Wednesday, April 5, 2017

4-5: HBD Wid, Rennie, Lastings & Jung-Ho; Polanco Extension; Robinson & Dravecky Deals; Local Ties; Sweet Tossing

  • 1877 - SS William “Wid” Conroy was born in Philadelphia. Conroy only played one year in Pittsburgh in 1902, hitting .244, but he started ahead of Honus Wagner at short. Actually, the Flying Dutchman began his career in the pasture; he was converted to part-time shortstop in 1901 by skipper Fred Clarke when Bones Ely had a forgettable year at the dish. Wid was the usual starter at short in 1902 with Wagner seeing some action too, but Conroy’s batting performance was the final straw for Clarke and he installed Wagner at the position full-time in 1903. Widner then jumped leagues, joining the NY Highlanders and playing ball through 1911 for them and the Washington Senators. The nickname “Wid,” short for “Widow,” dates to his youth. Sam Bernstein of SABR suggests that the name came about because Conroy watched over the younger members of his sandlot group like a widowed mother watched over her brood.
Rennie Stennett 1978 Topps
  • 1951 - 2B Rennie Stennett was born in Colon, Panama. Stennett played nine seasons (1971-79) with the Bucs as a sweet-fielding second sacker, hitting .278 BA to back up the leather. He was involved in a lot of good stuff, appearing in the 1979 Series, starting for the first all-black lineup in MLB in 1971, and collecting a record seven knocks in a nine-inning game against the Cubs in 1975. Sadly, he broke his leg in 1977 and never had a strong season afterward, even though the Giants signed him to a five-year deal worth $3M for 1980. They released him after two years while still in the hole for $2M.
  • 1954 - It was only a spring training game, but it had some notable local flavor to it. Mt Washington native and South Hills HS grad Bob Purkey tossed a six-hitter and Frank Thomas, who grew up in the shadow of Forbes Field in Oakland and was born at Magee Women's Hospital, sent one over the wall as the hometown kids (Purkey was 24, Thomas 25) led the way to a 1-0 win over the KC Athletics in Mobile, Alabama. In other baseball business, the club cut Dale Long, Gene Freese and ElRoy Face from camp; they would all be back for keeps in 1955.
  • 1975 - The Pirates got OF Bill Robinson from the Phils for RHP Wayne Simpson. Simpson appeared in 34 MLB games in 1975 & ‘77 while McKeesport’s Robinson spent eight years in Pittsburgh as a platoon OF’er, hitting .276 with 109 HR. His highlight season came in 1977 when he hit .304 with career highs of 26 home runs and 104 RBI.
Bill Robinson 1976 SSPC
  • 1981 - Pittsburgh traded Youngstown native and Class AA Buffalo pitcher Dave Dravecky to the San Diego Padres for utilityman Bobby Mitchell. Mitchell never made it out of the minors while Dravecky eventually carved out an eight-year MLB career with a 64-57 slate, 3.13 ERA, and an All-Star appearance in a stint cut short by a cancerous tumor in his arm.
  • 1985 - OF Lastings Milledge was born in Bradenton, Florida. A first-round pick of the Mets, he played for NY and then Washington. He was traded to the Pirates by the Nats in 2009 with RHP Joel Hanrahan in return for OF Nyjer Morgan and LHP Sean Burnett. From 2009-10 he hit a respectable .282 for Pittsburgh but was playing behind Jose Tabata in LF and Garrett Jones in RF with Andrew McCutchen in the pipeline. He left for free agency, but all he got was a cup of coffee with the White Sox, spending the past five seasons in Japan and Mexico.
  • 1987 - IF Jung-Ho Kang was born in Gwangju, South Korea. After a winning posting bid of $5,002,015 for Kang from his Korean team, the Nexen Heroes, the Bucs signed the infielder to a four-year, $11M contract with an option year. He became the first KBO position player to make the jump to the MLB. Jung-Ho made the transition in style, hitting .287 with 15 HR while playing SS & 3B before he broke his leg in mid-September. He started 2016 late while recovering and then landed on the DL again with a shoulder injury, batting .255 with 21 dingers. It’ll be another late start from the box in 2017 as he sorts through the debris left by a DUI conviction during the off season.
Kip Wells 2004 Fleer Unsung Hero
  • 2004 - Kip Wells scattered five hits and struck out seven over six scoreless innings as the Pirates beat the Phillies, 2-1, on Opening Day at PNC Park. Jose Mesa earned his 250th career save while Craig Wilson hit the first home run of the year for the Pirates.
  • 2012 - Opening Day drew the largest crowd to date in PNC Park history, 39,585, as the Bucs Erik Bedard lost a classic pitching duel to the Phil’s Roy Halladay 1-0. The Bucs threatened in the first, but a Cutch 6-4-3 DP short-circuited the frame. Neil Walker took it to the track twice, but both balls died at the fence as Halladay tossed a two-hitter.
  • 2016 - The Pirates officially announced they had signed RF Gregory Polanco to a contract extension that would carry him through arbitration and a year of free agency (2017-2021) worth $35M guaranteed with two team options, bringing the total contract value up to $58M. The particulars: $3M signing bonus, $1M - '17, $3.5M - '18, $5.5M - '19, $8M - '20, $11M - '21. $12.5M option/$3M buyout - '22, $13.5M option/$1M buyout - '22. The 24-year-old Polanco’s first full MLB campaign was 2015 when he hit .256 with nine home runs, 52 RBIs, 35 doubles, six triples and 27 stolen bases in 153 games. He also ranked second among all NL outfielders with 13 assists, trailing only teammate Starling Marte’s 16 throw-outs.

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