, Vance Opt For Arb; Kang Officially Inked

1 PM was the deadline for the arb-eligible players and the Bucs to exchange arbitration figures. The Pirates have a dozen players eligible for arbitration: Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson, Francisco Cervelli, Jared Hughes, Travis Snider, Antonio Bastardo, Chris Stewart, Vance Worley and Sean Rodriguez. The FO has already released arb-eligible players Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, John Axford, Jeanmar Gomez and Chaz Roe.

Unlike last year, there were no early signings, but the Buccos tend to announce their arb signings en masse. This year is a bit more of a poser as some top guns are on the arb list.

Players/signed (settlements reported by WAPT's Mike Perchick; arb time & salary estimates in parenthesis by MLBTR's Matt Schwartz): 
  • Pedro Alvarez (year 2 – $5.5M)
  • Antonio Bastardo: signed for $3.1M (year 3 – $2.8M)
  • Francisco Cervelli: $987,500 (year 2 – $1.1M)
  • Josh Harrison: $2.8M (year 1 – $2.2M)
  • Jared Hughes: $1.075M (Super 2 – $1.1M)
  • Mark Melancon $5.4M (year 2 – $7.6M)
  • Sean Rodriguez: $1.0M (year 3 – $2.0M)
  • Chris Stewart: signed for $1.225M (year 2 –$1.3M)
  • Travis Snider: $2.1M (year 2 – $2.0M)
  • Neil Walker (year 3 of 4 – $8.6M)
  • Tony Watson: $1.75M (year 2 – $2.0M)
  • Vance Worley (Super 2 – $2.9M) 
Updated: The Pirates announced that Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Vance Worley will go to arbitration. The Bucco FO uses the "file and trial" method (no negotiations from now until the arbitration hearings next month), so it looks like the arbitrator will make the call on those three. Or not; the Pirates under Neal Huntington haven't had this many players total go to arbitration total, much less in one season, so they may change their tune a bit, and there's not a huge spread between the asks and the offers. We'll see.

Per Perchick: Neil Walker asked for $9M; the Pirates countered with $8M. Pedro and the Bucs are close - he filed for $5.75M with the Pirates offering $5.25M. Rob Biertempfel of the Trib reported that Vance Worley asked for $2.45M; Pittsburgh bid $2M. So far, the midpoints are pretty much in the expected fiscal ballpark, so they may be able to shake hands before the February hearings.


In other news, Jung-Ho Kang officially signed, although the financial terms weren't released. Tom Singer of tweeted that it was a deal of four years/$11M guaranteed, including a $250K buy-out of a $5.5M option for 2019; there are quite likely some pretty hefty bonuses included that are part of the package. (The Bucs confirmed the contract length and the option year.)

The infielder will train in Arizona with his former club, Nexen, before reporting to spring training in February. The GM said that the team has "zero intent" of starting Kang in the minors and he will open as a "complimentary" (bench sub) player. The Bucs will have to eventually drop a man from the 40-man roster to clear space for him. And finally, the team announced that Kang would sport #27.

Jung-Ho Kang photo from Pittsburgh Pirates

1/16: Art Whitney, Erskine Mayer, Dick Groat...

Art Whitney, Erskine Mayer, Dick Groat...
  • 1858 - IF Art Whitney was born in Brockton, Massachusetts. Known for his glove, he played for the Alleghenys from 1884-87, hitting .248 while in Pittsburgh. His lifetime BA was a paltry .223, but the slick gloveman led the league four times in fielding percentage, three times as a third baseman (1886, 1887, and 1891) and once as a shortstop (1885).
Art Whitney 1887 Old Judge Cigarettes series
  • 1890 - RHP Erskine Mayer was born in Atlanta. He only worked two seasons for Pittsburgh, from 1918-19, going 14-6 with a 3.19 ERA. In 1919, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, becoming part of the infamous "Black Sox" team. His only appearance in the scandal-tainted 1919 World Series was a one-inning relief stint, his last in a MLB uniform. He ended his eight-year career with a slash of 91-70-6 and a 2.96 ERA. Over that span, he had several notable moments. His best as a Bucco was going 15-⅓ shutout innings, starting the longest scoreless game in Pirate history (the Bucs beat the Braves 2-0 in 21 innings). He had a couple of lowlights, too. As a rookie for the Phils in 1912, Mayer set the MLB record for consecutive hits allowed with nine (since broken), and also was the pitcher who surrendered Honus Wagner’s 3,000th hit in 1914 while wearing the same uniform.
Erskine Mayer as a Phil 1915-16 Sporting News series
  • 1960 - The Steelers beat the Pirates, 22-20 in overtime, in a benefit basketball game played at the Pitt Field House to help support Children's Hospital. Former Duke All-America and Buc shortstop Dick Groat led all scorers with 14 points in the 15 minute contest.
Dick Groat as a Duke All-America hoopster

Thursday, January 15, 2015

1/15: Mike Mansell, Jock Menefee, Banny and Chuck Hartenstein...

Mike Mansell, Jock Menefee, Banny and Chuck Hartenstein...
  • 1858 - OF Mike Mansell was born in Auburn, New York. He played three seasons (1882-84) for the Alleghenys with a .251 BA. His final big league year was 1884, when he played for three teams. Mansell did have a knack for scoring - in 202 games for the Alleghenys, he touched home 164 times. His two brothers also played in the MLB, and the trio even played the outfield together, albeit for minor league Albany. 
  • 1868 - RHP John “Jock” Menefee was born in Rowlesburg, West Virginia. Jock tossed three not very successful campaigns for Pittsburgh (1892, 1894-95), going 5-9/5.75. But he did have a shining moment: Menefee became the first NL pitcher to pull off a successful steal of home, against Brooklyn on July 15th, 1902, while with the Cubs. 
Jock Menefee w/the Cubs 1903-04 Breisch-Williams series
  • 1965 - Jeff “Banny” Banister was born in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Drafted in 1986, he got one at-bat with the Bucs in 1991 and singled. After going through the minor league system, he then served as a coach or manager for the franchise since 1993. He finally left the system in 2014 when he was hired as the manager of the Texas Rangers. 
  • 1969 - The Pirates traded OF Manny Jimenez to the Cubs for minor league IF Ron Campbell and RHP Chuck Hartenstein. Jimenez played briefly for Chicago before fading into the minors, while Campbell never did make it to the show. Hartenstein made 56 appearances for the Bucs in 1969, with 10 saves and a 3.95 ERA, but slipped in 1970 and was traded to St. Louis.
Chuck Hartenstein 1970 Topps series

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kang and the 2016 Infield Shuffle

Well, Jung-ho Kang is ready for baseball across the big pond, at least in his own mind. In a press conference last night (early AM Wednesday in Korean time) before his flight to Pittsburgh - his contract could be finalized by the end of the week, although he said it wasn't a done deal yet - he expressed lots of confidence in himself.

As quoted in the Yonhap News by writer Yoo Jee-Ho, "Kang said he'd like to play his natural position at shortstop, adding that all he wants is a chance to prove himself. 'If I get an opportunity to play consistently, I think I can play better (than Mercer),' Kang said. 'I think I'll have to talk to the team about my position, but I'd like to play shortstop.'"

He also noted that he'd like to hit against Aroldis Chapman and his three-figure heater, saying "I can only be a great player if I can hit Chapman."

Jung-Ho Kang (USA Today Sports Images)

Kang might sound a bit brash for a guy waiting to take his first North American swings and could probably profit from a lesson in team tact. Still, you can't get too worked up over a player who comes into town brimming with confidence and looking to compete from the opening bell. The question is whether or not Kang's gaudy offensive stats will translate in the show, and where he ends up stationed around the diamond.

Although he is a shortstop by trade, like Neil Walker, Kang is a converted catcher and a fair sized dude for the middle infield at 6'1"/180 pounds. His arm strength is there, but his range has been questioned. He played third for the national team back in 2010, and that may be his landing spot in Pittsburgh, especially if his right-handed power plays at PNC Park and he can become a 20-homer guy. But there are a lot of possibilities.

The Pirate infield is set this year with Pedro and newcomer Corey Hart at first, The Kid manning second, Mercer playing short (Kang's challenge withstanding) and Josh Harrison holding down third.

So Kang is likely to get his feet wet in the MLB in the old Josh Harrison super-sub role, both to allow him to get up to major league speed and acclimate himself to America. But there are a lot of  moving pieces involved with the infield puzzle down the road.

Pirate Infield 2013 - Pedro, Jordy, Neil (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Pedro has one more year of team control after this season, making him likely to be moved before 2016 Opening Day. Neil Walker is probably looking at $9M this year after a big 2014 campaign (.271/23/76), but his declining glovework and balky back may make the Bucs think twice about his future, both at second and in Pittsburgh. If the FO finds middle ground with him on a contract (like Pedro, he's under team control through 2016), it's likely as a first baseman, which would solve a batch of issues in one fell swoop.

With Josh and Jordy, both are under long-term team control. For them, it's a matter of repeating. Both did well with the leather. Josh is the poster boy for regression - his BABIP was 100 points higher in 2014 than in 2013, though his line drive rate also improved, too. But if he falls to league average in balls finding holes, he's a .270-.275 hitter. So his bat, if he hits at that level, makes him likely to move to second if Walker moves off it.

Jordy had an abysmal beginning during the opening weeks of the year, but Clint Hurdle stuck with him and got a solid summer both at the dish and in the field. But he did slump in September, so this is a big season for him to establish himself as the man at shortstop.

Those are issues that will sort themselves out, and the Pirates do have future options, several of which are home-grown. Tony Sanchez and Andrew Lambo have been working at first during the mini-camp, and Josh Bell looms on the horizon. Alen Hanson, though inconsistent, is toolsy enough to have made Dilson Herrera expendable, and he too is perhaps a season away.  JaCoby Jones could be the super utility guy of the future, while Gift Ngoepe and Gustav Nunez fit the mold of defense-first bench middle infielders. And, of course, Kang, who is also touted as being able to play second, so his flexibility was certainly part of his allure to the FO.

There's been the usual cattle call of infielders brought in during the off season, three of whom (Justin Sellers, Pedro Floriman and Jake Elmore) are currently on the 40-man roster. Sean Rodriguez was picked up to serve as this year's Super Josh and could, with Kang, make that trio moot.

One thing is sure. Though the infield will go through some musical chairs in 2016, it's constructed to make those changes with much less disruption than in years past. The Pirate philosophy of versatility is beginning to show some dividends.

1/14: Ol' #1, Chet Brewer, Hank Gornicki, Steve Cooke, Moises Alou, Adam LaRoche...

Ol' #1, Chet Brewer, Hank Gornicki, Steve Cooke, Moises Alou, Adam LaRoche...
  • 1893 - Manager Billy Meyer was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was skipper from 1948-52, with a dismal 317-452 record after a promising fourth place finish in his first year. In fact, the Yankees thought so highly of him that they asked if they could hire him after that season to replace Bucky Harris. NY was rebuffed and had to settle for Casey Stengel instead. After managing, Meyer scouted for the Bucs until 1955, and later had his jersey #1 retired. 
  • 1907- RHP Chet Brewer was born in Leavenworth, Kansas. While he pitched for a couple of dozen teams in the black leagues and Latin America, the pitcher never toiled in Pittsburgh until his playing days were done. Brewer was a Pirates scout based in LA from 1957 to 1974 (he signed Dock Ellis) and later worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau, discovering players like Willie Crawford, George Hendrick, Eddie Murray, Reggie Smith and Roy White. His Chet Brewer Rookies program was the forerunner of MLB’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) project.
Chet Brewer 1937 photo by Mark Rucker/Getty Images
  • 1911 - RHP Hank Gornicki was born in Niagara Falls, NY. He pitched his final three seasons (1943-44, 1946) for the Bucs, with a two year break when he served during WW2. His slate as a Pirate was 14-19/3.38, and he was used primarily as a spot starter. He had a notable week in August of 1943. Gornicki won both ends of a doubleheader against Boston on the 17th, then lost both games of a twinbill on the 22nd against Brooklyn. 
  • 1970 - LHP Steve Cooke was born in Lihue-Kauai, Hawaii. A 35th round draft pick in 1989, he spent five years with the Pirates (1992-97), going 26-36/4.31. 1993 looked like a breakout year when he went 10-10 with a 3.89 ERA and he was named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team. But he had shoulder problems that surfaced in 1994 and missed the 1995 season, and never again matched his rookie performance.
Steve Cooke 1994 Fleer Extra Bases series
  •  1986 - The Pirates selected OF Moises Alou as the second overall pick in the draft, behind pitcher Jeff Shaw. He played two games for the Pirates in 1990 before being shipped to Montreal for Zane Smith. Moises went on to have a 17 year career, with six All-Star berths and a lifetime .303 BA. He’s the nephew of former Pirate Matty Alou and the cousin of current Bucco farmhand Mel Rojas, Jr. 
  • 2008 - The Pirates re-signed 1B Adam LaRoche to a 1-year/$5M contract. Baseball runs in his blood - literally. Not only is he playing his 12th season (and sixth team), but he’s the son of former MLB pitcher Dave and older brother of Andy, who is still bumping around in the minors. 
Adam LaRoche photo by Mark Rebalis/US Presswire