Saturday, February 28, 2015

2/28: Jud, Prices Go Up, Rick, Coke Trial, A-Ram, Jack...

  • 1897 - IF Ernest Judson (Jud or Boojum) Wilson was born in Remington, Virginia. Jud played for the Homestead Grays (1931-1932, 1940-1945) and had a brief stop with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. The Grays’ captain and Hall of Fame infielder compiled a .351 lifetime BA. He was indifferent with the glove and ornery - his Hall of Fame bio describes him as “ill tempered and fearless” - but may have been the best pure hitter the Negro Leagues ever produced.
Jud Wilson via Baseball Hall of Fame Collection
  • 1926 - The Pirates announced an increase in ticket prices: with tax included box seats was $1.75; Reserved $1.50; Grandstand $1.10 and Bleachers remained at $.50.
  • 1985 - RHP Rick Reuschel, 36, signed a free agent deal with the Bucs. He proved to be far from over the hill, working from 1985-87, going 31-30 with a 3.04 ERA with 91 starts while eating 586-2/3IP and winning an All-Star berth. He was flipped in a 1987 deadline deal with the Giants, traded for pitchers Scott Medvin and Jeff Robinson.
Rick Reuschel via Steel City Collectibles
  • 1986 - Commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave seven players who were admitted drug users, including Pirates Dave Parker and Dale Berra, a choice of a year's suspension without pay or heavy fines (10% of their salary) and career-long drug testing‚ along with 100 hours of drug-related community service as a result of the Pittsburgh Cocaine trial.  
  • 2002 - The team agreed to terms with 3B Aramis Ramirez on a back loaded, three-year contract extension through 2004 for $9.5M. The Bucs traded him to Chicago, along with kenny Lofton, in mid-2003 for IF Bobby Hill and a minor league pitcher before the big money fell due. A-Ram is still playing, with a .285 BA, 369 HR and 1,317 RBI.
Aramis Ramirez (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
  • 2006 - The team agreed to terms with SS Jack Wilson on a three-year, $20.1M contract extension through the 2009 season with an $8.4M club option for 2010. He was sent to Seattle before the 2009 deadline. Injury-bitten in his later years (he only played 90 games or more once from 2008-12) , he retired after the 2012 campaign.

Friday, February 27, 2015

2/27: Pie Traynor, Cum Posey, Jud Wilson, Ray Brown & Pete Hill Go To the Hall...

  • 1948 - 3B Pie Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers. The infielder spent his entire 17-year career with the Pirates, where he compiled a .320 lifetime batting average and never had a season where he struck out more than 28 times. Traynor was best known for his glove at third where he recorded 2,288 putouts and started 308 double plays. He was formally inducted on June 13th, 1949, and accepted with a 40 word speech. Pie stayed in the City after his career and is buried in Homewood Cemetery.
Pie Traynor - Conlon Collection/The Sporting News
  • 2006 - Homestead Gray player, manager and owner Cumberland “Cum” Posey was elected to the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, along with 1B/3B Jud Wilson of the Grays/Pittsburgh Crawfords and RHP Ray Brown, also of the Grays. Included in the class was OF Pete Hill, who was born (or at least raised from an early age) in Pittsburgh and first played for the Keystones. They were inducted on July 30th.
Cum Posey, owner & player - Gray team photo 1913

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Camp Notes

Yep, still all quiet, and that's good news; the action is still down the road. And seeing how today is Photo Day, we don't expect much to break.
Andrew McCutchen (via Athlete Promotions)
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review is pushing an Andrew McCutchen extension sidebar. There's nothing to indicate that there's any smoke rising from that fire, as Cutch is still under team control through 2018, his 31 year-old season. Rob is tossing around $20-25M per year, and to us, $25M would be about the right range today, although the price of doing business will go up the longer the FO waits.
  • Jung-Ho Kang, the Pirates are quick to point out, was signed to be an everyday player. Unless something unanticipated happens, that won't happen this year. But he provides a lot of infield flexibility, along with Josh Harrison, for the future as both Neil Walker and Pedro are under team control just through 2016. Josh and Jung, if they prove to be keepers, allow the Pirates a lot of different configurations for the future, and takes the pressure off prospect Alen Hansen's development pace.
  • As in many camps, the battle for the last spot in the rotation is the most heated. Vance Worley seems to have a leg up on Jeff Locke, with Stolmy Pimentel and Rahamades Liz as bullpen Plan B's. Jameson Taillon will be back in the saddle this year, Nick Kingham is knocking on the door, Brandon Cumpton has 15 MLB starts under his belt and Clayton Richard is visiting the Ray Searage/Jim Benedict Rehab Center. That depth sure beats the days when Jonathan Sanchez was given the ball every fifth day through default.
  • Two guys who could quietly make a difference if they can stay healthy: Francisco Cervelli and Corey Hart. The year's two biggest wildcards: Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco. Biggest question: Can Gerrit Cole take the next step and become the Pirates long-sought ace?
    Gregory Polance (photo Mike James/Baseball America)
  • Charlie Morton, AJ Burnett and Taillon are all on schedule for their rehab assignments. Charlie and AJ should, without any unforeseen hurdles, be ready to break camp and Jameson is on track to return to Indy early on and be big-league ready - at least physically - by the All Star break.
  • New commissioner Rob Manfred appointed Bucco CEO Bob Nutting to the MLB executive council last month. That gives Nutting a bully pulpit to help address the growing imbalance between the haves and have-nots fostered during the tenure of Bud Selig.
  • The Bucs get it on  next week with an intrasquad contest Monday, March 2nd at noon. The first Grapefruit action is scheduled against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, March 4th at McKechnie Field, with the first pitch slated for 1:07.
  •  No more wands at PNC Park. MLB has directed the clubs to use full metal detectors for security at the entrances beginning this season.

2/26: Preacher Roe & Vic Janowicz...

  • 1916 - LHP Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born in Ash Flat, Arizona. Preacher worked early in his career with the Pirates from 1944-47, where he was 34-47/3.73. He started off with two strong years, but an off season fractured skull in 1945 was followed by a pair off poor campaigns. Preacher was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers and bloomed (a spitter added to his arsenal helped him mightily), earning four All-Star berths and pitching in three different World Series.
Preacher Roe via Pirates
  • 1930 - C/3B Vic Janowicz was born in Elyria, Ohio. A gridiron All-America and Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, Janowicz passed on football to sign for $75K as a bonus baby with the Bucs. He hit only .214 over two seasons (1953-54) as a bench player. He returned to football late in the 1954 season with the Washington Redskins, and was their starting halfback in 1955. An automobile accident in 1956 ended his athletic career.
Vic Janowicz via ESPN

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2/25: Syd Thrift, MLB Anti-Trust Upheld, Tony Womack & Matt Lawton Dealt...

Syd Thrift w/Gene Lamont (Rick Stewart/Getty)
  • 1929 - Pirate GM Syd Thrift was born in Locust Hill, Virginia. Thrift had been out of baseball for nine years when he was the surprise hire for general manager in 1985. He brought in dark horse Jim Leyland as manager and dealt veterans like Don Robinson, Tony Pena and Rick Reuschel in exchange for young prospects like Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere, Mike Dunne, Chico Lind and Jeff Robinson. Thrift's term ended after the 1988 season when he was fired after noisily butting heads with team ownership. He’s credited for laying the foundation for the team's early nineties success.
  • 1957 - In a big day for MLB, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6-3 that baseball is the only professional sport exempt from antitrust laws, withstanding a challenge from the NFL. Ever since, congressman (mainly from areas without teams) threaten to rescind the exemption, but baseball has managed to dodge the bullet so far.

Tony Womack (Fleer Ultra 1997)
  •  1999 - The Pirates traded 2B Tony Womack to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named later (P Jason Boyd) and OF Paul Weichard (minors). Womack led the NL in steals for three straight seasons, two with the Bucs, and played on Arizona and St. Louis World Series clubs. 
  • 2005 - OF Matt Lawton signed a one year, $7.75M deal with the Pirates. The Bucs traded him at the deadline to the Cubs for Jody Gerut. He had a solid half season, hitting .273 with 10 HR and 44 RBI before being flipped.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2/24: Hans, Wilbur & Earl B-Days; Bucs Threaten To Leave Town...

    Wilbur Cooper (Michael Grimm collection)
  • 1874 - Hall of Famer (he was part of the first class, with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, et al) Honus Wagner was born in Chartiers, now a part of Carnegie. Considered by many to be the greatest SS to ever play, he spent 18 years (1900 -17) with Pittsburgh and played on a pair of World Series teams, winning in 1909. The Flying Dutchman won eight NL batting titles with a lifetime .328 BA. He drove in 100+ runs nine times and scored 100+ runs seven times. Wagner also served as a Pirate coach from 1933-51 and very briefly as a player/manager.

  • 1892 - LHP Wilbur Cooper was born in Bearsville, WV. Cooper tossed for 13 years in Pittsburgh, winning 202 games, the most in Pirate history, with a 2.74 ERA and 263 complete games to his credit. He and Carl Mays are the only two 20th century pitchers who worked over 3,000 innings   with a sub-3.00 ERA that aren’t in the Hall of Fame. 

Earl Grace (Retro Images Archive)
  • 1907 - C Earl Grace was born in Barlow, Kentucky. He was a reserve catcher for the Bucs for five seasons (1931-35) with a .275 BA. Earl handled a glove as well as he handled a bat. In 1932, he finished the season with just one error in 413 chances to establish a then NL record with a .998 fielding percentage.

  • 1981 - How close were the Bucs to leaving? The Pirates filed suit in the Allegheny County Courthouse for the annulment of its lease at Three Rivers Stadium after receiving relocation overtures from New Orleans, Washington & Tampa.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Outfield Depth: Jaff Decker

One of camp's fun exercises is to check out the bubble players, the depth guys that often help make or break a season when the front line falters through injury or performance. The first player we'll visit is outfielder Jaff Decker.

Decker attended Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona. As a senior in 2008, he was named the Arizona state high school baseball player of the year.

The San Diego Padres selected Decker in the first round, with the 42nd overall selection, of the 2008 MLB Draft. In the Arizona Rookie league, he slashed .343/.513/.521 and was named league MVP, pretty heady stuff for an 18 year old. He spent 2009 with the Class-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps, putting up a .299 batting average and .956 OPS in 104 games. Baseball America ranked him among BA's Top 100 Prospects (#82) heading into 2010.

Jaff Decker 2014 (photo: Grant Jeffries/Bradenton Herald)
Promoted to the High Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, Decker hit .262 with a .874 OPS, but he was limited to 79 games by injuries. Moving up to the AA San Antonio Missions in 2011, Decker's average fell to .236, but he hit 19 home runs, stole 15 bases, and scored 90 runs in 133 games, holding his OPS at .790.

He was added to the Padres 40-man roster over the winter and again started 2012 at San Antonio. He suffered with plantar fasciitis early in the season and then tore his plantar tendon on May 31st, limiting him to 56 games and a .201 average. Despite the lost campaign, Decker entered the 2013 season ranked 23rd on Baseball America's list of Top 30 Padres prospects, with BA noting that he has a walk-first, hit-second approach at the plate and could profile as an offensive-minded reserve outfielder.

Decker advanced to Class AAA with the Tucson Padres and put up a slash of .286/.381/.443 in 105 games, yo-yo'ing between Tucson and the Padres. But in his brief NL stint of 13 games, he hit just .154, wasn't called up in September and then DFA'ed to clear space on the 40-man on November 20th. His pedigree made him too popular to clear waivers, and the Bucs had to part with minor league 1B prospect Alex Dickerson to reel him into the Pirate system.

Jaff Decker with the Bucs last season (photo: Pittsburgh Pirates via
Aside from his early upside and minor league OBP of .395, he was a 24 year old lefty outfielder with power to his pull side, always a plus for guys playing at PNC Park. He had two option years remaining, so he could stick around long enough for a good look and a little coaching. Neal Huntington noted that Decker could play all three OF positions and had a chance to break camp with the club as a bench outfielder while Gregory Polanco honed his skills and ran down his arbitration clock a little longer at Indy.

Well, that big league gig didn't materialize, and when the season started, Jaff was back at Indy. He didn't show much pop there; his slash was .257/.355/.391. He was called up a couple of times and got five at-bats, whiffing three times. That was probably due to big league anxiety, but this is his last option year and he needs to power up at Indy, his likely landing spot, especially with a crowd of young outfielders rising in the ranks. He reminds us very much of an Alex Presley with plate patience, and should vie with Jose Tabata as the first outfielder to get the call if someone goes down in Pittsburgh.

On a final note, just in case you were wondering how his folk decided to call him Jaff: He was named in honor of his uncle, a soldier who died at the age of 19 when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Germany. Decker's grandfather meant to name his pilot son Jeff, but scribbled the name on the birth papers and the hospital registered him as Jaff. The slightly altered name stuck and was passed on to our Jaff (pronounced Jeff).

2/23: Barney Dreyfuss, Pud Galvin, Bobby Bo, El Tiante, Al Martin deal, Raul Mondesi...

  • 1885 - Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss was born in Freiburg, Baden (Germany). He is often credited with the creation of the modern baseball World Series. Dreyfuss also built one of baseball's first modern steel and concrete baseball parks, Forbes Field, in 1909. During his period of ownership (1900-1932), the Pirates won six NL pennants and World Series titles in 1909 and 1925; only the New York Giants won more NL championships during the same period. He’s in the Hall of Fame as one of the founding fathers that helped steer MLB through its early growing pains.
  • 1888 - RHP James "Pud" Galvin signed with Pittsburgh for $3,000, including $1,000 in advance. The club offered the ace $3,500 with no front money, but Galvin needed the quick grand to carry him through the off season. “Gentleman Jeems” ended up in the Hall of Fame; he was a much better pitcher than financial planner.
Pud Galvin (Perez Steele illustration)
  • 1963 - OF Bobby “Bo” Bonilla was born in the Bronx. The switch hitter spent six years in Pittsburgh (1986-91) with a line of .284/114/500 and was a four-time All Star for Pittsburgh before leaving in 1991 as an FA, signing a huge deal with the NY Mets.
  • 1981 - RHP Luis Tiant signed a minor league deal with the Bucs for a guaranteed $125K. He tossed in Class AAA Portland until August, when the 40 year old El Tiante was called up, going 2-5 with a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. He was released at the end of the season.
Luis Tiant (team Photo 1981)
  • 2000 - The Bucs dealt Al Martin to the San Diego Padres for OF John Vander Wal and pitchers Jim Sak and Geraldo Padua. Martin played four more years as a platoon guy while Van der Wal lasted the better part of two seasons for the Bucs before being traded to the Giants. Sak & Padua never made it to the show.
  • 2004 - The Pirates signed free agent OF Raul Mondesi to a $1.15M contract. He left the team in May to fight a lawsuit in his native Dominican Republic, didn’t return, and was released for breach of contract. Mondesi suspiciously signed another deal with the Angels a few days later, but was out of baseball in 2005.
Raul Mondesi (2004 - Peter Diana/Pgh Post Gazette)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

And the Rest of the Gang Comes To Camp...

Well, the pitchers and catchers are hard at it; now it's time for the infielders and outfielders to join them in camp (most already have). They're due to check in tomorrow with workouts on Tuesday. The guys rolling into camp are:

Infielders: 1B Pedro Alvarez, 3B Josh Harrison IF Jung Ho Kang, IF Steve Lombardozzi, SS Jordy Mercer, IF Sean Rodriguez and 2B Neil Walker.
The infield is set. Pedro/Corey Hart at first, Josh-Jordy-The Kid cover around the horn and Rodriguez/Kang on the pine. We'll see if Harrison and Mercer can continue to be productive at the plate and if Pedro can rediscover his stick with the third base burden removed from his workload. We think there may be a battle between Rodriguez and Lombardozzi for the last spot on the bench; we'll see if that develops.

Jung Ho Kang comes to camp.
Depth: IF Pedro Florimon, IF Brent Morel, SS Gustavo Nunez and IF Justin Sellers.
They all have MLB experience and all fit into the good glove mold. Nunez may have the most upside, but all are depth guys and should start at Indy, although Floriman, the most MLB ready of the crew, is on the 40-man roster and out of options. Morel is also out of options. 

Just Visiting: 1B Stetson Allie, IF Alen Hanson & IF Gift Ngoepe.
Hansen looks like the heir apparent at second and is on schedule to challenge for a spot next season. Allie is the converted pitcher with some big time pop in his stick, while Ngoepe is a bench infielder with speed and a mitt but challenged at the dish.

Alen Hansen takes a turn at Pirate City.
Outfielders:  1B/OF Corey Hart, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco.
The Bucs insist on carrying Hart with the OF'ers; he will primarily be Pedro's caddy at first and a pinch hitter, tho he could get some time in RF. The other three guys are the starting trio, as athletic and speedy a crew as Pittsburgh may have ever put on the field. Polanco got a taste last year; we'll see how quickly he can adjust to pitching in his first full season.

Looking For Love:  Jaff Decker, Gorkys Hernandez, 1B/OF Andrew Lambo and Jose Tabata.

Assuming that they go with a bona-fide fourth outfielder, Lambo looks like the man; with Hart (and Rodriguez), that gives the team a lefty-righty bench set and a set of potential first sackers for the upcoming post-Pedro era. Decker may be the best of the rest; JT appears to have worn out his welcome and Gorkys can shag with the best of them but can't get his bat going.

Andrew Lambo is hoping to turn a big bat and versatility into a full time Pirate gig.
Gettin' A Look: Keon Broxton, Willy Garcia, and Mel Rojas Jr. 
They're all getting a look, and all have some potential, at least as future bench options. Could be that the Bucs may showcase them in the early going to see if any draw any interest from other clubs. The Pirates best minor league outfielders - Josh Bell (who may move to first), Harold Ramirez and Austin Meadows - aren't in camp this year.

(Photo credit: all shots are by David Arrigo/Pittsburgh Pirates)

2/22: Roy Spencer, Bill Baker, Frankie Zak, Prez Carter & Orlando Merced...

  • 1900 - C Roy Spencer was born in Scranton, NC. He played from 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, catching on a regular basis from 1929-32 for Washington. 
Roy Spencer 1927 (The Sporting News Conlon Collection)
  • 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 the NL for a season before his knees finally gave out, an occupational hazard for an old catcher. 
  • 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, it was thought the NL took the easy road by selecting him (plus Frankie hit .300 that season). "Red" Patterson in the New York Herald-Tribune wrote that: Frank Zak was substituted at the last moment for Pete Coscarart, who was picked to replace Eddie Miller but went fishing before he could be notified. "They'd never find that Zak far from Forbes Field," cracked a Pittsburgh sports scribe. "He got a break. He thought he'd have to pay his way in."
  • Frankie Zak  was in the right place at the right time in 1944. (illustrated by Gary Joseph Cieradkowski)
  • 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. 
  • 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.
Orlando Merced 1993 Stadium Club series

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Camp News & Notes: All Quiet On the Florida Front

It's been a pretty good start to camp. Nothing to report between sprints and bullpens, so it's been a quiet opening:
  • Everyone's here - no visa or injury problems. With six weeks to go before the games count, rehabbing AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton are on schedule, and ditto for Jameson Taillon. Jeff Locke is the only guy out, with a bug, and he's due to throw today. So far, everyone has survived the dreaded bunting drills, knock on wood.
  • And we mean everyone is here. Just about all the roster is in Florida, even tho the position players aren't due in until next week. Looks like Clint has them focused on their 2015 mission; either that or it's just too dang cold to pass up a free early bird trip to Florida.
  • Pedro is drilling at first, and coach Kevin Young is with him. As you may recall, Young made the third-to-first switch, albeit at the start of his career, and should know the pitfalls that await El Toro during the transition. Alvarez seems to have bought into the corner swap, reports that his fractured foot is completely healed, and is rarin' to go.
Pedro taking some balls at first. (Photo: David Arrigo/Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • Jung Ho Kang (pronounced "Khung") is taking balls at short. Later they'll work him at third - both are positions he's already played - with second being a down the road position.
  • A sidebar worth watching will be the transitions Kang and Francisco Cervelli make. Jung Ho has to transition to an entirely different language and culture, while Cervelli has to start filling in his blank Bucco pitcher's book and building relationships with the staff. Success on the field will have a lot to do with their progress off the field.

Francisco Cervelli has some big spikes to fill this year. (Photo: David Arrigo/Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • The Bucs got 22 year old lefty Steven Brault to go with another southpaw, 22 year old Stephen Tarpley, to complete the Travis Snider trade. Neither have top-end upside, but they do have MLB potential, and the Pirates are dealing from a position of strength to build for the future. It could hurt short term, depending on whether or not Travis has figured it out, but there are guys in the system that have reached the point where they need to play. 
  • The FO went 1-2 in arbitration. Neil Walker lost and will be taking home $8M this year, with one more arb year to go. Vance Worley ($2.45M) and Pedro ($5.75M) won, so all the deals are sealed. The 40-man payroll is just about at $90M to start 2015. Last year, it was thought to be around $78M at season's end.
  • Five Baby Bucs are included on Baseball America's Top 100 list: RHP Tyler Glasnow (16), RHP Jameson Taillon (29), OF Austin Meadows (41), 1B/OF Josh Bell (64) and C Reese McGuire (97). RHP Nick Kingham finished just outside the Top 100 and IF Alen Hanson received consideration.
  • The MLB Network will air three Pirate Grapefruit League games to Pittsburgh: March 3rd (Toronto Blue Jays -1 PM), March 22nd (Houston Astros - 1 PM), and April 1st (Baltimore Orioles - 7 PM).
  • The Bucs announced a couple of Fan Jam dates for the season: Big and Rich will play after the June 13th game with O.A.R. performing August 8th after the Dodgers contest.
  • ICYMI, MLB and the Players Association agreed on a set of "pace of play" rules to speed up the game.

2/21: First CBA signed; Groat Enters HoF - for Hoops!

  • 1968 - Marvin Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in history with the team owners. The agreement runs from January 1‚ 1968 to December 31‚ 1969. The minimum ML 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.

  • Marvin Miller - strikes , lockouts, the end of the reserve clause and a fifteen fold increase in player salaries (undated photo Associated Press)
    • 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, so imagine what he may have done in the NBA!
    Dick Groat excelled at any sport with a round ball!

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    2/20: Tom O'Brien, IA, Frankie Gustine, ElRoy Face, Pat Meares

    • 1873 - Utilityman Tom O’Brien was born in Verona. O’Brien played just two seasons for his hometown club (1898, 1900), hitting .274 for Pittsburgh before his untimely death from pneumonia in 1901. 
      Frank Gustine (TSN)
    • 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 National League. It was fairly short lived, folding after the 1880 season. It really didn’t have very much of a schedule; Alleghenys’ ace Pud Galvin tossed 18 of the 19 IA games played that first year.
    • 1920 - All-Star infielder and restaurateur 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. 
    • 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 (1958-59). 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. 

    Elroy Face via Main Line Autographs
    • 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, having played 240 games for the Bucs and hitting .238.

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    Pitchers In, Battle On...

    Everyone is in camp, without nary a visa issue in sight. The Pirates are in a sort of reverse build this season; the rotation is fairly well set up, bar injuries, while the bullpen signings ran the gamut from a power arm look to more worm burners. (Our earlier pitching breakdown) Here's what to look for during the Pirates' spring fling:

    The rotation has four guys set in stone with Gerrit Cole, Frankie Liriano, AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton. Vance Worley and Jeff Locke look like they'll duel for the fifth spot. The questions:

    Vance Worley is looking to nail down the fifth spot this spring (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)
    • Can Burnett and in particular Morton be ready physically by April? AJ looks to be on schedule after his sports hernia repair and Charlie is saying and doing all the right things, but he just started tossing off a mound this month, so he may be iffy for the opening bell.
    • But no problem; With Vanimal and Locke-Down, the Bucs have depth behind the big four. Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham should be ready by mid-to-late season, and Brandon Cumpton has experience at the back end of the rotation. And who knows - maybe Clayton Richard or Chris Volstad can rediscover their mojo with a Jim Benedict/Ray Searage tweak.
    • Bigger problem: Worley and Locke are out of options. Ditto with Radhames Liz, who was inked to a $1M deal and Stolmy Pimentel. The FO isn't going to want to lose any of these guys on waivers, so look for a deal or two as camp gets deeper and other clubs look for some depth.
    • Last item - will the Pirates get some innings out their starters? That would go a long way toward helping the bullpen, but historically, AJ is the only guy that tosses 200 innings...and he's 38 this campaign.
    And so is Jeff Locke in one of the spring's top battles (Charles Leclaire/USAToday)
    The bullpen looks tough again in the eight and ninth frames with Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo locks to break camp. Bastardo is slotted to take Justin Wilson's place, and has eighth inning experience with good K rate to go with minimal splits, although control is an issue. After that, well, it gets a little more interesting.
    • Jared Hughes and John Holdzkem are frontrunners to hold down their spots. The wild card is both have options remaining, so one big factor will be what the Pirates do with their glut of MLB-ready but out of option hurlers like Pimentel and Liz.
    • The non-roster guys and depth pick-ups, as always, are dark horses, but heat tossers Rob Scahill and Arquimedes Caminero are on the forty man roster while Blake Wood has some experience and a nice fastball.
    • The Bucs have more fairly capable bodies than spots available, so the battle of the bullpen should be one of the better contested spots in camp.
    Mark The Shark (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    2/19: Chris Stewart, Randall Simon, AJ...

    • 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 while providing solid defense. Stew signed a $1.225M deal for this season, and should back up Francisco Cervelli. He’s familiar with the drill; he played behind both Cervelli and Martin as a Yankee, too.

    Chris Stewart (Charles Leclaire/USA Today)
    • 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.
    Randall Simon (Peter Diana/Post Gazette)
    • 2012 - The Pirates had AJ Burnett drop in their laps. 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 before joining the Phils for an injury-plagued 2014 season. He returned to the Bucco fold in 2015 for his farewell campaign with a team-friendly $8.5M deal.

    AJ Burnett (Matt Freed/Post Gazette)

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    2/18: Manny Mota, Bob Miller & Bruce Kison...

    Manny Mota (1967 Dexter Press series)
    • 1938 - OF Manny “Geronimo” Mota was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The pinch hitter supreme spent six season (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. 

    Bob Miller (1973 Topps)

      •  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 pitched 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 at a era that featured three Bob Millers, all pitching in the majors in the late 1950s, and in fact was teammates with Bob G. Miller in 1962 with the Mets. 

      • 1950 - P 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 post-season, 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 & Mike Schmidt 1977 (Associated Press photo)

      Tuesday, February 17, 2015

      2/17: Big Ed; One Pitcher, One Batter; Nate the Great...

      • 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 teams, winning 121 games in 11 years after taking his lumps during his first three seasons.
      6'1" "Big Ed" Brandt via Out of the Park Development
      • 1909 - And so the LOOGY was born… The NL made it mandatory that a relief pitcher face one batter, and gave him five pitches to warm up. The rule countered managers who would yank a pitcher, bring in another (slowly) to kill a little time, and then pull him without facing a hitter when the guy he really wanted on the mound was loose. It eventually became Rule #6.2.2.
      •  2009 - CF Nate McLouth signed a three-year, $15.75M contract with an option that bought out his arbitration years. It didn’t provide a lot of security - he was traded to Atlanta in June to clear the CF spot for Andrew McCutchen. He returned to the Bucs briefly in 2012, and since then has played in Baltimore and Washington. 
       Nate McLouth 2008 (photo: Rob Tringoli/Getty Images)

      Monday, February 16, 2015

      Pirate President's Day...

      Tough to tell from the weather here, but guys are already rolling into camp, with the pitchers & catchers due to report Tuesday. So it's nearing time for ol' Green Weenie to get over the winter solstice and get crackin' with 2015 Bucco posts. But not quite yet...

      It's Presidents' Day, so we thought we'd take a look at the Buccos' all-time roster and see just how we match up, name-wise, with the POTUS over the years.

      The Father of our Country is barely represented; UL Washington (SS, 1986-87) is the only namesake we could dig up. The Railsplitter did better. The Bucs had Abraham "Honest Abe" Nunez (IF, 1997-2004) to go along with Bad Brad Lincoln (P, 2007, 2009-12) and Mike Lincoln (P, 2001-03). 
      "Honest" Brad Lincoln (J Meric/Getty Images)

      Thomas Jefferson's only Pirate scion is Jesse Jefferson, a little used pitcher from 1980. John Quincy Adams did better. He had three Adams rostered, the best of which was easily World Series hero Babe Adams (P, 1907-26).

      US Grant and Mudcat (P, 1970-71) share a surname, and another Grant, Grant Jackson (1977-82), covers Old Hickory as the icing of the five Jacksons who donned Pittsburgh uniforms.

      JFK has only Brickyard Kennedy (P, 1903) in the Black & Gold. Jimmy Carter has one namesake, Steve, an outfielder from 1989-90. The Bush duo is covered by pitchers Guy (1935-36) and Joe (1926-27). Lyndon and Andrew Johnson share last names with a half dozen Pirates, chiefly 1B Mark (1995-97) and P Bob (1971-73).

      The James, Madison and Monroe, have namesakes in Art Madison (2B, 1899) and Craig Monroe (OF, 2009). Zachary Taylor has his pick - Carl Taylor (OF, 1968-69, 1971) leads the list of five Taylors, though Zachary Duke (P, 2005-10) might be a better choice. And of course, the Gunner's call of a Hoover when the Bucs turned two takes care of Herbert.

      Grover Cleveland has Elmer (3b, 1888), Benjamin Harrison is proudly repped by 3B Josh (2010 - current), and Rutherford Hayes can flip a coin between Jackie (C, 1883-84) or 3B Charlie (1996). C/GM Harding Peterson (1955, 57-59 as a player; 1976-85 as GM) will make do for Warren Harding.

      Zach "Taylor" Duke
      Woodrow Wilson has a slew of followers, 11 to be exact. The longest lived was SS Jack (2000-09), but Craig, Chief, Justin and Glenn were Buccos for awhile, too. Oddly, no Roosevelts have made it out of a Pittsburgh camp, nor Taft, even though Howard attended a couple of Buc games.

      The one-and-out CSA prez, Jefferson Davis, had a dozen Pirates that shared his name - Brandy, Butch, Dick, Harry, Ike (tho he could be our Eisenhower dude), JJ, Jason, Lefty, Rajai, Ron, Spud and Trench - but he's just a gray footnote now.

       And yes, we will get back to balls-and-bats baseball soon, we promise!

      2/16: The Dutchman Retires; Satchel, Josh & Cool Papa Join For Breakfast

      • 1952 - Carnegie’s Honus Wagner’s #33 was retired after he bid farewell as a Bucco coach at the age of 77 after serving 39 years with the team. The Bucs also honored him by giving him a lifetime pension at full pay. Other retired Pirate numbers belong to Billy Meyer (1), Ralph Kiner (4), Willie Stargell (8), Bill Mazeroski (9), Pie Traynor (20), Roberto Clemente (21) and Danny Murtaugh (40). Han's was the first number retired in franchise history, and with good cause. He 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. The Flying Dutchman was also part of the first Hall-of-Fame class ever selected, along with Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth. 

      Hans at Retirement - Pgh Press photo 2/17/1952

      • 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.

      The Breakfast of Champions - 1996

      Sunday, February 15, 2015

      2/15: Game Cancelled, Barry Jones, Don Kelly, Russ & the 1990 Lockout...

      • 1956 - The Pirates and the Kansas City A's canceled an exhibition game in Birmingham‚ Alabama‚ because of a local ordinance barring black players from playing against white players. The two teams moved the game to New Orleans. 

      • 1963 - RHP Barry Jones was born in Centerville, Indiana. He began his career in Pittsburgh after being selected in the third round of the 1984 draft. From 1986-88, Jones went 6-9-6/3.81 with the Bucs before being traded to the White Sox for Dave LaPoint. After an eight year career, he moved to Murrysville, and spent several months helping to build PNC Park as a project manager for the concrete contractor.
      Barry Jones 1988 Topps series

      • 1980 - IF Don Kelly was born in Butler. Kelly went to Mt Lebanon HS and Point Park College before signing with the Bucs and making his debut in 2007. From 2009 onward, he’s played with the Tigers, moving on to the Marlins during this off season. He married Carrie Walker in 2007; his brother-in-law is Neil Walker and his father-in-law is former big league pitcher Tom Walker. The Kellys live in Wexford.
      Don Kelly 2007 team promo photo
      • 1983 - C Russ Martin was born in East York, Ontario, Canada. The free agent pickup was with the Pirates from 2013-14, hitting .256 and rated highly behind the dish in all the defensive metrics and intangibles. The Toronto Blue Jays signed him to a five-year, $82M FA contract during the 2014 off season after Russ had a career year at the plate. 
      Russ Martin photo: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

      • 1990 - The owners refused to open spring training camps without a new Basic Agreement with the Players' Association, beginning a lockout that lasted 32 days and delayed the start of the regular season by one week. The beef was over an owner plan to cap payroll at 48% of the league revenues; the MLBPA and Donald Fehr wanted no part of a cap. They eventually settled on “Super Two” arb, a raise in the minimum salary and adding an extra player to the active roster as the cap plan was scuttled by being sent to a committee.